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More people in this country are dying by committing suicide than in car crashes. Those numbers are part of a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Experts are now sounding the alarm, especially as they take a closer look at the segment of the population where suicide is increasing the most - among the middle-aged.
odger Chenelly says his wife Merilee spent her life caring for other people, "but never cared for herself enough."
Merilee struggled with mental illness her whole life. In 2009, at the age of 52, she committed suicide.
"When people take their life, it usually isn't for one reason," Rodger explained. "It leaves a wake of destruction and heartache in the families that are left behind."
Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in 2010. More people are dying by taking their own lives than in motor vehicle crashes. According to the CDC, 105 Americans commit suicide each day.
While most efforts in this country for suicide prevention have focused on the young or older adults, the latest numbers show that's not the age group most at risk. Experts say the biggest increases in the suicide rate are among middle-aged Americans.
"Their [CDC] 2010 data, on which the current report is based, shows a very slight increase in youth, continued drop in elders, but really this major increase in the middle years, almost 30 percent, and it's really across the entire United States," said Caine. "This is a population that we haven't paid as much attention to."
Dr. Eric Caine, chair of the University of Rochester's Psychiatric Department, said researchers have been seeing this trend since 2005. He says the many of those numbers are tied to the economy.
"It's important to realize that this is not just about being unemployed. Someone might still have their job, but their house is underwater, their mortgage isn't right, or one of the members of the household has lost their job but the other member is working. Financial problems are a tremendous amount of aggravation and distress for couples, for families, for individuals."
Caine sees this as a public health problem, one that needs research to begin to try and find ways to best reach those who need help.
In the meantime, everyone agrees, the first step is awareness. That's why Rodger and his family hold Merilee's Morning March for Mental Wellness every year. The walk in Fairport raises money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Rodger said it's their way to remember Merilee and to show everyone that's it's okay to talk about it.
"There's a stigma to suicide that people don't want to talk about it. They think it's making their loved ones weaker," said Rodger. "We realized we need to get the word out about what happened to try to turn something that was such a horrible tragedy into something positive to try and help other people. That's what Merilee would've wanted."
The 3rd Annual Merilee's Morning March for Mental Wellness will be held May 18 at Perinton Park. Check-in time is 9 a.m.