Each week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). In it, readers--usually physicians, epidemiologists and public health workers--find the government's most recent data about the health and well-being of Americans. This data comes, in part, from the National Vital Statistics System. Unfortunately, the May 3, 2013 report indicated a disturbing and concerning trend: suicide rates greatly increased between 1999-2010, especially in the "baby boomer" generation. In fact, the MMWR cites that in 2009 there were more deaths from suicide than from motor vehicle crashes.
This increase is not only due to increased suicide rates in our military troops, nor people with known or suspected mental disorders or repeat suicidal ideation or gestures.
I'll spare you all the technical medical and biostatistical jargon, and even some internal statistics (sub-categories within the statistics). In summary, the report indicates that for babay boomers--citizens aged 35-64 years old (y.o.):
• Overall: the annual suicide rate increased over 28% (from 13.7 suicides per 100,000 population to 17.6 per 100,000)
• Race/Ethnicity: the greatest increase was among American Indians/Alaskan Natives (up 65.2%), and among Whites up 40%, from 15.9 to 22.3/100,000
• Gender: Men's rate increased 27.3% (from 21.5 to 27.3), with most of those between ages 50-59 y.o. Women's rate increased 31.5% (from 6.2 to 8.1), and they were mostly in their early 60s (60-64, to be exact).
• Method: the greatest increase was suicide by suffocation, poisoning, then firearms, and the preference varied by gender. Most men choose firearms, then suffocation (hanging); while most women chose poisoning, then firearms.
• Youth and Elderly:There was no statistically significant change in suicide rates for persons aged 10-34 years old, nor persons over 65.
• Geography: Increased suicide rates were noticed in all four geographic regions and in 39 states. Rates were highest in the West.
Why the increase? The MMWR offers the possibility of 1) recent financial woes and the economic downturn; 2) the baby boomer generation had comparatively high suicide rates during their adolescent years, and 3) the increased availability of prescription drugs (many times used illegally), such as OxyContin and more. Other possibilities include poor coping skills, situational/relationship issues and depression and, for some, fear of loss of power--personally, professionally, societally.
Other groups with increasing suicide rates are, as mentioned, our military troops, and physicians. As published last year in General Hospital Psychiatry using data from the National Violent Death Reporting System, suicide among physicians is higher than in the general population. Physician suicides are believed due to psychosocial stressors and/or mental illness.
Unfortunately, last year two people I knew committed suicide. One was (ironically) a Black woman, early 60s, and quite well-to-do--as in very wealthy. She lived alone after her husband died seven years ago; and despite being a social butterfly, well known to the Neiman Marcus staff and executives, her sprawling mansion and all kinds of servants, it wasn't enough, and with prescription pills and alcohol, she killed herself. Looking back on her actions in the few weeks before the death, what 'seemed odd' for her to do became crystal clear: She was preparing.
The other person was a colleague, one of the attending physicians who helped train me when an intern and resident where I trained in obstetrics and gynecology. A well-decorated ob-gyn, he--a White male, age 63--put a gun to his head last July, leaving everyone stunned and pained at his sudden and unfortunate death. Ironically he did this on "July 1," and many who knew him found that interesting: July 1 is the date on the "new year" begins for all levels of medical training--something in which he participated for decades. Was it related? Who can say?
What's of note in the MMWR is that the increase in youth suicide rates were not statistically significant; and, as usual, the suicide rate for Blacks remained quite low. (Suicide is one of the few areas in which Blacks don't have the highest rate for a life-taking disorder. Historically, White women have approximately three times the suicide rate of Black women, as presented in Living Well: The Black Woman's Guide to Health Sex and Happiness.)
One might think that Black women would be killing themselves at high rates given the social stressors Black women face every day, stressors to which White and other women can't even relate. These 'social stressors' include, but are not limited to, the highest prevalence of, and deaths from, many killer diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer deaths; single motherhood; being the primary subject of misogynistic lyrics; the educational and financial inequity of Black women to Black men (Black women graduate college and graduate schools at more than twice the rate of Black men).
Additionally the issues of colorism ("light-skinned" women gaining more social favor/acceptance than women of rich hue); the naturally-occurring skin color and body curves (voluptuous, rounded buttocks, full lips, etc) being rejected, but fake tans and fake lips, butts and breasts being lauded. Add to that that Black women have the highest ate of being head-of-household, as they are the least married demographic.
Plus, especially in today's world, there's the high threat of men "on the 'down low'" (think Jason Collins of the NBA, secretly having sex with men but not admitting to his female consort/fiancé (who thought he was purely heterosexual) that he "goes both ways." There's also the problem of some Black girls "behaving badly," which, when done by [whomever], seems to cast a negative light on the entire demographic in numbers beyond that when it occurs in others. The low suicide rate of Black women is a strong testament to many Black women's strength of character, and (for many) a faith-based life.
With the economy rebounding, hopefully these suicide rates will reverse in time. In the meantime, if you are suicidal, or know someone who is, seek counseling, meet with a spiritual advisor and call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Someone is there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
See the latest E-Book: First Do No Harm: How to Heal Your Relationships Using the Wisdom of Professional Caregivers
Living Well, Despite Catchin' Hell, with a foreword by Pauletta Washington, wife of Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington. Endorsed by psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere and others. Includes comparative data for Black, White, Hispanic, Asian and Native American women. The book also addresses the effects of negative stereotypes. (print and eBook).