The Suicide Rate, Again
Recently released data shows that while the number of overall suicides in the U.S. has been stable at about 32,000 per year (11/100,000 people), the distribution of these suicides has changed.
Elderly males still have the highest rate; for those 75 and older, the rate is 38/100,000.
However, for women, the demography has shifted; not, the highest rate is among those in their 40s and 50s (7.5/100,000). The rate increased 3.9% for this age group.
Men, as before, overwhelmingly used firearms (57.6%); however, this is a 6% decrease that was replaced by hanging or suffocation. For women, poisoning is the most common method (39.1%). However, in the 40-64 year old female group, the rate had increased 57% since 1999.
There’s no obvious explanation for this, though the author speculates along the same lines I would: there are two populations of middle-aged women. The first is the women overwhelmed by responsibilities, to their family, perhaps a job, perhaps caring for elderly parents. These women may be both physically exhausted as well as emotionally drained, not to mention under significant financial strain. Perhaps the elderly parents had some money saved in 401(k)s which the woman now relies on to help cover costs; but that money may be half gone, or all gone.
On the other hand is a group of women who find themselves in the opposite situation: never married or perhaps divorced; kids may be grown or she never had any. No significant family contacts nearby. They may work but not find the job fulfilling. These women may find themselves in the midst of an existential or midlife crisis, wondering what the point of life is.
Obviously, if you feel suicidal you should immediately contact your doctor or go to the emergency room. But the more general problem, if either or both of these explanations are correct, is that this is bigger than psychiatry alone. Certainly medication can help in the acute sense, and for those feeling suicidal, psychiatry is the best course. But the real solution to a depression of this type, which hits middle-aged women, and likely a wide variety of other demographics, is to reconnect with those things that bring meaning to life. This may be religion, work, family or friends; it may entail moving to a new place or trying to reconnect with that person you had a fallout with 10 years ago.
But in the general sense, what is needed is a turning outward, toward other people. It doesn’t even have to be pleasurable, just meaningful. “Social media” and the internet provide false relationships, and this is why even those with multiple online friends still feel empty.
Medications will help pull one out of the depths, and give energy enough to start making changes, but these changes must ultimately come from each individual. Talking to your doctor may help organize these ideas.
Paul Ballas, D.O., wrote about mental health for HealthCentral. He is a member of the American Psychiatric Association and has been a presenter at the American Psychiatric Association and American Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine meetings.