Emotional Health · Health

Midlife Suicide Rates Increasing for Women

This is only the tip of the iceberg, though. While there is a list of standard risk factors, ranging from age and gender to substance use history, to mental and physical health status, each suicide is unique.  Also, relatively speaking, we have focused less research on suicide in women — something that it is hoped will change given the rising numbers. It has long been known that while more women attempt suicide, men are more likely to complete suicide, thought partly due to the use of more lethal means by men. When the focus shifts to women’s suicides, certain factors emerge. A study examining the lives of a group of women aged 14 to 82 (average age of 39) who had completed suicide found suicide to be associated with certain themes. About a third were mourning the death of a loved one and 1 in 4 had a history of sexual assault. A third of the women were experiencing issues related to motherhood, like infertility, postnatal depression, or loss of child custody. These may suggest that underlying themes leading to the emotional distress that prompts one to consider suicide may be unique for women.

For Mrs. Jones, she had a number of risk factors — bereavement, baby boomer status, social isolation.  But here’s the thing: there are lots of people with the exact same risk factors — and more! — who never consider taking their own life. What separates one group, those who decide to end their life, from those who do not?  We do not know and desperately need more research to move us forward, to help us identify and understand these individuals at risk before they act. Some research has begun to tease apart underlying genetic factors, trying to mine the genome for clues to who may be at risk, but that work is in its infancy.  For now, the gold standard of care remains an assessment by a psychiatrist or trained mental health professional and even we are not terribly good at predicting who will go on to commit suicide.

Despite this sobering reality, there are things that can be done. If you or someone you know have had thoughts of suicide, please seek professional help. Talking to someone about suicide does not increase the risk of acting upon it; if you are worried about someone in your life, please ask her if she has been thinking about suicide and help her seek treatment.  If you or your loved one is feeling unsafe, please call 911 or go to the Emergency Department. For many, thoughts of suicide are part of an untreated — or undertreated — depression. Having thoughts of suicide is actually part of the diagnostic criteria for depression. With treatment, life can once again feel like it is worth living.

Mrs. Jones was lucky. She had the opportunity to recover. With the support of her family, medication, and psychotherapy, she has regained her life.    

“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” ― Seneca

RELATED: American Women and Guns



National Suicide Prevention Helpline: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org 1-800-273-TALK


Caine, E. D. (2015). “Suicide and Social Processes.” JAMA Psychiatry 72(10): 965-967.

Hempstead, K. A. and J. A. Phillips (2015). “Rising suicide among adults aged 40-64 years: the role of job and financial circumstances.” Am J Prev Med 48 (5): 491-500.

Mallon, S., K. Galway, et al. (2016). “An exploration of integrated data on the social dynamics of suicide among women.” Sociol Health Illn.

Rudd, R. A., N. Aleshire, et al. (2016). “Increases in Drug and Opioid Overdose Deaths–United States, 2000-2014.” MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 64 (50-51): 1378-1382.

Shani, C., S. Yelena, et al. (2016). “Suicidal risk among infertile women undergoing in-vitro fertilization: Incidence and risk factors.” Psychiatry Res 240: 53-59.

Tsai, A. C., M. Lucas, et al. (2015). “Association Between Social Integration and Suicide Among Women in the United States.” JAMA Psychiatry 72 (10): 987-993.

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