I was appalled to learn from The New York Times that suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade. This trend indicated that a generation of baby boomers, who have faced years of economic worry and easy access to prescription painkillers, may be particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted harm.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more people now die of suicide than in car accidents. In the past, suicides has typically been viewed as a problem associated with teenagers and the elderly. So, the surge in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans is surprising. From 1992 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans aged 35 to 64 increased by nearly 30 percent. The report also showed that although suicide rates are growing among both middle-aged genders, far more men take their own lives. 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.
What’s even more disturbing is that the most pronounced increases were seen among men in their 50s, a group in which suicide rates jumped by close to 50 percent, to about 30 per 100,000. For women, the largest increase was seen in those ages 60 to 64, among whom rates increased by nearly 60 percent, to seven per 100,000.
In spite of the alarming rates, experts said that the number of suicides reported was too low. While there’s no conclusion as to why this is happening, CDC officials cited a number of possible explanations, particularly among boomers. “There may be something about this group, and how they think aobut life issues and their life choices that may make a difference,” said CDC’s Deputy Director, Dr. Ileana Arias. The rise in suicides may also stem from the economic downturn over the past decade. According to experts, historically, suicide rates rise during times of financial stress and economic setbacks. Dr. Arias also noted that baby-boomer men and women are often coping with the stress of the sandwich generation: caring for aging parents while still providing financial and emotional support to adult children.
In Canada, the rates of suicide have been fairly constant since the 1920s, averaging annually around twenty (males) and five (females) per 100,000 population, ranging from lows of 14 (males, 1944) and four (females, 1925, 1963) to peaks of 27 (males, 1977, 1982) and 10 (females, 1973). During the 2000s, Canada ranked 34th-highest overall among 107 nations’ suicide rates, and 17th among 34 OECD countries. Canadian males experience two periods over their lives when they are most likely to commit suicide — in their late 40s, and past the age of 90. For females, there is a single peak, in their early fifties. The peak male rates are 53 percent above the average for all ages, while for females, the peak is 72 percent greater.
Suicide rates in Quebec are higher than those in other provinces – twice as many as killed on the roads. The Quebec rate ranks about number five in the world – actually an improvement over the last 10 years. Unfortunately, like the rest of Canada, the suicide rate among baby boomers and elderly people is rising.
I’ve always been critical of the mainstream media painting a doom-and-gloom picture for boomers. However, not to focus on this alarming social issue is simply a denial. We should pay more attention to improving the mental health of boomers to curb this trend from continuing. Society should also focus more on the prevention and support for family members who have lost someone to suicide.
Canada may not be in as dire a situation as the U.S., but prevention is better than cure. Our economy is not getting any better and like our American counterparts, boomers now have more access to deadly prescription drugs. We should initiate more discussions about what causes depression and suicides among boomers and how to improve their mental well-being.