Tag Archives: suicide

Surprising Hike in Suicide Rates Found Among Baby Boomers

Suicide rates among middle-aged people are increasing. The trend seems to be driven by the Baby Boomers entering into middle age, when chronic diseases start to appear.

The study, published in the journal Public Health Reports, shows middle-age suicides to be at odds with the overall U.S. suicide rate, which has been decreasing. According to sociologist Ellen Idler of Emory University, people aged 40-59 have had a longtime moderate suicide rate.

Idler said, “The findings are disturbing because they’re a reversal of a long-standing trend.”

Using data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, Idler and colleagues tracked suicide rates from 1975 to 2005. By 2000, most people aged 40-59 were Baby Boomers; the suicide rate started climbing steadily for these middle-age ranges. There was an increase of over 2% per year per man, and more than 3% for women from 1999 to 2005.

Data from 2006 and 2007 indicate that the trend toward more middle-age suicides is continuing, according to Idler. The National Center for Health Statistics lists the suicide rate for 45-54-year-old as 17.7 deaths per 1000,000 people in 2007. For the 25-34-year-old age group, the suicide rate is 13 deaths per 100,000 people and 12.6 deaths per 100,000 in the 65-74 age group.

The post 1999 increase in middle-aged suicide has been particularly dramatic for those who are unmarried and less educated. Suicide rates in men aged 40 to 49 who had some college but no degree increased 16.3% between 2000 and 2005, while the suicide rate in men aged 50-59 went up 29.6%. Women showed a 30% increase in the suicide rate for both ages for women with some college but no degree.

Men and women with a high school degree or less also became more likely to commit suicide. Rates in men with a high school diploma increased 11.7% in the 40-49 age group and 27% in the 50-59 age group.  Women saw their suicide rate increase by 15 and 17%.

Middle-participants with a college degree appeared largely protected from the trend.

The Baby Boomers also experienced higher suicide rates during their adolescent and young adulthood, doubling the rate for those age groups at the time. Their suicide rate then declined slightly and stabilized, before beginning to increase again in midlife.

“You might think higher rates in adolescence would lead to lower rates later because the most suicide prone people would be gone, but that doesn’t appear to be the case,” Idler said.

Studies show that knowing someone who committed suicide is a risk factor for people who later kill themselves.

“The high rates in adolescence could actually be contributing to the high rates in middle age,” said Idler, who also credits substance abuse and the onset of chronic diseases as contributing to Baby Boomer suicides.

“As children, the Baby Boomers were the healthiest cohort that had ever lived, due to the availability of antibiotics and vaccines. Chronic conditions could be a rude awakening for them in midlife than they were for earlier generations.”

Troubling Increase in Suicide Rate in Prosperous South Korea

Choi Jin-young hanged himself last month with an electrical cord. The 39-year-old actor wasn’t getting any work in local TV, police said, and he had been depressed since the suicide of his famous older sister.

The sister, Choi Jin-sil, was known as the “nation’s actress.” When she hanged herself in her bathroom in October 2008, a wave of sympathetic suicides swept South Korea and 1,700 people took their lives the following month.

Seven months later, former president Roh Moo-hyun jumped off a cliff to his death. “I can’t begin to fathom the countless agonies down the road,” he wrote in a note.

Daul Kim

Daul Kim

Then 20-year-old Chanel model, Daul Kim, killed herself, posting a blog entry that said: “Mad depressed and overworked.” Another said: “The more I gain, the more lonely it is.”

In 2008, there were 35 suicides per day; which is a suicide roughly every 40 minutes. The suicide rate in a nation of 50 million people has doubled in the past decade and is now the highest in the industrialized world.

The suicide rate in 1982 was 6.8 per 100,000 people, similar to rates reported in Spain, Greece and Italy. The countries did not see their suicide rate spike during periods of economic difficulty like Korea did in 1997.  The rate of suicide peaked in the 1980s for other wealthy countries, but the numbers in South Korea continue to climb. Twenty-six people per 100,000 committed suicide in 2008 (the most recent year for which data are available); 2 1/2 times the rate in the United States and significantly higher than in nearby Japan, where suicide is deeply embedded in the culture.

The government is hoping to decrease the rate to below 20 per 100,000 people by 2013, but there has been little progress. Korean society considers suicide and depression personal matters.

“This is the dark aspect of our rapid development,” said Ha Kyooseob, a psychiatrist at Seoul National University College of Medicine and head of the Korean Association for Suicide Prevention. “We are unwilling to seek help for depression. We are very afraid of being seen as crazy.”

Many leading hospitals have created departments of “neuro-psychiatry” in hope that the public perceives treatment as a medical condition and not a public admission of “crazy.”

Attempts by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and suicide prevention to interview families of suicide victims has yielded little information. “When we go to the families and ask questions about why it happened, they say to us, ‘Do not kill him twice,’ ” Ha said. “We have tried to interview hundreds of families, but we have only been allowed to talk to a few of them. If one is dead from suicide, everything is a secret.”

Suicide is the leading cause of death among South Koreans in their 20s and 30s, and it is the fourth leading cause of death overall, after cancer, stroke and heart disease.

Incidents of suicide are increasing among the rural elderly that is probably driven from isolation, illness, and poverty. Police investigators say that the long hours young South Koreans spend online provides opportunity for young people to meet and plan group suicides, even if they live in different cities.

Finland was once seen as the suicide capital of the world and was the world’s first country to take a concerted approach for suicide prevention. The suicide rate in Finland rose continuously for 30 years since 1950 but a nationwide program between 1986 and 1996 reduced the rate from 30.3 per 100,000 people in 1990 to 20.4 by 2004. The Korean government is hoping to decrease the rate to below 20 per 100,000 people by 2013.

Korean celebrity suicides have caught the eye of the public and the news media is caught up in a flurry of chain reaction suicides among the famous.

Former President Roh Moo-hyun leaped to his death in May 2009. The former democracy activist whose term had ended in 2008 was said to be under intense pressure and allegations that he and his family had accepted $6 million in bribes when in office. After his death, Justice Minister Kim Kyung-han announced the investigation would end.

Roh Moo-hyn

Roh Moo-hyn

Roh faced police allegations regarding if him or his wife had taken money from a wealthy shoemaker. Roh said they took $1 million, which was to settle a debt and was not a bribe. He said he believed the $5 million given to a relative was a legitimate business investment.

The note of the suicide text, released by the Yonhap news agency, said: “The rest of my life would only be a burden for others. I can’t do anything because I’m not healthy. I can’t read books, nor can I write. Don’t be too sad. Isn’t life and death all part of nature? Don’t be sorry. Don’t blame anybody. It’s fate. Please cremate me. And please leave a small tombstone near home. I’ve long thought about that.”

The soap actor Choi Jin-young’s suicide generated front-page headlines, reminding the public of the suicide of his beloved sister, who killed herself after becoming distressed over Internet rumors that linked her to the suicide of another celebrity, comedian Ahn Jae-hwan.

No studies have found a statistically significant increase in suicide among the nation’s elite. However, the news’ fixation on the suicides worries Ha.

Government data show that suicides can trigger copycat behavior.

Choi Jin-sil’s death triggered a 70 percent increase in the suicide rate. It lasted for about a month, resulting in 700 more deaths during that time than would normally be expected.

“Famous suicides have a really bad influence,” Ha said.

Choi Jin-Sil, Actress

Choi Jin-Sil, the "nation's actress"

Teenage Suicide Awareness and Prevention Campaign

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA)  in coordination with the Ad Council and Inspire USA Foundation recently launched a new Teen Suicide Prevention national public service campaign. This is the first teen suicide prevention campaign from SAMHSA to use a national mass media strategy and a digital outreach program.

The public service announcement campaign is called We Can Help Us and was initially developed after the realization that some teens develop positive solutions to help them overcome rough times; situations that make other teens depressed. The campaign empowers teens by reminding them that there are ways to get through the problems they face. It directs them to visit www.reachout.com to hear stories from other teens who successfully conquered their tough time.

The campaign includes TV, radio, and print advertising. Posters can be seen in the mall, schools, and viral videos. The reachout.com website features stories from teenagers, along with tips to help cope with tough issues. The website also links to resources, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline which is an anonymous hotline for teenagers who need immediate help. The public service campaign will be distributed in the national media this week.

Family members may have little to no idea that their son or daughter was battling depression until it is too late. Some depressed teenagers show no symptoms of depression. Suicides are often brought on by triggers. Common triggers include events that create a sense of abandonment for the teenager, such as: relationship break-ups, death of parent or grandparent, parents divorce, and leaving the house to go to college. For a depressed teenager, these events may be too much to cope with and the teen is left feeling as if they are out of options.

If you are a parent and you feel your son or daughter is depressed, here are several warning signs of depression:

  • Loss of interest
  • Isolation
  • Fatigue
  • Neglect; in both personal responsibilities and appearance
  • Memory loss
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Despair; feelings of hopelessness
  • Guilt
  • School issues such as bullying or harassment

 Nine teenagers in Massachusetts were recently charged with multiple felonies in relation to school related bullying. Two boys and four girls aged 16 to 18 were charged with felonies including statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, harassment, stalking, and disturbing a school assembly.  Three younger girls have been charged in juvenile court.

The prosecutor charged that the teenagers excessive harassment caused 15-year-old Phoebe Prince to hang herself in January. The Prince family had recently moved to Massachusetts from Ireland and Phoebe briefly dated a popular senior boy at South Hadley High School. The taunting started during their relationship.

Phoebe Prince

Phoebe Prince

District Attorney Elizabeth D. Schneibel said that Phoebe’s suicide occured after three months of endless taunting and harassment from fellow students. Students allegedly knocked books out of her hand, referred to her as an “Irish slut,” and sent her threatening text messages day after day. Allegedly Phoebe’s picture was scribbled out of a student body photograph hanging on the wall.

“The investigation revealed relentless activities directed toward Phoebe to make it impossible for her to stay at school,” Ms. Scheibel said. The conduct of those charged “far exceeded the limits of normal teenage relationship-related quarrels.”

Sixteen-year-old Ashlee Dunn, a student at South Hadley, did not personally know Prince but had heard stories spread about Phoebe. “She was new and she was from a different country, and she didn’t really know the school very well. I think that’s probably one reason why they chose Phoebe.”

The district attorney also concluded that several teachers, administration, and staff members at the school knew of the harassment but did not try to stop it.  “The actions or in-actions of some adults at the school were troublesome,” Schneibel said.

School officials are planning to meet with the district attorney’s office to review the evidence and “the new information which the district attorney’s office has but did not come to light within the investigation conducted by the school,” said assistant superintendent for South Hadley High School, Christine Swelko.

Since Phoebe Prince’s suicide, Massachusetts legislature is working on an anti-bullying law that would require school staff members to report incidents and for the principals to investigate them. The law would also require schools to teach about the dangers of bullying. Currently, 41 states have varying anti-bullying laws.

The investigation into Miss Prince’s suicide found that on January 14, the date of her death, she was abused by students in the library, lunchroom, and hallways. One student threw a canned drink at her when she walked home. Phoebe’s sister found her at 4:30 P.M in the stairwell, still wearing her school clothes.

While the district attorney said that “the actions of these students were primarily conducted on school grounds during school hours and while school was in session,” students also harassed Phoebe on social networking sites.

With websites like Facebook and Myspace, bullies can use the internet to further harass a classmate outside of school hours, sometimes anonymously. For the bullied child, home is no longer a safe heaven from the taunting of their peers. Facebook users can post a taunting message that can instantly be viewed by the rest of the school. 

Even in death, some teenagers do not escape internet harassment. Dozens of obscene and insulting comments have been posted on Alexis Pilkington’s memorial Facebook group. Alexis was a seventeen-year-old star athlete in Long Island who committed suicide. Her father, New York City police officer Thomas Pilkington said his daughter dealt with insulting comments up to a few days before she died but he does not place the blame on cyber bullying.

Alexis Pilkington

Alexis Pilkington

Research has shown that cyber bullying causes higher levels of depression and anxiety for the victims than traditional bullying, partially due to the anonymity of the internet posters.  

Regardless, comments such as “she was obviously a stupid depressed — who deserved to kill herself. she got what she wanted. be happy for her death. rejoice in it”  have lead to police investigation in attempt of tracking the user’s IP number to figure out who wrote it.

Media coverage of stories like Alexis or Phoebe’s, a celebrity death by suicide, or cluster suicides heightens suicide awareness.

Hopefully SAMHSA’s public service announcement campaign will work effectively and help teenagers acquire the necessary coping skills. Depression is a serious condition but it is treatable. Therapy has shown to be an effective form of treatment;  Apex is always available to help.