Suicides soar among middle-aged Americans

Some unique generational and economic stresses may help explain why more people in their 50s and 60s are killing themselves.

By Bruce Kennedy May 6, 2013 8:33AM

Image: People at a funeral in a cemetery (© Mike Kemp/the Agency CollectionWhy are more middle-aged Americans killing themselves? Is it the economic crunch? More access to both legal and illegal drugs? Or maybe it's part of being in the so-called Sandwich Generation -- the cohort that's coping with the issues of their elderly parents while still trying to raise their own children.

What is certain, according to a new Morbidity and Mortality report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is those numbers are at startling levels for the baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964.

The CDC reports that from 1999 to 2010, the overall, age-adjusted suicide rate for adults aged 35 to 64 years jumped by 28.4%. Broken down by gender, the suicide rate for men in their 50s during that period increased by nearly 50%, while for women aged 60 to 64 its growth approached 60%.

And some experts think those numbers may be underreported, due to suicide's social stigma. After all, middle age is supposed to be the most stable time of your life, "because you're married, you're settled, you had a job," Dr. Paula Clayton, medical director for the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide, said in an interview with

Boomers in particular appear to be facing some unique generational and financial stresses. The Great Recession left many of them unemployed or underemployed toward the final years of their profession lives, while they still face such normal middle-age stresses as mortgages, car payments and saving for their kids' educations. And this inability to find work and keep their economically struggling families afloat could be "that final weight to a whole chain of events," Pat Smith, with the Michigan Department of Community Health, told the Associated Press.

"Some people who've never been unemployed before, they've lost their savings during this economic trend," Clayton said. "They can't access their retirement benefits because they're not old enough. There is more stress economically on those middle-aged people than there was earlier."

Then again, it may have something to do with boomers' outlook.

"The boomers had great expectations for what their life might look like, but I think perhaps it hasn't panned out that way," Julie Phillips, a sociology professor at Rutgers University who has researched suicide rates, told The New York Times. "All these conditions the boomers are facing, future cohorts are going to be facing many of these conditions as well."

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May 6, 2013 10:31AM
It's not just money problems; age discrimination, societal distaste, and being judged by grey and wrinkles rather than genuine attributes has caused many, if not most otherwise vibrant and capable boomers to loose self esteem, and for some, the will to live.

Looks, (apparent/perceived age), trumps ability, skill, moral conviction and values in today's world. 50 years ago, our "elders" were to be respected for possessing the wisdom, ethics and integrity only many years and hard earned lessons can bestow. Today, our elders are only seen as capable greeters at a Superstore, volunteers at the local hospital, or commercial actors for senior care commercials. The Media (which now is the major driver of  interpersonal perceptions), has largely filtered anyone who 'looks' over 35 from content presented to every man woman and child; the 'old' are now little more than ancient byproducts of the young and vivacious.     

My heart is heavy as I am writing this. Factory closing, with twelve hundred employees, was closed within months of nine hundred of the employees, having enough time working, to qualify for a pension.

Two friends, both hard working guys, both worked overtime, gave there heart and soul, to that company, also worked at the factory most of there adult life, committed suicide, shortly after plant closed. Company made money by not paying pensions, to those nine hundred employees, but the human toll, was horrific, not just for those two guys, but several hundred other employees.

Another friend developed cancer, took his own life, rather than leave his wife destitute, because of the high medical costs, he would incur.

May 6, 2013 10:25AM
I feel people who have felt like they have lost everything lately are having a hard time seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Depression just builds when you can't find a job and you feel like you will never get anywhere ever again because your feeling to old to start again. They do not want to feel this way, it just builds:(
May 6, 2013 11:14AM
I'm a single white male in my early 30's, over-educated, and under-employed. My student loan debt is far above what my employment qualifications can comfortably allow me to repay. There is absolutely no way I could afford to purchase a new vehicle, home, piece of land, etc. at any time in the foreseeable future, and I am not alone. At least the baby-boom generation had it good for a while. Short of receiving an inheritance, I see absolutely no way out of this predicament. Times aren't just tough for older folks.
May 6, 2013 11:00AM
Amazing what happens to a Nation when Corporations refuse to pay a Living Wage and keep record Profits and Cash on hand for themselves. Some people lose all hope.
May 6, 2013 11:29AM
We're just at that age where, for some of us, we've worked hard, made sacrifices, got an education, was sensible about money, about love, took care of ourselves - and still ended up sick or with physical disabilities, broke, alone, childless, and in a demeaning job. And short of a miracle there's nothing that's going to change. There's no more time for things to turn around. I'm tired of praying, I'm tired of hoping, I'm tired of crying.   I don't want to die...but I don't want to live the rest of my life like this, either. If it weren't for the fact that I saw first hand what suicide does to the survivors (my mother's brother killed himself before I was born) I probably would.  But I could never do that to my family.
May 6, 2013 11:41AM

These stories are sad to hear, but even sadder is how the government is hiding behind fake unemployment numbers and job growth.  Just because unemployment benefits have run out for someone or the government has stopped offering extensions of unemployment does not magically make them employed.  Yet that is how the government views them.  Your unemployment runs out and you no longer get counted by the government.  Republicans and Democrats do not care about you. They only care about keeping their jobs and protecting their benefits. 


That is the worst part of this last Presidential Election, the media never stopped to ask Obama or Romney these questions.  We had three debates and each was worthless.  I did not agree with everything Ross Perot said but he at least made the Republicans and Democrats have to answer some tuff questions. 


We are on our own in this retirement battle. 

May 6, 2013 11:37AM

The world teaches us to fill our lives with material things and selfish pursuits that can never fill our lives with purpose. When those things go away - and they always do - we're left with nothing. When you allow God in your life, no matter what your circumstances may be, you have a source that will never leave you empty and in despair.

May 6, 2013 12:23PM
As Bette Davis once said "getting old ain't for sissies."  Believe me, it's true.  Everyone who doesn't die young will get old and it's the great equalizer for people of all races, religions, etc.  I don't know about anyone else, but I'm not as able bodied as I was even ten years ago, so the thought of working until 70 is out of the question.  I retired at 63 and even though I don't have money to travel, play golf and socialize, it's nice to be out of the rat race and that alone is worth it.
May 6, 2013 11:27AM
Job outsourcing?

Stock market crash? 

Housing crash?

Mass layoffs?

Wage reductions?

Now to move on to the next step in our plan to destroy the middle class (since you middle class helped us get rid of those pesky unions we would of had to deal with....)
May 6, 2013 10:47AM
My nephew is a detective and he says they have so many suicides now that they can't do much more than give each a cursory look.   Often, they will send a cadet out to investigate.
May 6, 2013 10:47AM

People need high tech skills in this economy.The last 7 presidents sent the low

tech jobs oversees.

May 6, 2013 12:01PM
The economies of  countries with the biggest middle class population do the best. Only when China's and India's middle class began to grow like crazy did their economy REALLY TAKE OFF. Looks like we can all see how the US economy is headed to a 3rd world status.
May 6, 2013 11:13AM
Tell me American capitlaism and our approach  to a society is working.   It will change either voluntarily from above or by force from below.
May 6, 2013 9:52AM
May 6, 2013 12:14PM
Suicide rates are skyrocketing. All ages too. It's our way of life. Money, money, and more money. And if you're not wealthy you're a zero. Our mind set in America is a disgrace. 
May 6, 2013 11:58AM

The situation sucks. But there is much that many could have done but did not do, to avoid its presence in their own lives.


How many boomers about to retire spent the previous 20 or more years living substantially beneath their means? Did they have one of the cheesier cars in the parking lot? Did they have a dinky apartment? Did they pack a lunch 99% of their days? Did they religoiusly clip coupons? Did they invest and save for the long haul?


Of course, the "Good American" contributors to our consumer economy will do none of the above. They'll live and spend and save on the premise that tomorrow's ever-improved income will pay for today's ever-increased debts. The "Good American" is what we are all supposed to be.


But if you think about it--for even a minute--wasn't it always ABUNDANTLY OBVIOUS that only a reckless gambler could afford to be the "Good American" consumer?

May 6, 2013 9:33AM
Hmmm... the Me Generation crashed home values, Generation X & Y took our careers away and have destroyed the economy while in them... our kids can't lift their heads up and away from their i-Phone and with the i-Phone, Big Business, Bank and Advertisers have lured them into traps. Churches don't get it and the NRA is arming every fanatical pyschopath they can for an Armegeddon of their making. Government is completely dysfunctional and Octogenarian Billionaires rule the world. Let's not leave out that the Financial Sector got a crappy law passed in 1999 giving them the power to collude and screw us legally or that Ben Bernanke has printed us to the brink of Oblivion. I guess some people just can't handle that.
May 6, 2013 1:13PM

Part 2

1. Re-implement the "Glass Steagal act of 1933"- it regulates the banks- Bill Clinton let it expire and created the so called great growth period.

2. Revamp the electoral college to reflect county by county electors, which report to the state electors, thus balancing the process and preventing 8 city's from controlling the nation. It doesn't matter if Oregon, Nevada , Hawaii, Alaska and several others even vote. or make it by popular vote and eliminate it all together.

3. Re-Establish a national bank of the people of the United states and abolish the federal reserve.

4. Re-Implement the constitutional tax code and eliminate the IRS- flat tax and be done. Everyone pays.

5. Remove the Rights of Imperpetuity that Corporations now have. Companies are not human and should not have the same rights- Its called regulation. CEO's and executives are responsible for their actions. Today the only price they pay is public shame- which means nothing.

6. Unite as a Nation of free people under laws and enforce those laws, all of them. End the era of exceptions. These laws are for citizens of the United states and no one else.

7. Establish Quid-pro- Quo, we are the only nation in the world that allows non-citizens to own land and property legally and with full protection of the law, as if you were a citizen, when you are not.

8. Do Not allow Any person, group, community, village, city, state, region to foster the continued Politically correct version of Bigotry, racism, discrimination or otherwise oppression of other people, for the simple social advancement of yet the same. "Live and let live"- stop the insanity! Ethnic or cultural differences, will manifest themselves as progress and harmony that co-exists under a united people for the common good and full protection of the Laws of the nation.

9. Re-establish the government of the People, by the People, for the People founded upon the constitution of the United States of America. When it says liberty and justice for all, it means all, there is no other version of definition of "all" and it is in reference to Citizens of the USA. If you are a legal citizen, it applies. If you are here legally, welcome to my nation, leave the bad behind, keep the good you bring and live free to prosper at your own hard work and effort. Assimilate to our nation, don't expect me to assimilate to you- in time I can learn to accept our petty differences.

10. Remove the tort laws, prior to the creation we did just fine. We don't need lawyers to argue guilt or innocence. The law is the law, all citizens are subject to it- there is no mitigating circumstances, no excuse to break the law- guilty or innocent. Send the message that we are a Nation of Law and it is to be applied equally and swiftly.

Most people don't know that the founding fathers made slavery, against the law when we became a country, and specifically abolished it at that time. It took 100 years before the fed's decided to enforce it and then only for their own political purposes- Not because "No man can be a slave"! look it up.

Give yourselves hope!

" ".~Benjamin Franklin- 1760


"" ~Barbra Hall- 2000


"" ~ John Stewart Mill- 1859

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