WASHINGTON (AFP) - Suicide rates are rising dramatically among middle-aged Americans, according to US government statistics, which showed a 28 percent spike from a decade ago in the number of people taking their own lives.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the figures show more people taking their own lives than dying in car accidents, and attribute the increase to the sharp rise in suicides among adults aged aged 35 to 64.
The number of Americans in that age range who took their own lives grew from 13.7 per 100,000 people in 1999, to 17.6 per 100,000 in 2010 - an alarming 28 percent increase, the agency said.
The rise was most dramatic among those in their 50s - the tail-end of the so-called "Baby Boomer" generation born after World War II - who saw a nearly 50 percent jump in suicides.
"Suicide is a tragedy that is far too common," said CDC Director Tom Frieden.
"This report highlights the need to expand our knowledge of risk factors so we can build on prevention programs." In 2010, an average of nearly 18 out of every 100,000 people aged 35-64 died from suicide - four more than a decade earlier, the CDC said.
So prevalent is suicide that it kills even more Americans than car accidents, according to the CDC.
In 2010, motor vehicle accidents killed 33,687 people, while 38,364 died from suicide that year, according to the CDC, the government agency tasked with providing research and recommendations on US health and safety.
Among non-Hispanic whites and Native Americans, annual suicide rates leaped 40 percent and 65 percent, respectively.
Nearly three times as many men as women in this age group killed themselves: around 27 men compared to eight women per 100,000 in 2010.
And the CDC found that, while most suicides were committed with guns, the number of people dying from suffocation and hanging rose the fastest - by more than 80 percent - over the last decade.
Previous research and prevention efforts have focused on the young and the elderly, but the CDC said these programs should now be expanded to the middle-aged in light of the statistics.
"It is important for suicide prevention strategies to address the types of stressors that middle-aged Americans might be facing and that can contribute to suicide risk," said Linda Degutis, director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Experts are not certain why suicide rates are increasing so markedly among middle-aged adults, but suggested that causes could include the economic crisis of recent years. Suicides have historically spiked in times of financial hardship.
The authors also noted that the increase in suicides among baby boomers in their 50s may be a quirk of their generation, as they also showed unusually high rates of suicide in their teenage years.
The research suggested that there is a need to focus suicide research and prevention efforts - traditionally geared toward youth and the elderly - to those in mid-life.
The CDC said that some of these suicide prevention strategies include improving social supports and increasing access to mental health and counseling services.
The agency said efforts could be stepped up to bolster programs for those with financial challenges, job loss, intimate partner problems or dealing with stress related to the caregiving of children or aging parents, or who suffer from substance abuse or chronic health problems.