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Suicides on the Rise: Experts Troubled by Tripling of Rate Among Girls

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Marriage and family are key areas in finding solutions, says psychiatrist

Suicides in the United States have shot up 24 percent in 15 years, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in a new report. The rate is now 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986.  In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999.

The most troubling aspect of the report perhaps is the tripling in the rate of suicides among preadolescent girls.

“Although based on a small number of suicides compared with other age groups (150 in 2014), the suicide rate for females aged 10–14 had the largest percent increase (200 percent) during the time period, tripling from 0.5 per 100,000 in 1999 to 1.5 in 2014,” the report says.

Suicide rates were going down from 1986 through 1999, but since then they have increased almost steadily, according to the CDC’s National Vital Statistics System, Mortality. From 1999 through 2006, the average annual percent increase in the age-adjusted suicide rate was about 1 percent a year, the study says. But after that the rate has increased 2 percent a year.

“Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and is the only top leading cause of death for which the rate is increasing,” the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the nation’s largest suicide prevention organization, pointed out in a statement.

“We were very troubled to see the rate increasing remarkably for people between the ages of 45 and 64, for both men and women,” said the organization’s chief medical officer, Dr. Christine Moutier.

Key findings from the study include the following:

  • From 1999 through 2014, the age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States increased 24 percent, from 10.5 to 13.0 per 100,000 population, with the pace of increase greater after 2006.
  • Suicide rates increased from 1999 through 2014 for both males and females and for all ages 10–74.
  • The percent increase in suicide rates for females was greatest for those aged 10–14, and for males, those aged 45–64.
  • The most frequent suicide method in 2014 for males involved the use of firearms (55.4 percent), while poisoning was the most frequent method for females (34.1 percent).
    Percentages of suicides attributable to suffocation increased for both sexes between 1999 and 2014.

Experts offered varying ideas about causes for the spike in suicides, including a poor economy and social changes.  Julie Phillips, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University who has studied suicide among middle-aged Americans, said that marriage rates have declined while divorce rates have risen, leading to increased social isolation, she said.

She calculated that in 2005, unmarried middle-aged men were 3.5 times more likely than married men to die from suicide, and their female counterparts were as much as 2.8 times more likely to kill themselves. The divorce rate has doubled for middle-aged and older adults since the 1990s, she said.

The high divorce rate in the West is taking its toll in myriad ways, agreed Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, director of the Institute for Marital Healing outside Philadelphia.

“The percent increase in suicide rates for females was greatest for those aged 10–14, and for males, those aged 45–64,” he said. “I would love to know what percentage of these girls are adult children of divorce or grew up without fathers. The CDC will never release this data.”

A spokesman for the CDC said, “We do not have data on the percentage suicides involved adult children of divorce or grew up without fathers.”

Fitzgibbons contributed a chapter to a forthcoming book, Torn Asunder, on the severe psychological damage caused by divorce and steps that can be taken in the healing process. He said a million children a year experience “divorce trauma.”

He suggests a number of ways to respond to the crisis, including new divorce prevention programs, addressing the selfishness and narcissism that seems to pervade modern culture, and a renewed focus on “forgiveness education.”

For Catholics, Fitzgibbons would like to see more use of the writings of St. John Paul II on marriage and family. “Familiaris Consortio should be required reading in all premarital programs and should be in the book rack of all our parishes,” he suggested. “It should be in every Catholic home.”

And, particularly in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, “entrusting daily into his Mercy all those who despair and the many troubling problems in this culture that contribute to despair in youth and in adults.”

“Suicide prevention efforts that are concentrated and strategic can be successful,” said Moutier, of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “We have seen that targeted efforts can reduce suicide rates and many of these can be expanded for wider impact and more lives saved. As a nation, we need to invest our time and resources in such prevention efforts. The lives of millions of Americans depend on it.”

John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.

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