Saturday, May 11, 2013

Suicide Rates Skyrocket for Those in The US "Baby Boom" Generation

Although the article below by Les Leopold from AlterNet acknowledges there are many factors for a suicide, one cannot help but wonder if the depressed economy and the number of  lost homes, jobs and personal bankruptcies have not played a role in creating  a lot of these tragedies.  It is especially disturbing to see the rise among men and women in their early 50's.  There are two reasons for this, one being personal (I'm 52) and the other being that in the recent past workers, teachers, managers, sales professionals and skilled contractors, et al, were in their peak earning years in this period.

There's no question about it--American baby boomers are taking their own lives like never before. Suicide rates in the United States jumped dramatically for 35- to 64-year-olds between 1999 and 2010, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These self-inflicted deaths increased from 13.7 per 100,000 to 17.6. As a result, in 2010 more people died from suicide (38,364) than from car accidents (33,687).

Is the economy to blame primarily for these new statistics?  It seems to me it has to be a main  factor at least.   In the past Americans by culture have been generally optimistic---to not be so (unless you are talking about government, taxes or the Chicago Cubs reaching the World Series) was to be a "gloomy gus" in your respective "pack".  Drawing from anecdotes, something of that optimism has gone out of the psyches of many friends and acquaintances. It is not that people I know are depressed; it is more a  case of desperation over jobs and the harder task of preserving that lifeline of savings and pensions, 401ks, Social Security, family educational expenses, medical costs , et al.

I wonder if people need to get out more into their own communities more and away from the dreary rounds of our Great Political Gridlock.  The name-calling and the finger pointing are not adding up to much---regions and party affiliation seem more important today than what we all have in common as Americans. Maybe the best hope to counteract some of these tragedies is for more of us to try to listen to others a little harder and remember we all have more in common than we might think.


  1. Thanks for raising the issue of suicide in your blog Doug, as you might know I worked in the area of 24/7 deliberate self harm aftercare and parasuicide crisis intervention for a number of years (13 actually) and still do have a similar role now 'in-hours' ...having left shifts behind me a few years ago. The suicide rate is rising here too for the same reasons and non-lethal self harm has reached epidemic proportions thanks to transnational capitalism and the greed of politicians and bankers. I read the article and am always amazed that American's steadfastly believe that Sweden (or Denmark or Finland or Norway) were once 'socialist' and even more astounding some Americans apparently believe the Obama administration is 'socialist' too and America is falling prey to socialism.
    From a European perspective Scandanavia has a social democratic political culture which has been relatively longstanding. These political cultures are left of centre it is agreed, but they are not socialist. Like the US they have and have always had a thriving private sector, Nordic capitalism controls the commanding heights which indeed has paid off for them now. Citizens in the Nordic countries continue to participate in and benefit from globalization on a much wider scale than in any other similarly highly developed country.
    However, suicide is a complex subject and so is socialism so I would disagree with those who like to say that there is a clear relationship between welfare and suicide in socialised economies like those of the Nordic countries.

    There is a clear relationship between the distribution of wealth and suicide, for example unemployment is a significant factor particularly in men, but in the UK the female suicide rate has also been increasing since 2007.
    Other factors like relationship issues and mental and physical health also obviously play a large part in depression and suicidality, but since we cannot make policies to address such random personal phenomena, we as you say, can only address the socio-economic drivers of suicide.
    Your suggestion that a sense of belonging in America would improve the domestic situation is I'm sure right Doug. I think the transition movement is therapeutic in that respect. I suspect that local food networks, organic growing and the edible-ization of urban green spaces is more therapeutic that Prozac. Thanks for opening this important topic up for discussion Doug.

    1. Thank you for discerning the differences in a "socialist" society and a left-of-center social democratic one, AA. One sad fact is that many Americans hear socialism and think that covers everything from the Labour Party to Maoism. To explain otherwise to some is a fool's errand.
      I'd settle for the former social democracy developing in the USA. No sign of that anytime soon outside of a few states, the ones like California-Oregon-Washington state where urban growers and local economic cooperatives thrive in certain areas where education and experimentation are not dirty words. I'm happy to say the town I live in is one of those.
      Nations like Sweden and it's socialism have been misunderstood by many Americans. One of my uncles emigrated from Sweden shortly before WWII. He said once that one of the reasons for the high suicide rate in that country was the lack of sunlight for large parts of the year in the northern regions of the country. Of course, this has nothing to do with economics, but the right-wing always downplayed that for fear of a true "mixed economy" that reduces stress for the everyday life of most citizens and values ALL work, not just that which results in lucrative recompense. No society has this problem licked, but it is the failure of adjustment that seems to me the great flaw of austerity economics and modern conservatism in all North American and European right-leaning parties I'm aware of.

      Nor can one factor explain suicide as you rightfully say and understand I'm certain from your long and direct experience. But I glad you do believe that certain catalysts like income inequality does play a part... I rather think it's an added weight, a sense of decreased self-worth that awaits "a straw that breaks the camel's back" so to speak, especially for those men and women who define themselves very much by their work.
      This report has not received the attention it deserves but at least some media outlets like NPR picked it up. Thanks again AA for your perspective and balanced approach to this issue. It's clear the troubled urban individual who can find a local purpose in a community too dominated by macro-business and inferior public investment stands the best chance against this grim statistics.

  2. The lack of, or the end, of all hope for the future, drives people to suicide. My opinion anyhow, for what it is worth. And yes, I would argue a direct correlation with the "depressed" economy, a direct correlation with the ever-increasing widening of the gaps between the haves and the have-nots, and further, a direct correlation between how people are valued in the materialistic world which Capitalists have created for us. When you discover that everything you have done, all the unpaid stuff, like bringing up your kids to be good people, like caring for your neighbours, helping old people and/or vulnerable people, your volunteer work, When you discover that all of that, and probably more, is not worth a brass razzoo, because it was stuff you did without being paid for it; all of that is worthless apparently, but you are meant to get a since of achievement from some kind of pointless job that a 12 yr old could probably do just because you are being paid in minimum wage dollars - yeah it's no wonder people realise they are undervalued and feel like crap - yeah it is no wonder the suicide stats rise.

    1. I'm afraid you right Iri Ani---the things that are "valued" boil down in the marketplace too often down to something of "economic value" and not social or local good. Seems to me that pervasive marketplace is what is most often sick, not individuals. Thanks for your perceptive comments.