Financial stresses spur suicide spike among middle-aged: study
New research shows a worrying rise in suicides related to job and financial stresses among middle-aged men and women — as well as a disturbing trend in the methods they are using to end their lives.
Researchers who dug deep into the circumstances surrounding suicides in the U.S. between 2005 and 2010 found economic factors played a role in a growing proportion of suicides among 40- to 64-year-olds, with the sharpest increases occurring during the worst years of the “Great Recession.”
The proportion of suicides involving suffocation is also increasing among the middle aged, a growing trend that poses a significant challenge for prevention efforts, “given the high lethality and wide availability of the method,” the authors write in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
“This is an indicator that at least some of these suicidal acts are impulsive,” said lead author Katherine Hempstead, director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, New Jersey, and the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University.
Canadian psychiatrists say the baby boom generation has had higher rates of suicide at every increment across their lifespan, compared to previous generations.
“This group has always seemed to have been at increased risk of suicide. Now we’re seeing it manifest as a middle age cohort,” said Dr. Valerie Taylor, psychiatristin-chief at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto.
There were 3,890 suicides in Canada in 2009, or 11.5 per 100,000 population. Those aged 40 to 59 had the highest rates. While males commit suicide at three times the rate of females, women are three to four times more likely than men to attempt it.
Last year, British researchers linked the recession with at least 10,000 additional “economic suicides” across Europe and North America, including Canada, where suicides rose by 4.5 per cent from 2007 to 2009.
In the U.S., earlier studies found that suicide rates among adults aged 35 to 64 have increased approximately 40 per cent since 1999, while holding stable for other age groups.
Crushing debt, job loss, house foreclosure and hits to retirement savings can worsen mental health and add to the risk of depression and suicide, experts say.
“The hardship and feelings of failure or hopelessness associated with these conditions are compounded by the fact that middle-aged adults are more likely than others to be family breadwinners and supporting dependants,” Hempstead and her co-author, Julie Phillips, write. And the effect can be particularly profound for men.
The researchers scoured data from a unique, national violent death surveillance system, which pools data on homicides and suicides from death certificates and coroner, police and toxicology reports.
The authors searched for trends and patterns in circumstance and method among middle-aged suicides between 2005 and 2010.
Personal circumstances such as depression were cited in 81 per cent of all suicides among those aged 40 to 64, and women were more likely to have a recorded history of a mental health problem than men.
But economic factors were also found in about a third of all suicides among the middle-aged, and were more common among men (39 per cent) than women (23 per cent).
And while these “external” factors were the least common of the three categories, they were the one category to show an increase over the study period, increasing most rapidly between 2007 and 2009.
With female suicides, “there is almost always a very long-standing, deep, chronic depression or personality disorder, and often there are multiple, prior attempts,” Hempstead said.
Men, by contrast, are more likely than females to respond to an external event, “like finding out you’ve lost your job,” she said.