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Suicide rate rises for middle-aged Oklahomans

A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report says the rate of suicide among middle-age Oklahomans rose 34.4 percent from 1999 to 2010.
BY MIKE STOBBE Modified: May 2, 2013 at 10:01 pm •  Published: May 3, 2013

A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report says the rate of suicide among middle-age Oklahomans rose 34.4 percent from 1999 to 2010.

The agency reported Thursday that the rate among the 35-64 age group in 2010 was 24.4 suicides per 100,000, based on 345 people who took their own lives. In 1999, the rate was 18.2 per 100,000, based on 231 suicides.

The report appears to concur with state findings that suicide is the leading cause of intentional deaths in Oklahoma. According to the state Health Department, suicide deaths outnumber homicides by more than 2-to-1.

Oklahoma numbers are higher than the numbers of suicides nationwide, where the rate among middle-age Americans rose 28 percent during the decade, a period that included the recession and the mortgage crisis. The report is based on death certificates and says people ages 35 to 64 account for about 57 percent of all suicides.

The nationwide 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-age blacks, Hispanics and most other racial and ethnic groups, the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

Oklahoma ranks No. 13 in the nation in suicide, with a rate of 16.5 suicides per 100,000 people. The national average is 12.4 per 100,000, according to the American Association of Suicidology.

Most had history

One in five suicide victims had a history of suicide attempts, and 30 percent had shared their intent or feelings with another person.

In 2012, Edmond was one of a few Oklahoma communities that saw teenagers commit suicide. Oklahoma's suicide rate among people ages 10 to 24 fluctuates from year to year, but the most recent rate is just fewer than 10 incidents per 10,000 people. For every suicide, there are 100 to 200 unsuccessful attempts, according to the state Health Department.

The question remains, why did so many middle-age 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 hit manufacturing-heavy states particularly hard and 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.

Another theory notes that white baby boomers have always had higher rates of depression and suicide, and that has held true as they've hit middle age. I

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