This is depressing news:

Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults. The rise was particularly steep for women. It was also substantial among middle-aged Americans, sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s.

The suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, jumped by 63 percent over the period of the study, while it rose by 43 percent for men in that age range, the sharpest increase for males of any age. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the study on Friday

Rates increased sharply for girls 10-14 as well, and the ethnic group with the highest increase was American Indians, followed by white middle-aged women. Black men were the only ethnic group with a decrease.

Those statistics are all about increase vs. decrease rather than absolute numbers, however. A caveat is that 1999, the start year, was a low year for suicides. But the rates have been steadily increasing since then, so it seems to be a real effect. The other thing I need to point out is that even though the rates among women increased more than among men, men have a much higher suicide rate than women:

suiciderates

There are theories about why this general increase is happening, although no one knows for sure:

The data analysis provided fresh evidence of suffering among white Americans. Recent research has highlighted the plight of less educated whites, showing surges in deaths from drug overdoses, suicides, liver disease and alcohol poisoning, particularly among those with a high school education or less. The new report did not break down suicide rates by education, but researchers who reviewed the analysis said the patterns in age and race were consistent with that recent research and painted a picture of desperation for many in American society.

“This is part of the larger emerging pattern of evidence of the links between poverty, hopelessness and health,” said Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard…

This is sobering, as well:

Though suicide rates for older adults fell over the period of the study, men over 75 still have the highest suicide rate of any age group — 38.8 per 100,000 in 2014, compared with just four per 100,000 for their female counterparts.

When you look at the charts, you might notice something interesting about that:

womensuicide

mensuicide

You can easily see that spike for middle-aged women and for older men. But notice that both women and men over 75 had suicide rates even higher in 1999 than recently, the only category with that pattern. Has growing old become less depressing in the 21st Century for both sexes, while being middle-aged has become more so (especially for women)? Or are the differences generational?

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]