More Americans now die of suicide than from car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a disturbing statistic that some experts say points to the true depths of the US economic crisis.
From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among US citizens between the ages of 35 to 64 soared by about 30 per cent, to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people, a jump from 13.7.
In 2010, there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides.
Although suicide has been traditionally viewed as a problem among the youth and elderly, the recent study, published in Friday’s issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, shows a marked rise in the number of suicides among middle-aged men and women.
The suicide rate for men aged 35–64 years jumped 27.3 per cent, from 21.5 to 27.3 per 100,000, while the rate for women increased 31.5 per cent, from 6.2 to 8.1.
Among the male population, the greatest increases were among those aged 50–54 years and 55–59 years, (49.4 per cent, from 20.6 to 30.7, and 47.8 per cent, from 20.3 to 30.0 respectively). Among females, suicide rates tended to increase with age. The largest percentage increase in suicide rate was observed among women aged 60–64 years (59.7 per cent, from 4.4 to 7.0).
Men were more likely to take their own lives than women. The suicide rate for middle-aged men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000.
Suicide rates from 1999 to 2010 “increased significantly” across all four geographic areas and in 39 states. The state of Wyoming recorded the highest increase in suicides with a 78.8 per cent jump (31.1 per 100,000), while even the sunny state of Hawaii witnessed a 61.2 per cent increase (21.9 per 100,000).
As shocking as the newly released data on US suicide rates are, many believe the numbers are too low since many deaths are not treated as actual suicides.
“It’s vastly under-reported,” Julie Phillips, an associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University, told The New York Times. “We know we’re not counting all suicides.”
Baby Boomer crisis
CDC officials emphasized that the Baby Boomer generation is witnessing the highest increase in suicides (A Baby Boomer is a person who was born post-World War II, between the years 1946 and 1964, when the annual birthrate increased dramatically in the US).
“It is the Baby Boomer group where we see the highest rates of suicide,” CDC deputy director, Dr. Ileana Arias, told the New York Times. “There may be something about that group, and how they think about life issues and their life choices that may make a difference.”
The rise in suicides among this group may be connected with the recent downturn in the global economy and the challenges the Baby Boomer generation must now confront.
“The increase does coincide with a decrease in financial standing for a lot of families over the same time period,” Arias said.
In 2010, the first year of economic comeback following the 2009-2010 recession, 93 per cent of all pre-tax income gains went to the top 1 per cent of the American population, which in that year meant any household earning more than $358,000.
Is financial crisis spurring suicide?
Is the rash of suicides across a broad spectrum of the American population a direct result of the wealth hoarding by the top income earners in the United States?
In a letter to The Lancet medical journal, scientists from Britain, Hong Kong and United States said an analysis of data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that while suicide rates increased slowly between 1999 and 2007, the rate of increase more than quadrupled from 2008 to 2010, Reuters reported.
“There is a clear need to implement policies to promote mental health resilience during the ongoing recession,” said Aaron Reeves of Britain’s University of Cambridge, who headed the research and submitted it in a letter to The Lancet.
Reeves even suggested the Democrats and Republicans are partially to blame for not throwing a spotlight on the issue during the latest presidential campaign.
“In the run-up to the US presidential election, President Obama and Mitt Romney are debating how best to spur economic recovery, [but] missing from this discussion is consideration of how to protect Americans’ health during these hard times,” Reeves warned.
Meanwhile, preliminary research suggests that the risk for suicide will unlikely subside for future generations.
“The boomers had great expectations for what their life might look like, but I think perhaps it hasn’t panned out that way,” Phillips said.
“All these conditions the boomers are facing, future cohorts are going to be facing many of these conditions as well.” The study pointed to the increased usage of prescription painkillers, like oxycodone, which can be particularly deadly in large doses.
There was a significant jump in poisoning deaths, which include intentional overdoses of prescription medication. During the 10-year period, poisoning deaths were up 24 per cent over all, while death by suffocation, (including hangings) was up 81 per cent.