Suicides have been on the rise since 1999 across the board from ages 10 to 74.
The report comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which looked at data on cause of death for those ages in the United States.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. The largest increases were in middle aged men and young women, the report said.
Reasons for the increase in the suicide rate over the past 15 years are complex. One may be a reverse in the push between the late 1980s and 1990s for healthcare providers on to identify and treat depression with pharmaceuticals.
This grew out of concern that treatment itself – antidepressants – could increase the risk of suicide, Christine Moutier, MD, chief medical officer of the non-profit American Foundation for Suicide Prevention told CNN.
The Food and Drug Administration particularly warned about suicide risk in children taking antidepressants she added.
Another reason could be the growing number of overdoses from opiate painkillers, which Moutier says are considered suicide if a medical examiner or coroner determines they were intentional. "Access to lethal means is one of the most significant risk factors for an individual to die by suicide," she added.
The suicide rate for both younger and older Americans remained virtually unchanged; however, the rate spiked for those in middle age (35 to 64 years old) with a 28 percent increase from 1999 to 2010, writes Dale Archer, MD, in Psychology Today. The rate for whites in middle-age jumped 40 percent during the same time frame.
“Suicide, once thought to be associated with troubled teens and the elderly, is quickly becoming an age-blind statistic,” Archer writes
“Middle aged Americans are turning to suicide in alarming numbers. The reasons include easily accessible prescription painkillers, the mortgage crisis and most importantly the challenge of a troubled economy,” Archer says.
“Just because a person attempts suicide doesn't mean they want to die,” Archer wrote. “Rather, often they have lost what I call the, power of hope. When faced with a bad situation that has no end in sight, coupled with the helpless feeling that nothing you can do will make a difference it’s all too easy to lose hope.”
Another age group that stands out, adolescent girls from age 10 to 14, the CDC reported. Though teenage girls make up a very small portion of the total number of suicides, the rate in that group jumped the most, tripling over 15 years from 0.5 to 1.7 per 100,000 people.
"We don't know what's going on, to be quite honest," says Arielle Sheftall, who works at the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. "We have thoughts, that maybe it's this, maybe it's that. It's really hard to pinpoint one specific risk factor that really, truly is driving this trend,” she told NPR.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI) has noted, however, that 1 in 5 children ages 13 to 18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness.
“Mental health problems – such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or insomnia as well as drug and alcohol abuse – can put young people at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts,” Kate Cronan, MD, writes.
Teens going through major life changes such as moving, and those who are victims of bullying, are at greater risk of suicidal thoughts, she adds.
Other risk factors include feelings of distress, irritability, or agitation, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that often accompany depression, a family history of depression or suicide, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, lack of a support network, poor relationships with parents or peers, and feelings of social isolation.
Overall, suicide, “is a leading cause of death and we just don’t have a handle on it,” Matthew K. Nock, PhD, a psychology professor at Harvard and one of the country’s leading suicide researchers, told The Wall Street Journal.
Nock and other researchers are trying to quantify suicide risk through experimental science that the person at risk would not be able to communicate, completing a study to create a measure of individual suicide risk. The researchers used the medical records of 1.7 million people who are patients at a large health-care system.
Computers considered more than 30,000 different risk factors, including stereotypical ones like age and mental-health history. But other factors — such as gastrointestinal problems, infections and injuries like rib fractures — were tied to increased risk as well.
The science is still in its early stages.
July 13, 2016
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA