Greater Suicide Prevention Efforts Needed

Suicide rates in middle-aged adults may have increased due to recession

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Economic and job-related crises affect many people during their lives. For some adults, these crises may lead to self-harm. Fortunately, help is available for those who are at risk.

A new study found that the rate of suicides due to economic or legal problems among middle-aged adults increased in recent years. This increased rate may be due to the economic downturn of the late 2000s, according to this study.

Resources are available for those who feel overwhelmed, depressed or suicidal. Anyone at risk for self-harm should seek immediate medical care or call a suicide prevention hotline.

Angelos Halaris, MD, PhD, a Loyola University Medical Center psychiatrist who specializes in depression treatment, told dailyRx News that this study could raise awareness about suicide and the ways people can get help.

"The best resource is seeking out a mental health professional in the community where they live or wherever they can get an appointment as promptly as possible," Dr. Halaris said. "Suicidal thoughts can escalate fairly rapidly to a suicide plan and associated action especially if the person has a tendency to be impulsive. Sharing such thoughts with another person they feel close to, such as spouse, sibling, parent or close friend ... can be of significant benefit and protection."

Katherine A. Hempstead, PhD, of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, NJ, led this study.

"The sharpest increase in external circumstances appears to be temporally related to the worst years of the Great Recession, consistent with other work showing a link between deteriorating economic conditions and suicide," Dr. Hempstead and colleague Julia A. Phillips, PhD, of the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research in New Brunswick, NJ, wrote.

Drs. Hempstead and Phillips used data from the National Violent Death Reporting System for this study. The system reported the circumstances that led to completed suicides. These researchers used data from 2005 to 2010, with a focus on those aged 40 to 64.

External circumstances were cited in 35 percent of suicides in middle-aged adults during those years. These circumstances included job, financial and legal problems.

Drs. Hempstead and Phillips found that external circumstances were more common among men (39 percent) than women (23 percent).

A recent life crisis was reported in 40 percent of suicides with external circumstances.

Drs. Hempstead and Phillips found that the percentage of suicides in middle-aged adults with reported external circumstances rose from 33 percent to nearly 38 percent between 2005 and 2010. Suicides with other reported circumstances were either stable or declined over that time period.

The increase in middle-aged adults may be due to job market difficulties, Drs. Hempstead and Phillips theorized. They also said declining health, rising health care costs and other financial setbacks might have played a role.

These findings may have implications for prevention.

"[Those] who interact with those in financial distress should improve their ability to recognize people at risk and make referrals," Drs. Hempstead and Phillips wrote. "Increasing access to crisis counseling and other mental health services on an emergency basis ... should also be considered in the context of economic crises."

Dr. Halaris said friends and family have the ability to offer help to those who might be having suicidal thoughts.

"If someone notices a person they know express suicidal thoughts or engage in self-destructive behavior, he/she should approach that person with sensitivity and empathy and offer their assistance and support," Dr. Halaris said. "This takes some skill so that a trusting rapport can be achieved otherwise the attempted approach will likely fail. If the person experiencing suicidal thought opens up and reveals their thoughts, then of course the recommendation to assist in seeking professional help should be the next step. Under no circumstances should the person offering assistance minimize the seriousness of the matter or, worse, display a punitive and unempathetic attitude."

Anyone who feels overwhelmed, depressed or suicidal should seek help. More information can be found at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website.

This study was published online Feb. 27 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 26, 2015
Last Updated:
March 3, 2015