Alan L. Berman, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology, noted that "suicide rates vary, and until you have a clear and dramatic difference, it's awfully hard to know what's going on."
Berman pointed out that the suicide rate among older people is decreasing. "We don't know any more about that than we do about the increase among middle-aged people," he said. "We are always concerned about understanding these kinds of trends, but they need to go on for many years in order to truly define them as something significant and different."
The best explanation, so far, for the increased suicide rate among middle-age men and women is the "baby boomer explanation," Berman said. "You have a very large group of people, and we would expect to see increases in this geriatric group over the next several years," he said.
As for the difference between suicides among whites and blacks, Berman said whites have always had higher suicide rates.
The goal should be to identify and treat people who are suicidal, Berman said. "We need to understand better those who are suicidal, irrespective of age or gender or race. We need to understand and observe warning signs, so that we can find and refer and treat these individuals before they become statistics," he said.
In 2004, suicide was the eleventh leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 32,439 deaths. There are an estimated eight to 25 attempted suicides for every suicide death, according the National Institute of Mental Health.
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