Suicide Rates Rising Among Middle-Aged Men

by Becky Stoll

Becky Stoll, LCSW, is vice president for Crisis and Disaster Management at Centerstone in Nashville, Tennessee, and a member of the National Action Alliance’s Zero Suicide in Healthcare Advisory Group.

They are our fathers, husbands, sons, friends, community leaders—and they are increasingly at risk of death by suicide. Middle-aged men in the United States (defined as 35 to 64 years old) are now more than three times as likely to kill themselves as women of the same age, according to new data. The good news is that help is available, and you can be involved with reversing this troubling trend.

National Suicide Prevention Week is September 7-13 and, no matter the demographic, we must all be vigilant to recognize warning signs and be willing to intervene when someone appears suicidal.

Recent studies report the suicide rate among middle-aged men has increased by nearly a third since 1999. Among those in their fifties, the rate of suicide has jumped by nearly 50 percent. For every 100,000 men in America, 27.3 will kill themselves.

Of further concern, there is a 60 percent increase in suicide attempts by suffocation (often, hanging)—a method that is highly lethal, readily available and requires little planning.

In cases where there are no known pre-existing mental health or substance abuse issues, circumstances that lead these men to suicide include problems with their intimate partner, criminal/legal trouble, job/financial worries and health matters. Bucking the male stereotype, a breakup of a marriage or long-term relationship can lead to deeper and longer lasting mental distress than in women of the same age.

Far more encouraging are the data showing that these types of acute crises that may lead to suicide also lend themselves to opportunities for direct intervention by those in the life of the individual. We can become more intentionally mindful of and emotionally tuned to someone going through a messy relationship breakup, courtroom drama or economic devastation—and then intercede if needed.

Learn to recognize warning signs of potential suicidal thinking—reckless behavior, social withdrawal, general hopelessness, giving away prized possessions, an unwillingness to be helped. Do you know someone who can’t shake the sadness, can’t eat, sleep or work like before or sees no way out of a tough situation?

It’s time to take action.

Don’t be afraid to get involved and offer help. It’s okay to ask a person if he or she is thinking about suicide. Be direct, without judgment or a lecture, talk openly and freely about suicide and listen to their response. Don’t act shocked or be sworn to secrecy. There should be no further barriers created or distance created when the end game is to lead a suicidal person to better, brighter alternatives.

Finally, remove any means that would aid a suicide attempt, and contact an agency like Centerstone that specializes in crisis intervention and suicide prevention. Our 24-hour crisis line is 1-800-681-7444, and we’re here to help.

Suicide is a pandemic that kills more people in this country today than car accidents. National Suicide Prevention Week is the time to recognize that startling reality and to realize suicide can affect anyone of any age at any station in life. We all have a role to play in changing the tide.