The number of people dying by suicide in the United States has risen by about 30 percent in the past two decades. And while the majority of suicide-related deaths today are among boys and men, a study published Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics finds that the number of girls and women taking their own lives is rising.
“Typically there’s between three and four times as many suicides among males as among females,” says Dr. Holly Hedegaard, a medical epidemiologist at the NCHS and the main author of the new study. In 2016, about 21 boys or men out of 100,000 took their own lives. On the other hand, just six girls or women out of 100,000 died by suicide that year.
But when Hedegaard and her colleagues compared the rise in the rates of death by suicide from 2000 to 2016, the increase was significantly larger for females — increasing by 21 percent for boys and men, compared with 50 percent for girls and women.
There’s “sort of a narrowing of the [gender] gap in rates,” Hedegaard notes.
The biggest change was seen among women in late middle age. “For females between the ages of 45 and 64, the suicide rate increased by 60 percent,” she says. “That’s a pretty large increase in a relatively short period of time.”
That the increase for women was more than double the increase for men “did indeed surprise me,” says Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist at Emory University and the past president of the American Psychological Association, who was not involved in the study. She says she finds the overall trends for both men and women “disturbing.”
Scientists don’t yet know the reasons behind the steeper rise in the number of girls and women taking their own lives, says Kaslow. “We’re really just beginning to see these differences, and so people are just now beginning to look at this.”
Though there are different factors at play in each case, excessive stress is a known risk factor for suicide overall, she says.
“People often die by suicide when they just feel totally overwhelmed,” Kaslow says.
According to the American Psychological Association, women say their stress levels have risen in recent years. And middle-aged women belonging to the sandwich generation are especially feeling the pressure of their many responsibilities at home and at work. To read more from RHITU CHATTERJEE, click here.