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U.S. suicides have reached 30-year high, led by baby boomers

The U.S. suicide rate is rising steadily and sharply, hitting a 30-year high in 2014, after rising 24 percent since 1999, according to a federal study released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicides have risen among all age groups except people 75 and older, and the rate has gone up faster among women than men. Researchers couldn't pin the higher suicide rate on any one factor but suggested it could be due to abuse of prescription drugs like opioids, and social and economic upheaval, especially for people without college degrees.

There was a notable surge among Americans 45 to 64, with the suicide rate for women in that age group jumping 63 percent and men 43 percent. The baby-boom generation had a high suicide rate when they were younger, and some researchers suggest that when boomers hit trouble today they react in a familiar way. "As that population has been aging and become middle-aged, there's probably a cohort effect," Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, tells The Wall Street Journal.

Other big increases in suicide were found among girls 10 to 14, Native Americans, and people who killed themselves using smothering (which include hanging and strangulation). Suicide rates fell among black men, and fewer men and women used guns to kill themselves (31 percent of women and 55 percent of men). Men 75 and older are still the highest group of suicides, 38.8 per 100,000 people.

Men were 3.6 times more likely to die from suicide than women, a narrower gap than before, but that's not the whole story. "Females actually commit suicide more frequently than males, but males die by suicide more often," said Kristin Holland, a behavioral scientist at the Center for Disease Control. "Males are choosing more lethal methods than women." The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).