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Most Suicide Rates Decline, but Findings Are Puzzling

First, the good news: Suicide rates among younger and older Americans have been declining since the early 1990s. Now, the puzzling news: No one really knows why// .

Those are the findings of a study conducted by researchers at the University of South Carolina and released Thursday (Sept. 28) in the October issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Dr. Robert McKeown, a professor and associate dean for research at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, presented the findings at the forum, 'Out of the Shadows: Exploring the Barriers to Mental Health, Prevention and Treatment,' at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Sponsored by the American Public Health Association and the Morehouse School of Medicine, the program included former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, a Morehouse faculty member, and Dr. David Shern, president and chief executive officer of the National Mental Health Association.

'For 40 years adolescent suicide rates rose,' said McKeown, who collaborated on the study with the USC pharmacy professor Dr. Richard Schulz and School of Medicine neuropsychiatry professor Dr. Steven Cuffe.

'Then, the rates began to decline in the late 1980s for adults 65 and older and in the early 1990s for adolescents and young adults,' he said. 'But many people weren't aware; they kept saying suicides were increasing when it was no longer true.'

McKeown, who tracked suicide rates for research and teaching, noticed the trends had reversed and that rates were declining among adolescents, young adults (younger than 25) and older adults (65 and older). He recruited Schulz and Cuffe to explore explanations for the changes.

Their study suggests several possibilities why those suicide rates have fallen and raises questions about why suicide rates among the middle groups -- those 25 to 64 -- have not declined.

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