The risk of suicide, particularly for women in English-speaking countries, peaks in midlife, according to a new study that suggests middle-aged people now commit suicide at almost twice the rate of those in their 30s or 60s.
The findings are consistent with data from surveys from the UK Office for National Statistics that reveal that happiness is lowest among those close to 50 years old. Similar evidence is emerging for other European nations and the United States.
“What is it that is going wrong in people’s lives around the late 40s, when individuals tend to be prosperous, still healthy, and at the height of their powers?”
Suicide research typically focuses on men and the issue is often wrongly believed to mainly be a problem of the young, researchers say.
“Suicide among the middle-aged, in the richest and safest societies ever known in human history, is a major paradox and public-policy concern,” says Andrew Oswald, professor of economics and behavioral science at the University of Warwick.
“Not only does it matter in itself—it is also a marker of a wider phenomenon of midlife distress. What is it that is going wrong in people’s lives around the late 40s, when individuals tend to be prosperous, still healthy, and at the height of their powers?”
In the discussion paper, researchers consider a theory originally proposed by psychologist Elliott Jaques in the 1960s that suggests that in the middle of life a human being eventually becomes cognizant of their own mortality. The midlife patterns may also relate to dashed aspirations, or may even be deeply biological in some way we don’t yet understand.
Further, some recent research suggests evidence of a psychological midlife low in great apes. “It may be that humans have an innate tendency to a midlife low,” Oswald says.
Source: University of Warwick