After an 11-year study, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has come to a startling conclusion: more people now die in this country by their own hand than from car accidents. And an even more shocking discovery behind the jump — and perhaps a key to the way we think about suicide next — is how many of America's Baby Boomers are taking their own lives.
"In 2009, the number of deaths from suicide surpassed the number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes in the United States." So reads the opening line from the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for May 3. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, the number of fatalities from car crashes in 2009 was 33,883 — down from 37,423 in 2008. In 2009, there were 36,909 suicides in the U.S., according to the CDC — up from 36,035 in 2008. Which is shocking enough as it is, given all we hear about drunken driving and car accidents. What we didn't know about this data at the time of the switch in 2009 was the specificity: Now we have clues as to how suicide rates are increasing, at least in so far as how old the people killing themselves are.
If you look at the latest CDC's report, which examined more than a decade of suicide numbers, people aged 35-64 accounted for 21,754 deaths in 2010. Here's the table:
Take a look at that change rate in bold: There are 28.4 percent more suicides among those in middle age than that age range saw at the end of the millenium. And here's a closer look at the age brackets that saw the biggest surge, brining the middle age range up so much — the bracket of Americans in their fifties:
Essentially, the suicide rate for people in their fifties jumped up by about 50 percent — and that rate is about 30 suicides per 100,000 people. That's incredibly high compared to 10 years ago, and what's perhaps more troubling is that 50-somethings aren't exactly those we normally talk about when we talk about suicide — the CDC says primary concern usually rests with children and teens.
The jump in the Baby Boomer rates, health officials say, is partly due to economic problems: "The increase does coincide with a decrease in financial standing for a lot of families over the same time period," Dr. Ileana Arias, the CDC's deputy director, is quoted as saying by The New York Times, which added that "Another factor may be the widespread availability of opioid drugs like OxyContin and oxycodone, which can be particularly deadly in an overdose." And the CDC reports that the increases show more attention needs to paid to people in those age groups.
Now prepare yourself for two of the most depressing paragraphs from this already sad report. Apparently suffocation and poisoning are on the rise, but neither one caught up to firearms:
By mechanism, the greatest increase was observed for use of suffocation (81.3%, from 2.3 to 4.1), followed by poisoning (24.4%, from 3.0 to 3.8) and firearms (14.4%, from 7.2 to 8.3).
And it appears that men between 35 and 64 years of age have been killing themselves more than women:
The suicide rate for men aged 35–64 years increased 27.3%, from 21.5 to 27.3, and the rate for women increased 31.5%, from 6.2 to 8.1. Among men, the greatest increases were among those aged 50–54 years and 55–59 years, (49.4%, from 20.6 to 30.7, and 47.8%, from 20.3 to 30.0, respectively). Among women, suicide rates increased with age, and the largest percentage increase in suicide rate was observed among women aged 60–64 years (59.7%, from 4.4 to 7.0).
Considering that we've just ruined your day — and that someone apparently shot himself in the head at an airport in Houston today — we're just going to stop now, crawl into bed and watch this video and try and feel better about these sobering facts.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.