Midlife Suicides Show Surprising Increase

Not only is the age group a surprise for a higher suicide rate, but so is the jump in the rate. But it's not easy to figure out why.

The most common risk factors for suicide include mood disorders (such as depression and bipolar disorder), substance abuse and other mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Depression itself is the major risk factor for suicide. The American Psychiatric Association indicates that up to 15 percent of depressed people die by suicide.

Although antidepressants may be used to treat depression, some of them may actually up the risk of suicide especially for teenagers. As a result, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has added its "black box" warning label to certain antidepressants. But even the intended effects of antidepressants can increase suicide risk. For example, if they help improve a person's energy levels, that extra energy could be used to act on an impulse for suicide.

Changes in medications may also be associated with suicide. No studies have been done on the subject, but the time period of increased middle age suicide overlaps with a change in the use of hormone replacement therapy by menopausal women, who fit in this age group. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was used for many years by women in their 40s and 50s to counter the side effects of menopause, including hot flashes and mood swings.

In 2002, a national study indicated that long-term use of HRT increased the risk of blood clots and breast cancer. Although short-term use for early symptoms was acceptable, many women stopped taking or never started HRT.

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