Financial difficulties are behind a troubling rise in suicide among 40- to 64-year-olds over the past 15 years, according to new research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Suicide rates have risen about 40 percent since 1999 among Americans in midlife and older, with a sharp rise since 2007, federal health statistics show. The researchers concluded the economic downturn of 2007-2009 was a contributing factor, boosting depression and anxiety among many Americans who faced job layoffs, declining home values, household financial difficulties, and reductions in retirement savings.
In fact, such “external economic factors” were tied to 37.5 percent of all suicides in 2010 — rising from 32.9 percent in 2005, the study showed.
"Relative to other age groups, a larger and increasing proportion of middle-aged suicides have circumstances associated with job, financial, or legal distress and are completed using suffocation," said researchers Katherine A. Hempstead, director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University and Julie A. Phillips, with the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research.
"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. External circumstances also have increased in importance among those aged 65 years. Financial difficulties related to the loss of retirement savings in the stock market crash may explain some of this trend."
The findings are based on analysis of suicide records culled from medical examiner and coroner reports, as well as death certificates and law enforcement and homicide reports. The suicide circumstances were grouped into three major categories: personal, interpersonal, and external.
Examples of personal circumstances are depressed mood, current treatment for a mental health problem, or alcohol dependence. Interpersonal circumstances include an intimate partner problem, the death of a friend, or being a victim of intimate partner violence. Examples of external circumstances are a job or financial problem, legal problem, or difficulty in school.
"Increased awareness is needed that job loss, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and other financial setbacks can be risk factors for suicide,” the researchers wrote. “Human resource departments, employee assistance programs, state and local employment agencies, credit counselors, and others who interact with those in financial distress should improve their ability to recognize people at risk and make referrals.
“Increasing access to crisis counseling and other mental health services on an emergency basis, as is often provided at times of natural disaster, should also be considered in the context of economic crises."
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