Suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have spiked dramatically in recent years, in contrast to flat or declining rates in younger and older demographics, mystifying experts, reports the New York Times. For people 45 to 54, the rate jumped 20% between 1999 and 2004; for women, the increase was 31%. Theories about the cause include lack of support systems, declining hormone-replacement therapy use, and prevalence of prescription painkillers.
Prevention programs focus on teenagers and the elderly, but the bulk of suicides are middle-aged. Of the more than 32,000 people who killed themselves in 2004, almost half were 40 to 64 years old. Male suicides still outnumber females fourfold. Veterans of the Vietnam War may have a higher risk, as may those living far from family and friends.