The Overlooked Demographic: Suicide in middle-aged men
The people who die by suicide are not primarily teenage females, as many tend to think. The group of individuals who die by suicide at the highest rate is not teenagers, nor is it females. It is middle-aged men.
According to Waukesha County Technical College psychology professor and Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee volunteer Dr. Bob DuBois, suicide prevention efforts are mostly focused on youth. Teenagers are the most recognized age group when talking about suicide prevention, so most prevention programs take place in high schools.
“It’s easier to reach youth because they’re in schools,” DuBois said.
Youth are more than just better reached. According to suicide survivor and prevention advocate Travis Pipes, they are better taken care of.
“We have seen a lot of funding committed to youth initiatives,” Pipes said.
According to PSGM, men aged 45-59 account for the most suicide deaths in the U.S. Middle-aged and older people who die by suicide are less heard of in the media. DuBois credited this to several factors, some specific to gender. One main factor is the tendency for middle-aged adults, especially men, to hide their pain.
“We (men) become better at wearing a mask,” DuBois said.
A lot of people have a hard time talking about their feelings, not just men. Author and PSGM steering committee member Dr. Tony Piparo explained that it can be harder to recognize that an adult has negative feelings because they tend to keep to themselves and are less obvious about it.
“People don’t want to talk about it for fear of being labeled,” Piparo said.
Factors outside of an individual’s control, such as insurance coverage, also influence this underrepresented age group.
“Not a lot of people have the coverage for mental health services,” Piparo said.
Also out of an individual’s control are certain middle-life occurrences that can make life difficult and a person depressed. DuBois listed things such as marriage problems, overwhelming responsibilities, job loss, or the reality that one’s life goal might not be attained. Without functional ways of coping, these occurrences can hit hard.
“Without strategies, the burden of stress weighs on you and overwhelms you,” DuBois said.
At any age there can be some kind of stress.
According to the 2017 Milwaukee County Suicide Deaths Preliminary Summary from the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner, 45-54 year olds accounted for 17 percent of deaths by suicide in Milwaukee County in 2017. The biggest percentage was 55-64 year olds at 21 percent. 3 percent of suicide deaths were 10-15 year olds, 14 percent were 16-24, 13 percent were 25-34, 17 percent were 35-44, 15 percent were 65-74,and 5 percent were over 75.
“We need more people to be open about their mental health as they are about physical illness,” DuBois said.
Talking about it is the beginning step. If enough people talk, there may be a better chance of bringing awareness to the problem.
“There needs to be more awareness toward the demographics we are not focused on,” Pipes said.