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Suicide up among middle-aged Americans, but why?

Published: Tuesday, May 14 2013 11:10 p.m. MDT

Suicide rates for the young have been stable and among the elderly they have declined somewhat. That it is rising among the middle-aged may reflect the group itself — the baby boomers, said Jill Harkavy-Friedman, senior director of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "This group had more anxiety and depression in the past and a lot of substance abuse in both the past and in the present. Those things, mental health, mental illness in general, substance abuse, they all contribute to suicide."

The likelihood of dying by suicide is also greater with some medications that are now available," said Harkavy-Friedman. Plus, some middle-aged people may be less likely to take medications prescribed to treat mental illness because of warnings of side effects and complications.

Fixing it

"The point is there are many factors that come together. For each individual, those factors may be different. ... Then there's likely to be a recent stressor that triggers an already-at-risk person," she said, from depression to a job loss or a broken relationship. Many people endure and survive those stressors, but someone struggling with mental health may be more affected. That's why having outsiders who will help and creating a plan to cope with stresses can save a life for those who are vulnerable.

Reidenberg hopes American businesses will tackle prevention by turning work sites into places to get helpful information, from suicide and mental health to coping with different stressors and a tough economy. He believes employers could do much more to make work a safe place to discuss struggles.

Experts urged reducing access to lethal means of suicide, noting the "impulsive nature of the act. Research shows that when you put barriers across a bridge that has become a popular place to jump, people don't usually go to another bridge. If you take car keys away from someone who is in an acute, high-risk phase for suicide, lives can be saved. The ultimate form of reducing access to lethal means is putting someone in a hospital," Reidenberg said. Although it can happen, fewer suicides occur there.

Experts note some age-based differences, said Reidenberg. It is known that youths with depressive disorder tend to be more irritable than adults with such a disorder. Adults tend to more noticeable sleep disturbances, in part because adolescence is a time of sleep disruption. There are fewer warning signs for senior citizens than other groups; they tend to employ very lethal means. What is consistent across ages is communicating intent in some way and looking for a way to do it, which creates opportunities for intervention.

Among specialized interventions designed to prevent suicide are cognitive behavior therapy, problem-solving therapy and dialectical behavior therapy.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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