The suicide rate among middle-aged Americans climbed a startling 28 percent in a decade, a period that included the recession and the mortgage crisis, the government reported Thursday.
The trend was most pronounced among white men and women in that age group. Their suicide rate jumped 40 percent between 1999 and 2010.
But the rates in younger and older people held steady. And there was little change among middle-aged blacks, Hispanics and most other racial and ethnic groups, the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
Why did so many middle-aged whites–that is, those who are 35 to 64 years old–take their own lives?
One theory suggests the recession caused more emotional trauma in whites, who tend not to have the same kind of church support and extended families that blacks and Hispanics do.
Another theory notes that white baby boomers have always had higher rates of depression and suicide, and that has held true as they’ve hit middle age. During the 11-year period studied, suicide went from the eighth leading cause of death among middle-aged Americans to the fourth, behind cancer, heart disease and accidents.
One more possible contributor is the growing sale and abuse of prescription painkillers over the past decade. Some people commit suicide by overdose. In other cases, abuse of the drugs helps put people in a frame of mind to attempt suicide by other means, said Thomas Simon, one of the authors of the CDC report, which was based on death certificates.
For the entire U.S. population, there were 38,350 suicides in 2010, making it the nation’s 10th leading cause of death, the CDC said. The overall national suicide rate climbed from 12 suicides per 100,000 people in 1999 to 14 per 100,000 in 2010. That was a 15 percent increase.
For the middle-aged, the rate jumped from about 14 per 100,000 to nearly 18–a 28 percent increase. Among whites in that age group, it spiked from about 16 to 22.