The middle aged, especially men, are at a growing risk of suicide

Larry and Joyce
A statue of Joyce and Larry's clasped hands, which Joyce keeps in her living room. Larry committed suicide two years ago.
Peter Cox / MPR News

In every room of the house, she still finds him.

Next to the couch is the banjo he made for her. In a glass cabinet, keepsakes from vacations and things that Larry crafted.

They've sat untouched since Larry shot and killed himself in their living room two years ago. He was 54.

His wife, Joyce, can't forget his quiet struggles with anxiety.

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"He didn't like to go to the doctor; he didn't like going to try to talk about medications and so forth," she said. "So I kind of respected that and kind of figured he knew what he was doing."

MPR News has agreed not to use Larry and Joyce's last name to protect the family's privacy. Their story is increasingly a common one in Minnesota, which has a growing problem: Middle aged people are taking their lives at a rate that's growing faster than other age groups.

As other causes of death such as heart disease and stroke decline, the state's overall suicide rate has been increasing, Minnesota Department of Health Epidemiologist Jon Roesler said. In 2013, 683 people committed suicide in the state. More than 30 percent of them, or 209, were men between the ages of 45 and 64.

Roesler said the troubling rise hits a group often counted on to provide for their families, "and not contributing when we need to have them contributing."

Experts say there isn't one clear explanation for the increase. But relationship changes, substance abuse and financial hardship all play a part.

But while the risk among middle aged men has grown, prevention hasn't necessarily followed.

"Most of the campaigns that have been developed for suicide prevention have been around youth or, in the past, around seniors," said Dan Reidenberg, a psychologist who runs SAVE, a national suicide prevention group based in Bloomington. "But there's been very little developed specifically for adult males."

SAVE recently developed its first national public service announcement for television targeting middle aged men who might be suicidal.

The Minnesota Department of Health recently unveiled a draft of its new state Suicide Prevention Plan, which calls for more prevention training for workplaces and more data collection for groups at highest risk, including middle-aged men. The department uses the plan to guide anyone who wants to design suicide prevention programs.

They could help men like Larry, who in the last few months of his life grew distant and seemed under stress, his wife said.

When he assured Joyce things were OK, she believed him, for the most part.

One day, she filled out a retirement calculator at work, and discovered they were financially set to retire sooner than they expected.

"Here I thought that was that glimmer of hope that maybe it wouldn't be too long until we didn't have to work and we could just kind of take it easier and his stress level would go down," she recalled. "But we never got to that point, unfortunately. It was later that week that he committed suicide."