In a report published Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the suicide rate among middle-aged (35-64) Americans jumped 28 percent in the last decade, and suicides now account for more deaths than vehicle accidents.
According to the CDC report, 38,000 Americans decided to end their own lives in 2010 – almost 5,000 more than those who died in vehicle-related incidents. The biggest jump in suicide rates came among middle-aged Americans, which rose from 13.7 per 100,000 population in 1999 to 17.6 in 2010.
Suffocation proved to be one of the most common forms of suicide as it increased by 81.3 percent; poisoning also rose 24.4 percent, and the use of firearms to end one's own life rose 14.4 percent.
The health organization did not investigate the reasons behind the rates but suggested that a possible contributing factor is the economic downturn.
"Historically, suicide rates tend to correlate with business cycles, with higher rates observed during times of economic hardship," the report says.
Suicides among white people increased by as much as 40 percent, while Native Americans also experienced a disproportionately high jump. Additional research is needed to fully understand why suicide rates vary across racial and ethnic populations.
Last month, Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California launched a petition to raise awareness for mental illness following the suicide of his 27-year-old son.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, commented, "Christians struggle with depression and even suicidal thoughts. It does not make you less of a Christian. Just like heart disease or cancer does not dilute our Christianity, neither does mental illness."
"This tragedy facilitates an opportunity if not an obligation for the Christian community to address mental illness," Rodriguez added about Matthew Warren's suicide, which launched an outpouring of support for the megachurch pastor.