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Suicide Rates Rise Sharply in U.S.


Published: May 2, 2013 328 Comments

Suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade, prompting concern 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.

More people now die of suicide than in car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which published the findings in Friday’s issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In 2010 there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides.

Suicide has typically been viewed as a problem of teenagers and the elderly, and the surge in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans is surprising.


What factors do you believe are contributing to the rising suicide rate?

Economic hopelessness. My brother committed suicide last July. He had just turned 60. He lost his IT job in the Great Recession in 2008. Despite hundreds of resumes being sent out, and a lifetime of IT experience, he got few interviews and no job offers. He spent down his 401(k) and when he died the only thing he owned was a beat-up car. We later found out he had a lot of credit card debt, with which he had tried to keep himself afloat. After four years of no job offers, unemployment running out, having no health insurance, etc., his dignity was shot. He had lost hope of ever working again. How I wish he had not committed suicide; how I would give anything and everything to have him back. I consider him one of the casualties of the Recession and when I read of the fat bonuses the banksters award themselves, I shake with rage that they have continued to prosper while people like my brother lost all hope and people like me lost a loved one.

May 2, 2013 at 5:50 p.m.

Shrink the jobs, multiply the guns, and widen the gap between rich and poor so far that the American dream of equal opportunity is a sad joke.

May 2, 2013 at 6:36 p.m.

I'm not at all surprised--and would expect the increase among 50+ men to be recession-based, given the much greater permanent unemployment in that cohort than in past recessions.

Losing your ability to provide for your family is devastating. If you're over 50, lose your job, can't find another, need to provide for your family and are fortunate enough to have substantial life insurance that has been in place long enough to pay off for suicide, it's not even an irrational choice. Not the choice most people would want to make, especially when you consider the emotional impact on children, spouse, other loved ones. But being an economic provider may come first in many men's minds.

May 2, 2013 at 6:43 p.m.

Just as younger generations have expectations of a certain quality of life that does not include endless work weeks with a minimal quality of life, so do middle-aged and older people have similar desires to have a cuturally enriched and pleasurable existence. When the reality of their lives does not meet their expectations they feel empowered to act.

May 2, 2013 at 6:48 p.m.

I'm 56, female, and also row the Too-Old-To-Even-Interview boat. My favorite turn-down lines are things like, "You're overqualified," and "This job takes alot of energy."

That said, my father worked for TWA for 36 years. They retired him on his 65th birthday but at least he had a career. Now all America demands is "jobs" - that 4-letter political campaign slogan.

Male or female, any age, people want to belong -- to each other, to their communities, to their "careers", to their dreams, to something. A "job" keeps you off the streets, but usually holds nothing better for the future. A "job" seems like what the 47% do, according to Romney and his friends, when they can't just sit on their behinds waiting for government handouts.

This country needs to take a long hard look at itself and its "definition" of capitalism and employment. Currently, it means disposability of workers on a whim. How can we ask our young people to be pioneers or adventurers or innovators or inventors when all the politicians can do is blather about "jobs." It is minimum wage thinking that produces minimum wage mentalities.

As the guy said who came to trim our trees the other day, "The problem with this country is no one gives a s--t about anything anymore." It was his opinion (with which I agree), not a whine or an excuse. We need to care again about who and what we are as people and a nation, and what we can be.

Careers, not jobs. Respect, not disposability

May 2, 2013 at 8:49 p.m.

As a geriatrician I have been expecting this for years. High unemployment, low savings rates, the end of the traditional pension and employer-sponsored health insurance all leave many in this age group looking at a long old age of destitution and dependence. Men especially will not stand for it. I meet people in their 50's and 60's every day who have negative net worth, underwater mortgages, have lost jobs and insurance. I have even had a few people refuse treatment for treatable diseases and enter Hospice to avoid the expense of end of life care-and, unlike suicides, their loved ones can still collect life insurance to help pay for their funerals. This is the kind of society we are now, winner take all and the devil take everyone else. We need another labor movement, but it will be too late for this cohort who actually believed the garbage they were fed about working hard always paying off.

May 2, 2013 at 8:58 p.m.

I have had many friends over the age of 50 who have considered suicide because of the economic situation. These are highly educated, professionals. The truth is, when people lose their job now it's hard to get another job. That's especially true if you are over age 50, and if you are over age 60 it's even worse.

Many people have lost great career positions and then struggled to find anything. In the meantime, they have gone through their savings and started pulling money out of their retirement accounts. Many people have nothing left.

No one wants to go homeless and die on the street like a dog. Therefore, many people view suicide as being a better option.

Most people aren't independently wealthy. If they lose their job and paycheck and run through their savings and retirement accounts to keep a roof over their head and food on the table in their 50s or 60s, then how do they continue to do that in their 70s or 80s? Going homeless becomes a matter of when, not if. I see elderly homeless people bedding down on sidewalks and parks every night here, along with families with little kids. But people over age 50 can't come back from homelessness. They will never be able to work again. It will never get better.

I think suicide will only become more prevalent as time goes on and more people over the age of 50 lose their job.

May 2, 2013 at 10:45 p.m.

I don't dare think about it. I'm all my kids have (husband is dead, bless his memory). I have been called for many, many interviews-- my keying speed and experience look really good-- but I don't get even the courtesy of rejection letters. We have run through the college CDs and are living on my husband's 401(k), which makes us ineligible for SNAP or Medicaid, or maybe it's just my fault that I could not bear to fill out the applications which ask for your car's VIN and for copies of your bank statements and any cash in the house, etc. I know that safeguards are necessary to keep out the cheaters, but the process seemed too humiliating and I gave up. When the 401(k) money is gone, then I will have to try again. I don't know how to navigate "the system" and the other system that I thought I knew, where you demonstrated your skills, proved your work ethic, earned certificates and degrees, then applied and got hired-- that system is apparently gone. I do not know what we are going to do.

May 2, 2013 at 10:45 p.m.

How very sad to read this article this afternoon and learn tonight of a friend's suicide. He was in his 50s, a family man. The economic downturn closed his business, and his marriage had gone from being in trouble to getting a divorce.

He left a 12 year old and a 7 year old behind. How very horrible he must have felt to have lost sight of the devastation he did to his beautiful children today.

So sad.

May 2, 2013 at 10:57 p.m.

My uncle committed suicide in December. He was in his fifties and his mother, my grandmother, had passed away two months before. He had spent the last six years taking care of her as her health slowly declined. He did this full time and was unable to work. As a result he had no job and felt no one would hire him and he gave up.

People want to talk about how money isn't important, well it is important when you're facing the loss of your house, being kicked out on the street, living homeless in the last years of your life when you've spent all your life having a roof over your head and food on your table. The people in this article claim they don't know why suicide rates have risen but the answer is obvious: people are losing hope because our government continues to destroy everything for their own interests.

May 2, 2013 at 11:04 p.m.

Ridem-Please, Please don't do it. 29 years ago,my 51 year old father died suddenly,leaving his wife and 5 children a great deal of money in life insurance.While I have been told that he died of a massive heart attack, on some level, I have always wondered if it could have been suicide as he was heavily insured, but he was on the verge of bankruptcy. Financially, My mother, siblings and I benefitted greatly from his death.No amount of money or financial security can replace the fact that have been fatherless since the age of 21. .
I would do ANYTHING to have my father back.

I have to offline for today.  I just saw this and had to post it.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I think the mistake a lot of people make.... (20+ / 0-) thinking somehow all the people who commit suicide are mentally ill or terminally depressed.

    As the entries above illustrate, sometimes suicide is just the only realistic option left.

    That will only change if this country rebuilds its safety net.

    Unfortunately, I'm not hopeful.

    "Michael Moore, who was filming a movie about corporate welfare called 'Capitalism: A Love Story,' sought and received incentives."

    by Bush Bites on Fri May 03, 2013 at 04:14:57 AM PDT

  •  Perspective: (9+ / 0-)

    41% of transgender people have attempted suicide.

  •  We Need these Suicides (0+ / 0-)

    These people were not savvy businessmen. They are a drain on society.

    "I'll believe that corporations are people when I see Rick Perry execute one."

    by bink on Fri May 03, 2013 at 04:40:13 AM PDT

    •   Ever think they were just Honest (0+ / 0-)

      businessmen ? Just not crooked enough to do to their fellow countrymen what you phase as "savvy" and I see as just plain greedy ?
       I hope this was snark and you just forgot the snark tag.

      My wife will pass away sometime soon making suicide look more attractive almost daily, and I mean mine , not hers.

      "the government's role should be to uplift, enlighten, educate and ennoble the citizen, not oppress them with taxation and intrusive laws," Gatewood Galbraith, Historic Marijuana Advocate, aka "The Last Free Man In America," RIP 1-3-12

      by SmileySam on Fri May 03, 2013 at 06:14:00 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  James McMurtry "We can't make it here" (5+ / 0-)

    Others have simply gotten old. I prefer to think I've been tempered by time.

    by Just Bob on Fri May 03, 2013 at 04:59:19 AM PDT

  •  we are the sandwich generation where we are (12+ / 0-)

    watching our 401Ks and IRAs dwindle with the stock market crash, who are unable to find work if we are laid off and now find that our representatives want to cut off long term unemployment and reduce the number on SSDI.  So we are left unable to find work and without our personal safety nets since we now know CEOs can plunder employee retirement funds and without public safety nets as the austerity advocates hold sway.

    Add to this we are the generation tasked with caring for our parents as they age and fall into the crack between independence and SNF, where their funds are insufficient for an assisted living facility and they are unable to live in their own homes.  Add to that children moving back home while they find jobs and we find ourselves as babysitters and re-parenting our grandchildren.  Finally, for some of us, we find ourselves having to care for a disabled partner in addition to caring for our parents, provide an anchor to our children and care for our grandkids all on ever dwindling resources.

    Commit suicide?  Why would we ever consider such a thing?

  •  Sometimes I think (8+ / 0-)

    Republicans basically want everyone to have a gun as an alternative to Social Security. The new Republican retirement plan.

    Do you not see that it is the grossest idolatry to speak of the market as though it were the rival of God?

    by kismet on Fri May 03, 2013 at 05:06:42 AM PDT

  •  Think of this diary the next time you read a diary (4+ / 0-)

    dumping on Walmart and the people who work and shop there. For many Americans a very low paid job is much better than none. Walmart jobs are not done by imported labor. Those are people who really really need to work to pay the bills and eat. Often Walmart employees are over 55, and they have teeth problems, and they can't work as hard or as fast as someone who is 22, but they work, every day, for that check.

    How big is your personal carbon footprint?

    by ban nock on Fri May 03, 2013 at 05:45:45 AM PDT

  •  The post Soviet Union (9+ / 0-)

    We're seeing a lot of the same things happening in the US as happened in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The symptoms are a complete loss of faith in the system, both before and after the collapse, an incompetent and corrupt police state apparatus, domination of society and government by a corrupt and venal plutocratic class whose only interest is in looting the institutions built up by the people working through govt, and massive unemployment and economic desperation.
       The result in the former USSR was a die-off of middle aged men and a shrinking population.

  •  Suicide is the conservative solution to the SS (4+ / 0-)

    problem.  We cannot afford to fund our promises so please kill yourselves and don't you dare leave a mess.

  •  Honestly, what do they expect? (9+ / 0-)

    After you've been hounded out of work for simply being over 50 and you burn through every bit of savings you've made in your life trying to find another job and you STILL can't make it, what in the world do you expect to happen?

    Been there, and if not for my children insisting that I come live with them, I would be one of those statistics. I'm 56 years old, have two college degrees and 35 years of working experience, and haven't had a job since 2007. Society tells me I am now worthless -- or, like some of those in the article comments, of negative worth. Once you hit bottom like that, it's damn hard to ever see the top again. It's like you have cooties, and nobody can stand to be near you because what you have might be contagious.

    The despair swallows you, and when everyone tells you you aren't wanted, not for work or anything else, suicide becomes an attractive alternative to the hurt that is the real world today.

    Expect this to continue and even increase unless something happens to give people work and dignity once again.

    "The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." -- Mark Twain

    by Brooke In Seattle on Fri May 03, 2013 at 06:14:41 AM PDT

  •  Look at my posts, look at my story! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greengemini, Mannie

    I'm 50, I saw all I worked for go up in smoke!
    I see no future for myself anymore.

    I see any hope of a decent life going forward being eaten by a plutocracy. I know I'll never retire with
    dignity, or decency. I'll lose what little I have left
    and die on the street somewhere.

    I'm already a peon being shit on by people who are
    way below me, but I do it becuz I must to survive. What
    happens tomorrow?

    Why not put a bullet in the head and bypass oll the
    indignity of it all?

    meritocricy lost.

    You have your right to your opinion, I will grant you that, but do not denigrate my right to mine!

    by MrQA on Fri May 03, 2013 at 07:05:35 AM PDT

  •  Economic despair and loss of hope for a better (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greengemini, left of center, Mannie

    future definitely are playing a role combined with a loss of faith in ideals like Rule of Law and a justice system that work for everyone regardless of status or class.

    Many formerly middle class Americans who have lost in whatever combination their job, their savings, their health, their house, simply do not have the wish or ability to cope with life on the streets with no safety nets.

    Ironically, we can not even make the Dickensian apology of Scrooge for his indifference to the plight of others - "Are there no workhouses?" because we don't even offer THAT Victorian answer for homelessness and unemployment.

    The saddest thing about this statistic is that these people are the invisible victims of all that ails us - the "disappeareds" of austerity and Social Darwinism. They go mostly unnoticed and unmourned because of their politely excusing themselves without making a fuss.

    Is it wrong of me to wish that everyone contemplating a move like this would write and mail a letter to the editor of their local paper detailing why they are killing themselves as their last act? I honestly would do this if I were ever driven to such extremes in the hopes that at least perhaps in my death, testimony could be given that might conceivably help others.

    “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

    by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Fri May 03, 2013 at 07:22:10 AM PDT

  •  covert suicide and deadly distraction (4+ / 0-)

    How many of those vehicle accidents were really suicides? Many life insurance policies pay out double for accidental death. Some breadwinners may come to feel they're worth more to their family dead than alive.

    Alternatively, how many of those vehicle accidents were caused at least in part because one of the drivers was distracted by abject misery?

    I Refuse to Believe Corporations Are People Until Texas Executes One

    by desert rain on Fri May 03, 2013 at 07:58:57 AM PDT

  •  Seeing as how: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    we've essentially criminalized poverty, in many places and over a fairly short period;
    there is horrible guilt and shame associated with asking for or receiving help;
    there is no shortage of people more than happy to tell you helpful things like 'try harder', 'you're not applying yourself', 'if you really wanted to...' (I'd like to see these people build a fence in a hurricane);
    many people believe they are some kind of whopping failure if they don't achieve -whatever nonsense some "helpful" outside force has repetitively squawked into their brain they're supposed to want or have for no reason-;
    some will make this decision simply because it's the only thing they feel they really have any control over;
    and a myriad of other factors...

    I have a horrible feeling this trend will continue until something truly gives.

    What happened?

    (I can't help but notice that the age range of the majority currently falls around the end of the Boomers and the beginning of X. I betting there's something to that. I see hints of it in the comments shared in the diary. And I'm betting someone out there is already compiling all the info they can to figure it out.)

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