Study Finds Suicide Rates on the Decline

ByABC News
September 28, 2006, 5:39 PM

Sept. 29, 2006 — -- Despite a current media frenzy over high-profile suicides -- including, most recently, two Sago mine workers who lost 12 comrades to a mining disaster -- a study published in the American Journal of Public Health reports a decline in suicide rates from 1970 to 2002.

And though there has been concern that new antidepressants released in the late 1980s may increase the risk of suicide, especially among adolescents, the study shows that there are no clinical studies to prove this.

The study, led by Dr. Robert E. McKeown at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, looked at four age groups and found that suicide rates for the youngest (15 to 24 years) and oldest (65 years and older) age groups peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s and have since steadily declined.

For the middle two age groups, rates only recently began to fall (45 to 64 years), or remained stable in recent years (25 to 44 years). Suicide rates for all age groups were lower in 2002 compared with 1970.

Suicide went from ranking as the eighth leading cause of death in 1998 to the 11th leading cause of death in 2003. Suicide, however, remains a national killer. In 2003, nearly 11 out of every 100,000 poeple living in the United States committed suicide.

According to the authors, there are several possible reasons for the drop in suicide rate. The economic prosperity of the 1990s meant that younger people didn't have a hard time finding jobs, and older people earned enough from their investments to have a comfortable retirement.

An increase in healthy life expectancy may also be a contributing factor. As people live longer, with strong social networks, they don't suffer as much from loneliness and depression, thereby reducing the risk of suicide.

Suicide rates began to fall around the same time that a newer class of antidepressants, serotonin-selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), hit the market in 1988. It was thought that the declining suicide rates were attributable to these new drugs, which include Prozac and Paxil.