The rate of suicide in the United States is increasing
for the first time in a decade, according
to a new report from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of
Public Health's Center
for Injury Research and Policy.
The increase in the overall suicide rate between 1999
and 2005 was due primarily to an increase
in suicides among whites ages 40 to 64, with white
middle-aged women experiencing the largest annual
increase. Whereas the overall suicide rate rose 0.7 percent
during this time period, the rate rose 2.7
percent among middle-aged white men annually and 3.9
percent among middle-aged women.
By contrast, suicide decreased significantly in blacks
over the study's time period and remained
stable among Asian and Native Americans. The results are
published online by the American Journal of
Preventive Medicine and will be published in the
December print edition of the journal.
The researchers also conducted a detailed analysis of
suicide methods across specific
population groups. While firearms remain the predominant
method, the rate of firearm suicides
decreased during the study period. Suicide by hanging or
suffocation increased markedly, with an
annual increase of 6.3 percent among men and 2.3 percent
among women. Hanging/suffocation
accounted for 22 percent of all suicides by 2005,
surpassing poisoning at 18 percent.
"The results underscore a change in the epidemiology
of suicide, with middle-aged whites
emerging as a new high-risk group," said study co-author
Susan P. Baker, a professor with the
Bloomberg School's Center for Injury Research and Policy.
"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
Baker, along with colleagues Guoqing Hu, Holly Wilcox
and Lawrence Wissow, analyzed data from
the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System
mortality reports, which provide data
on deaths according to cause and intent of injury by age,
race, gender and state. WISQARS mortality
data are based on annual data files of the National Center
for Health Statistics of the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention.
The reasons for the increase in the suicide rate are
not fully understood. "While it would be
straightforward to attribute the results to a rise in
so-called midlife crises, recent studies find that
middle age is mostly a time of relative security and
emotional well-being," Baker said. "Further
research is warranted to explore societal changes that may
be disproportionably affecting the middle-
aged in this country."
The research was funded by the Center for Injury
Research and Policy.