The suicide rate for baby boomers is increasing, says a study published in the September/October issue of Public Health Reports. Researchers from Rutgers University and Emory University studied data from the National Center for Health Statistics and found boomers reversed a "long-standing trend" of decreasing suicide rates.
"Following a period of stability or decline, suicide rates have climbed since 1988 for males aged 40–49 years, and since 1999 for females aged 40–59 years and males aged 50–59 years," the authors wrote. Furthermore, in the early '90s a "crossover" occurred and now the 40-49 year old cohort has a higher suicide rate than the older cohort.
From 1995 to 2005, the suicide rate for boomer men increased 2% per year; the suicide rate for women was slightly higher at 3%.
And while it may be easy to presume boomers' dismay is a result of the recession, researchers found a link between people who knew someone in their adolescent years to commit suicide and those likely to commit suicide as an adult.
“You might think that the higher rates in adolescence would lead to lower rates later because the most suicide prone people would be gone but that doesn’t appear to be the case,” Ellen Idler, a sociologist at Emory University and one of the authors of the report, said in a press release. “Clinical studies often show that knowing someone who committed suicide is considered a risk factor for later doing it yourself, and that may be one factor here. The high rates in adolescence could actually be contributing to the high rates in middle age.”
The authors did note, however, that there could be a "period effect" at play, in which social and economic factors affect the suicide rate. They referred to a 1993 study that found middle-aged men were in a relatively stable period at home and at work; by the '80s, women were likely to be in the labor force at a level similar to men. "To the extent that recent social role, economic, or other changes have eroded these traditional midlife protections for both males and females, they provide a period explanation for the post-1999 surge in suicide rates," the authors conclude.
Other reasons for the upward trend, according to the report, include substance abuse and illness.