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The Alarming Baby Boomer Suicide Rate

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If you were born between the years 1946 and 1964, you are considered a Baby Boomer. And, according to the CDC, that puts you in the high-suicide risk group. It has long held true that elderly people have higher suicide rates than the overall population. New numbers released in May by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show a dramatic spike in suicides among middle-aged people. The highest increases were found among men in their 50s, whose rate went up by nearly 50 percent to 30 per 100,000; and women in their early 60s, whose rate rose by nearly 60 percent (though it is still relatively low compared with men, at 7 in 100,000). The highest rates were among white, Native American, and Alaskan men. In recent years, deaths by suicide have surpassed deaths by motor vehicle crashes. The annual, age-adjusted suicide rate among persons aged 35–64 years increased 28.4%, from 1999 to 2010. (CDC)

Why are Baby Boomers increasingly taking their lives? Isn’t this the generation that was supposed to have it all? We were going to live ‘The American Dream’. The baby boomers anticipated a better life than their parents experienced. So many things have changed over our lifetime to enhance the quality of life. Life expectancy has increased thanks to medical discoveries and a better understanding of personal health and fitness. We have technology to make our lives easier. Workplace regulations have reduced or, sometimes even eliminated, hazardous work conditions. The Boomers are the ones who started protests, who fought for civil rights, greater freedoms. We rebelled against the old ways and we created new ideas.

And, yet, ultimately it has not been enough. We always want more. “Instead, compared with their parents’ generation, boomers have higher rates of obesity, prescription and illicit drug abuse, alcoholism, divorce, depression and mental disorders. …add to that list chronic illness, disabilities and the strains of caring for their parents and for adult children who still depend on them financially.”

It is disheartening to read. We have higher levels of stress, compounded by financial uncertainties and record levels of unemployment. We haven’t enjoyed the benefits of our improved lives; instead we overextend ourselves in terms of time and finances, we work too long and we are constantly stressed out. And as David Jobes, a professor of psychology at Catholic University points out, “It doesn’t help to live in a society that continues to worship the young. We don’t venerate our elders as some cultures do”. (Washington Post, 6/3)

Every day 10,000 people turn 65 years of age in the United States. This aging population is going to strain the resources of our country. They worry about retirement, social security, the US government and the unknowns we face in our modern world. Boomers are not ready to “be old” and they haven’t prepared themselves for the issues associated with aging. And, frankly, they are concerned about what they see around them and what the uncertain future holds.

Who is going to take care of them in their old age? Will they have the money to live comfortably? What if they get sick and need help. Baby Boomers are aging and many of them will age all alone. Approximately one in three Baby Boomers are unmarried according to a 2012 study conducted by The Center for Family and Demographic Research.

"I call it the 70-70-70 conundrum," says Bruce Chernof, president and CEO of The SCAN Foundation, which focuses on long-term health care issues. "Seventy percent of people over the age of 65 will need some form of long-term-care supports as they age," he says. But when you look at polling, "roughly 70 percent of Americans don't actually think they're likely to need it, and roughly 70 percent think Medicare will probably cover it when they get there." (NPR, 5/22)

The media tends to focus on suicides of young people—primarily because they have so much life left to live. It is, indeed, a tragedy when a young person takes his or her own life. Yet it is the "elderly" who have the highest rate of suicide. These new and alarming statistics call for a greater sense of urgency in finding prevention strategies for the aging Baby Boomer category. The rate of suicides among older populations rose over 25% in the last 10 years and is likely to climb significantly in the next decade.

Is there an answer? Yes. The CDC is advocating prevention. We are experienced in providing suicide prevention to young adults, but we will need to change the message to reach Boomers. Our leaders need to continue addressing the underlying issues—the economy, the state of healthcare and the national debt, for starters. As individuals we have to take a look at our lifestyles, the choices we make, and our expectations for living into the senior years. Baby Boomers have, perhaps more than any other generation in recent memory, been a "me first" generation. Perhaps when those dreams of personal freedom, financial independence, retirement and living happily ever after have not worked out, that crushing sense of defeat is too much for some to bear. Somehow, we need to reach those who are feeling this sense of defeat and despair so that they realize there is a way out, there is a light and a truth that can help them. Faith, family and/or friends should be front and center as tools to help navigate these difficult times. Help a friend or loved one if you see signs that concern you.