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US suicide rate rose sharply among middle-aged

Suicides of middle-aged Americans climbed by nearly 30 percent in ten years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in a report released yesterday. 

Medical worker Theresa Wilks keeps watch over an inmate isolation who authorities fear might attempt suicide, at a prison in Folsom, Calif. March 30, 2007, file.

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

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The suicide rate among middle-aged Americans climbed a startling 28 percent in a decade, a period that included the recession and the mortgage crisis, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported yesterday. 

The trend was most pronounced among white men and women in that age group. Their suicide rate jumped 40 percent between 1999 and 2010.

But the rates in younger and older people held steady. And there was little change among middle-aged blacks, Hispanics, and most other racial and ethnic groups, the report from the CDC found.

Why did so many middle-aged whites – that is, those who are 35 to 64 years old – take their own lives?

One theory suggests the recession caused more emotional trauma in whites, who tend not to have the same kind of church support and extended families that blacks and Hispanics do.

The economy was in recession from the end of 2007 until mid-2009. Even well afterward, polls showed most Americans remained worried about weak hiring, a depressed housing market, and other problems.

Pat Smith, violence-prevention program coordinator for the Michigan Department of Community Health, said the recession – which hit manufacturing-heavy states particularly hard – may have pushed already-troubled people over the brink. Being unable to find a job or settling for one with lower pay or prestige could add "that final weight to a whole chain of events," she said.


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