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Suicidal Middle-Aged Women

By HERWriter
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A recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) showed "more than 8.3 million adults in the U.S. had serious thoughts of committing suicide in the last year." Also, the SAMHSA study revealed more than "2.3 million American adults made a suicide plan and more than 1.1 million adults attempted suicide in the past year."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the U.S.

In a separate SAMSHA study, suicide among middle-aged women increased by more than 49 percent.

Medical experts believe stress, depression, substance abuse and sleep issues may all play a role in the increased rate of suicide among middle-aged women.

In an interview with MSNBC, Albert Woodward, Ph.D., the project director of SAMHSA’s Drug Abuse Warning Network, said, ʺWomen over 50 may also be in crisis because of pain and sleep disorders.ʺ These two health issues are common among middle-aged women.

Also, findings from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which were released during an ABC News interview "revealed women ages 45 to 64 have the lowest well-being of any age group or gender."

Today’s middle-aged women are juggling their kids, their parent’s aging issues, marriages and careers. Also, the economy may have many facing serious money pressures. Middle-aged women have little or zero time for themselves.

As these women try to manage their lives, they may also be having health issues like long-term illnesses and pre-menopausal hormone fluctuations. These fluctuations may affect their mood changes.

All of these factors can be overwhelming.

According to SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., “Friends, family and all members of the community must do everything possible to help identify women who may be in crisis and do everything possible to reach out and get them needed help.”

Here are some common warning signs of someone who may be at increased risk for suicide:
• Have feelings of isolation or loneliness
• Depression
• Reckless behavior
• Act anxious or agitated
• Increased drinking or the use of drugs
• Withdrawn
• Mood swings
• Talks about wanting to die
• Talks about feeling hopeless
• Talks about having no purpose in life

Ellyn Kaschak, Ph.D., emeritus professor of psychology at San Jose State University, said, "Older women especially in the U.S. are more isolated and separated from daily human contact outside of work and the Internet."

If someone you know is suicidal, here are some recommendations from the National Institute of Health:
• Do not leave them alone
• Try to get the person to seek immediate help from his or her doctor
• Take them to the nearest hospital emergency room
• Call 911
• Eliminate access to firearms or other potential tools for suicide
• Remove medications

Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, a psychologist and licensed clinical social worker in Sarasota, Fla., said, ʺMiddle-aged women are more aware of their mortality and may be disappointed and disillusioned that it’s too late for happiness.ʺ

Finally, here are some additional sources to contact regarding suicide:
• Anxiety Disorder Association of America, 301.231.9350
• American Psychology Association, 202.336.5500
• American Psychiatric Association, 202.682.6000
• National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, 703.524.7600
• National Mental Health Association, 703.684.7722
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800.272.8255


Reviewed July 28, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Shannon Koehle

Add a Comment3 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

The article neglects that it isn't hormones or chemical relief that ultimately causes middle aged women to go into a deepening depression of mind, body and spirit. It is the displacement of women in the baby boom generation.

All the Women's Movement did for women and children was make them tired and estranged. It is too late for now middle-aged women who were raised on a model that simply doesn't exist anymore. The new generation of women don't know anything different than to measure their worth in financial gain and institutionalizing their children from 6 weeks on and so the new model will work for them. It's just a new order of slavery and we will still grow old and one day die, only now mostly alone and very sad, never realizing there may have been more to living than a prolonged adolescence we hoped the myth of self-fulfillment in the job market and celebrity culture would buy. The whole social order has slipped into a system of permanent debt, unstable wages and community/familial estrangement.

Gloria Steinem and the other leaders of the Movement were an elitist corp, and no one realized it until it was too late. Now, women are as forced into the totalitarian workplace as once they were to stay home and raise their own children in a community of creative women. You will not see the leaders of the Woman's Movement retire in poverty or succumb to loneliness and suicide, but you will see their everyday sisters die alone in impoverishment. But isn't that always the way in the gap between General and foot soldier.

Breathe deep and step day by day, whether sharecropper or CEO. We all end up in the box or urn anyway. Work hard so you can afford a good one, I suppose.

This comment is written in part from a response I wrote to a U.S. News article by Deborah Kotz on middle-aged women and suicide. I still feel the same about that response. There are now more than 70 comments on that article Kotz abandoned long ago, but they each echo that the myth failed in a deeply profound way.

While I am not as naive to say that chemical dependency and emotional/physiological issues are not a component of suicide among middle aged women, the reasons are more complex and it is these complexities no one is addressing. Women of the baby boomer generation are a lost and abandoned generation of women.

NiNi St. Paul, MN

August 15, 2012 - 5:40pm
EmpowHER Guest

This situation is really a combination of factors. Consider the story below...it is so like the experience of other midlife women who were raised in a different cultural paradigm and sought to break free. This is just an example of how socio- economic forces can leave a woman stranded without financial resources or integration into a community...and why suicide may seem like her best option.

A woman raised to put aside her life for husband and children may finally wake up to the fact that her chances to heal and have a meaningful life are fading. So she decides that she can no longer tolerate an abusive marriage. The divorce leaves her in poverty, socially marginalized. She loses her sense of community, her church turns their back on her so that she "will repent and return to her husband."

Without a career that has any possibility of providing for a decent life, she decides to go back to school at age 49 and get a professional degree. She excels in school. But with no financial support, no family or friends to live with, she takes out school loans. Of course, she has bought into the cultural myth that if you follow your dreams and work hard, you will achieve your goals and a good life will come to pass.

But this does not take into the account that the marketplace has changed, education is long and expensive, and that Sallie Mae will lend a student money at an interest rate that guarantees that no matter now much she pays, she will still owe them a lot of money after 30 years of payments. (Not to mention that they will not work with people to put in place a reasonable monthly payment so that the person can actually maintain a basic existence.)

Finally, after 7 years of school and a 2-year post doc training, she gets a job. But it is much less than she would have made in the same job 15 years ago, and less than she would make if she was a man (managed care destroyed the market but the schools "forget" to let students know that crucial piece of information). It finally dawns on her that she can never have the type of career and income she would have had if she had started down this path in her twenties.

Add to this that, in the first month of her new job, she comes down with a severe illness and ends up on shorterm medical disability, nearly losing her job. She now no longer has the health and stamina to work 50+ hours a week and start a private practice on the side. She doesn't even have enough energy to keep up her home.

So now she has a chronic condition which may eventually end her working days 10 years sooner than she planned. She is single, socially isolated (moved 3 times after divorce for training, job), owes Sallie Mae nearly $400k on the $250k she borrowed. She is ill and overweight. She is depressed and hopeless. She hates herself for ever thinking that she could actually have a good life...she is angry and doesn't believe in god, or meaning, or purpose. She doesn't have the energy to even do the things she used to enjoy.

Add to that that her credit is shot. The small condo she got from the divorce settlement ended up having a mold problem not caught by the inspector. She had to go in to debt to remediate that problem. Then the housing bubble burst and she could not sell it for 4 years. So she gave it back to the bank and had to declare bankruptcy.

In all her hopes for the good life, her most longed for dream was to be in a healthy, egalitarian relationship. She went to therapy, invested in her own personal healing and growth. She has fantastic friendships (but none live in her city). But she found out the hard way that men her age want younger women, or older women who have had plastic surgery and are financially secure, or women ready to retire and travel the world with them. And of course, most of the available men her age have not evolved in their ability to have an equal relationship with a woman.

So, here she is...facing a life of chronic illness, in debt, alone, in a new community starting all over. In the best case scenario, she can support herself until age 69. That is if there are changes to the student loan system and she can make reasonable payments. If not, she will eventually default. Her wages and social security can be garnished. Her professional license can be revoked. And her brother and sister who consigned on a private loan will be terrorized by Sallie Mae.

The question then becomes...does she keep going until she can't work any more and then kill herself...or does she just get it over with now? At least her life insurance will pay off the cosigned loans...but the longer she waits to die, the larger those balances become, bloated with the usurious interest rates that even her accountant couldn't figure out!

Because, without a miracle, or a community to live in which helps take care of each other, the end result is going to be poverty, humiliation, illness, loneliness, and despair...all because she didn't want to stay in an abusive marriage anymore.

If you ask her, she will say that if she had known what she does now, she would have stayed married, kept living in the guest bedroom, gone to school bit by bit (even though he "the king of this house" said he wouldn't allow it), leave her church, have affairs when she felt like it, and at least have had a roof over her head until she had her degree. He may have killed her, but hey, she wouldn't owe Sallie Mae 400k and growing...which is just the same as death...just more protracted.

Now ask yourself why this woman's options were so limited...and who ultimately bears the blame for her suicide. Society gave her more freedom than her mother's generation, but it came too late in her life and the social supports are not there for a divorced woman to start over in her fifties.

This is long enough...but I hope you get the picture...there are so many midlife women who tried to break out of the constraints society chained them with, only to find themselves enslaved and constrained to something worse. If only she had known...and if you knew the rest of her story, you may come to the conclusion that suicide is indeed her best option in a world where there is no place to belong and no safety net for those who have had a bad start in life or just plain bad luck. So, when people bemoan the high suicide rates, they should consider that unless they are willing to offer concrete help, they should just keep their mouths shut. Therapy is useless if a person cannot meet the most basic social and economic needs. Talking is great until you go home to loneliness and poverty. Fix those two things and then see if the suicide rate goes down. And in the meantime, restructure the education and student loan system. It is deluding, defrauding, and enslaving people. My prediction....unless that is changed, there will be even more midlife women committing suicide over insurmountable student debt.

May 31, 2012 - 9:31pm
EmpowHER Guest

Why am I not surprised that there are no comments...nobody cares about middle-aged women. If we all dropped dead tomorrow, I doubt anyone would notice. And people wonder why we are all killing ourselves...nobody cares when you're an old women.

February 27, 2012 - 10:53am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.