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American Suicide Rates Rise Since The Great Recession

Updated on January 27, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history; and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.

A day in the life of a senior citizen can be painful. This age cohort is the fastest growing group of people in the USA.
A day in the life of a senior citizen can be painful. This age cohort is the fastest growing group of people in the USA. | Source

War and Economics

Data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show us that the American Suicide Rate overall declined during the Reagan, Bush 41, and Bill Clinton Presidencies, but began a steady increase under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Have the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars from 2008 - present and the Great Recession 2008 - 2010 played a part in this increase?

Holidays - Holy or Hell?

Much media attention has been put to the beliefs that American suicide rates increase on Mother's Day and Christmas. Now we are told that such beliefs are old wives' tales.

You cannot prove it by Craig Ferguson, who tells audiences that he intended to commit suicide on one Christmas Day via bridge jumping, but was distracted by his nemesis, alcoholic beverages. He accepted a drink with which to join in with a toast to Jesus's Birth and forgot to commit suicide.

While investigating suicide in America, I discovered that such rates increased after the beginning of the Great Recession under President George W. Bush in 2008. These facts are more interesting that the holiday-suicide connection, which is tenuous at best.

CDC Statistics Confirm Rise In Suicide Rates

Major Reference: Jiaquan Xu, M.D.; Kenneth D. Kochanek, M.A.; Sherry L. Murphy, B.S.; Elizabeth Arias, Ph.D. Mortality in the United States, 2012. CDC; October 2014.

The Oldest Exit in Larger Numbers

The suicide rate for elders ages 85 and older during the Great Recession and its aftermath increased the most among all age cohorts. From the years 2000 through 2007, the suicide rate of elders declined from 19.7 to 17.0 per 100,000. Beginning in 2008, the rate increased to 2013.

No matter who wins the White House in 2016, there's no getting around it: Social Security benefits will be cut starting in 2017. A 1983 pact between President Reagan and the Democrat-led Congress to stave off an imminent Social Security financing crisis included a hike in the official retirement age from 65 to 67.

— Investor's Business Daily at 5/14/2015

All Age Cohorts 45 to 85+ Increased in Suicide Rate 2008 - 2013

Age 85+
Age 45 - 64
Age 65 - 84
Increases '08 - '13
+2.2 per 100,000
+1.6 per 100,000
+1.3 per 100,000

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, figures for most current year: 2013. Rates are expressed as some number (16.4, etc.) per 100,000 people in the age cohort.

Generations Y and Z

The suicide rate of young people ages 15 to 24 increased slightly from 9.9 to 10.9 per 100,000 people in this age cohort. This is a change of 1.0, a change that is significantly lower than the changes seen among the age cohorts in the table above. People ages 45 - 85+ are at much higher risk of suicide.

Soldiers In War and Civilian Settings

Us Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as soldiers who never went to war, comprise another group at-risk for suicide. Their rate beginning in 2008 reached 19.0 per 100,000 soldiers and then increased to 30 per 100,000 soldiers in 2012.

The rate began to decrease in 2013 (National Institute of Mental Health. The Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry; March 2014 ). This was President Obama's fifth year in office and the third year after the Great Recession. Decreases in suicides among military people include:

  • In 2013, active duty soldiers committed suicide at the rate of 18.7 per 100,000, which is under the 22.7 per 100,000 of 2012.
  • In comparison, the active-military rates in 2013 were overall as high or higher than for our older Baby Boomers and ages 85+; but military rates seem to be further declining.
  • References: US Department of Defense, Military Times; January 2015. National Institute of Mental Health.

Will your money run out before your time?
Will your money run out before your time? | Source

Causes for Choosing an Exit Among Elders

The suicide rate for the Oldest Old, as we call them in public health and preventive medicine, began a clear increase in 2008 and continued to increase overall through 2013. Figures for 2014 are not available at this writing.

What caused the increase among older people?

My idea is that many senior citizens commit suicide, because they have little monthly income and cannot find a place to live. Many others are terminally ill and can no longer tolerate their ill health. Some more fully specific reasons include the following data.

  • In 2013, the rate of suicide for men overall was 3.5 times the rate for women overall; however, the oldest cohort contains a majority of women. In addition, the CDC reports that women attempt suicide three times as often as do men. My opinion is that as these women age, they are more likely to be successful, especially in using poisons that can affect the aging body more quickly than they impact younger bodies. It is true - men more often use firearms, women more often use poison.
  • A certain proportion of elderly deaths are attributable to Assisted Suicide, allowable in some US States at this writing (Washington, Oregon, Vermont, parts of New Mexico; decriminalized in Montana).
  • Interestingly, the highest rates of suicide by US State occurred in 2013 in five western states: Montana (23.7/100,000), Alaska (23.1), Utah (21.4), Wyoming (21.4), and New Mexico (20.3).
  • Bullying can lead to suicide. Bullying does not end at any age cohort. Bullying and abuse affect various individuals at the ages of birth to old-age death, and any stage in between the end points. The elderly can more easily than younger adults who are more mobile people with more resources. They can succumb to bullying by family members, inmates in retirement centers, certain nursing home staff, and many others. I see independent older persons bullied in the marketplace as well.
  • For several years, the suicide rates have been higher among 1) Caucasians and 2) Native North Americans than among other ethic groups in the USA. Moreover, the rates of suicide among these two groups steady increased from 2000 through 2013, much less dramatically for the native group. Thus, older white women are committing suicide at the highest rate of increase 2008 - 2013.

The decline of much of old age can be painful, and much more painful than need be.
The decline of much of old age can be painful, and much more painful than need be. | Source

The Median monthly cost of assisted living in America rose to approximately $3,600 in 2014 - 2015.

— Senior Living Price Index by A Place For Mom,

Avg. SS Income March 2015

The average Social Security Retirement check is for $1,286.21.


The average check for a spouse of a retired worker is only $676.50


Such a level of income cannot pay for necessities.

The Rising Age of Possible Retirement

Full-Retirement Ages

Born in year 1937 & earlier = age 65.

  • Retirement age increases by months, every year with results like these:

Born 1943 - 1954 = age 66.

Born in 1960 - 1969 = Age 67.


Born in 1990 - 1999 = Age 70 or older.

Born in 2000 - 2009 = Age 71 or older.

Retirement age increases, until it reaches 75, made possible by the US Congress under President Reagan. Further, the age can be raised by the US Congress at any time.

A large number of senior citizens ages 55 and older are experiencing financial difficulties.
A large number of senior citizens ages 55 and older are experiencing financial difficulties. | Source

Additional Reasons for the Increased Rate Among Elders

  • I find that many older Baby Boomers and those over 85 run out of money, suffer abuse, lose jobs and homes, and ultimately have no place to live. Not enough affordable senior apartments exist and waiting lists are often years long. Retirement centers are often too expensive and families often will not take in the elder person. In addition, some of the oldest old have no living families left to them. Ohio seems a particularly difficult place in which to find a place to live if one is over 55. Further, the state has only one shelter facility for the elderly abused. Our state, and likely many others, need affordable senior housing and additional emergency housing for the elderly abused.
  • The economic decline of 2008 - 2010 likely caused some suicides among older people, and probably some people of all adult ages, who lost their careers, retirement income, and life savings.
  • The usual causes of suicide affect the oldest old and the Baby Boomers as well - mental illness, substance abuse, and physical brain problems as well as a number of physical illnesses. For instance, many cannot tolerate the idea of living with Lou Gehrig Disease, the dementias, or Parkinson's Disease (Robin Williams, age 63).

Watch for Signs of Suicide and Remember the Hotline!

Since suicide in America is on the increase, be aware of the signs of impending suicide or suicide attempt. Keep the Suicide Hotline Number in your wallet or purse in order to help other or yourself.

  • Suicide Prevention Hotline, USA: 1-800-273-8255
  • Suicide or Crisis Hotline, Canada: 1-800-448-3000

Do you know a homeless older individual - or any homeless person? How can we help, one at a time?
Do you know a homeless older individual - or any homeless person? How can we help, one at a time? | Source

Disclaimer: Patty Inglish, MS is degreed in psychology and preventive medicine, with supervised internships and research in health psychology, employee stress, pain and stress, and other areas. Member, APA.

This Hub is not meant to be a diagnosis or treatment. If you or someone you know in North America shows suicidal thoughts or behaviors, contact the

  • Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 in the USA
  • Suicide or Crisis Hotline: 1-800-448-3000 in Canada

© 2015 Patty Inglish MS


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