Under the Hood

Rising Suicide Rates Among Middle-Aged People Explained: Suffocation Is The Method, Finances The Cause

suicide
Economic factors, such as loss of a job, figured in 37.5 percent of all suicides during 2010, while middle-aged adult suicide rates rose nearly 40 percent since 1999. Jayson, CC by 2.0

Money influences many decisions in our lives, and more than a few people would say too many. Since 1999, suicide rates among middle-aged adults have risen nearly 40 percent, with a noticeable uptick since the financial crash. Now, a new study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds economic factors, such as loss of a job, figured in 37.5 percent of all completed suicides during 2010, a rise from the 32.9 percent rate found in 2005.

In particular, the researchers found the number of people who used asphyxiation to end their lives between the years 2005 and 2010 increased overall though disproportionately. During that five-year span, suffocation among middle-aged people increased dramatically — by 59.5 percent — compared with an uptick of 18 percent for those between 15 and 39, and a rise of 27.2 percent for those over 65. Suffocation, the researchers said, is used most often in suicides arising from job, economic, or legal problems.

“Suffocation is a suicide method that is highly lethal, requires relatively little planning, and is readily available,” wrote the authors. Tellingly, suffocation is the least common method used by women, suggesting men contributed the greatest number of financially inspired suicides.

To conduct their study, the researchers used the National Violent Death Reporting System (a database drawing on toxicology reports, law enforcement records, and death records). After they made an analysis of planning and intent as well as the circumstance involved, they categorized each and every suicide. One of four crucial planning and intent factors could be linked to each suicide: prior attempts; crisis in the past two weeks; leaving a suicide note; or telling someone about wanting to commit suicide. Much more complicated were the circumstances underlying each death, so the researchers grouped them into three major categories — personal, interpersonal, and external — and then further divided these into subcategories. 'Personal,' for instance, included depressed mood, alcohol dependence, and similar conditions, while 'interpersonal' covered matters such as intimate partner violence and death of a friend. 'External' involved problems on the job and legal issues, among other situations.

After grouping the suicides and analyzing the results, what did the researchers discover?

Gender & Method

“The great majority of suicidal behavior stems from individual factors, most notably those related to mental illness, health problems, and other personal issues,” noted the researchers, who also stated access to a gun or some other lethal means plays a strong role as well. However, method of self-destruction is linked to circumstance, they found. Poisoning is more common among people driven to death by personal circumstances, while more violent methods guns, say, or suffocation — are more likely among those haunted by external or interpersonal problems.

That said, gender exerts a very strong influence over method and reason. “Men were most likely to use firearms (in a little more than half of all suicide incidents) and least likely to use poisoning,” wrote the authors, whereas most women committed suicide for personal reasons and did so by poisoning themselves.

Sadly, nearly seven percent of Americans know someone who died of suicide during the past year. Suicide may be the tenth leading cause of death among Americans, yet we must remember some important truths. Suicide is a preventable death. While many people consider self-destruction, most never seek mental health services. A simple phone call can begin that process (click here). Never forget that life can change for the better in an instant.

Source: Hempstead KA, Phillips JA. Rising Suicide Among Adults Aged 40-64 Years: The Role of Job and Financial Circumstances. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2015.

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