The Whys of Middle-Aged Suicide

Ransom Riggs

When it comes to suicide, the young and the old get most of the attention; traditionally, they're regarded as the age groups most at risk, and preventing such tragedies has been the focus of a great deal of research and funding. After the suicide of Oregon senator Gordon Smith's 21-year-old son in 2004, for instance, the state devoted $82 million to youth suicide prevention programs. Among the middle-aged, however, suicide is regarded with some bias, as if it were merely the refuge of down-on-their-luck losers with nowhere else to turn. But the facts clearly contradict this: according to the New York Times, "of the more than 32,000 people who committed suicide in 2004, 14,607 were 40 to 64 years old (6,906 of those were 45 to 54); 5,198 were over 65; 2,434 were under 21 years old." Here's another staggering fact: a recent CDC study shows that between 1999 and 2004, suicide among those aged 45-54 increased by nearly 20%, and in women it jumped 31%. (For comparison's sake, the rate amongst teenagers rose only 2%.)

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There are a few theories, however. One specifically identifies the American "Baby Boom" generation as unusually prone to depression, a conclusion reached by some researchers nearly twenty years ago. Theories about that usually cite the sharp differences between the way they were raised by their WWII-era parents and, thanks to the changing pressures of modern life, the way have raised their own children; I know several boomer parents who pine for the "family values" and tight family social network their parents provided, which they feel guilty about not being able to provide to their kids.

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