Middle-aged women drive rise in U.S. suicides: study

Tue Oct 21, 2008 10:16am EDT
 
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. suicide rates appear to be on the rise, driven mostly by middle-aged white women, researchers reported on Tuesday.

They found a disturbing increase in suicides between 1999 and 2005 and said the pattern had changed in an unmistakable way -- although the reasons behind the change are not clear.

The overall suicide rate rose 0.7 percent during this time, but the rate for white men aged 40 to 64 rose 2.7 percent and for middle-aged women 3.9 percent, the team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found.

"The biggest increase that we have seen between 1999 and 2005 was the increase in poisoning suicide in women -- that went up by 57 percent," said Susan Baker, a professor in injury prevention with a special expertise in suicide.

Writing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Baker, Guoqing Hu and colleagues said they analyzed publicly available death certificate data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The results underscore a change in the epidemiology of suicide, with middle-aged whites emerging as a new high-risk group," Baker said in a statement.

"Historically, suicide-prevention programs have focused on groups considered to be at highest risk -- teens and young adults of both genders as well as elderly white men. This research tells us we need to refocus our resources to develop prevention programs for men and women in their middle years."

Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States and Baker said the changes are substantial.   Continued...

 
<p>A woman holds her head in an undated photo. REUTERS/File</p>