Middle-Aged Women Drive Rise in U.S. Suicides: Study

Maggie Fox, Reuters, October 21, 2008

U.S. suicide rates appear to be on the rise, driven mostly by middle-aged white women, researchers reported on Tuesday.

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The overall suicide rate rose 0.7 percent during this time, but the rate for white men aged 40 to 64 rose 2.7 percent and for middle-aged women 3.9 percent, the team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found.

“The biggest increase that we have seen between 1999 and 2005 was the increase in poisoning suicide in women—that went up by 57 percent,” said Susan Baker, a professor in injury prevention with a special expertise in suicide.

Writing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Baker, Guoqing Hu and colleagues said they analyzed publicly available death certificate data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The results underscore a change in the epidemiology of suicide, with middle-aged whites emerging as a new high-risk group,” Baker said in a statement.

“Historically, suicide-prevention programs have focused on groups considered to be at highest risk—teens and young adults of both genders as well as elderly white men. This research tells us we need to refocus our resources to develop prevention programs for men and women in their middle years.”

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“Definitely these are not just little blips,” [Baker] said in a telephone interview. “We are looking at a big population change.”

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In September researchers confirmed an 18 percent spike in youth suicides in the United States in 2004 persisted into 2005 after more than a decade of decreases.

And international research published in January found that the young, single, female, poorly educated and mentally ill are all at higher risk of suicide.

According to the World Health Organization, suicide rates have increased by 60 percent in the last 45 years. Depression is the leading cause of suicide.

[Editor’s Note: The article by Susan P. Baker, MPH, Guoqing Hu, PhD, Holly Wilcox, PhD, Lawrence Wissow, MD, MPH, will be published in the December issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.]

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