The New York Times recently ran an article entitled “Suicide Rates Rise Sharply in U.S.” in which the reporter, Tara Parker-Pope, relays a startling fact: “From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent.” So, middle-agers are now filling in what once was a huge gap between teenagers and the elderly in that solemn, tragic department. Overall, more deaths are caused by suicide per year than motor vehicle crashes. I don’t know about you, but I find that a very disturbing statistic–nearly unbelievable. And yet, there it is. (As referenced in the New York Times article, these numbers come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
According to the article, “The most pronounced increases were seen among men in their 50s, a group in which suicide rates jumped by nearly 50 percent, to about 30 per 100,000.” I checked the CDC site and verified the statistics. Unfortunately, the statistics are true. The article speculated that the crippled economy and easy access to prescription painkillers makes the baby boomer generation, in particular, highly vulnerable as they take center stage in suicide attempts within the reported group. Although I understand that prescription drugs may make the job easier for boomers considering suicide as a solution, drugs seem more a weapon of choice than a true catalyst in the rise in self-inflicted death in the baby boomer range. I suspect the increase in suicide for baby boomers has a lot to do with the bleak economy and resultant financial distress.
I write this article on the tail of yesterday’s post entitled “Ridiculous Job Listings Rant & a Call For 7 Habits of Highly Effective Companies” so you can see where my head is this week. This is serious business. Companies are toying around with the unemployed like they were pawns in a real-life version of The Hunger Games. In the book (and popular movie) The Hunger Games, ordinary citizens are thrown onto a rigged battlefield to fight against each other for their own survival and for the amusement of the royalty. Today’s job market is much like that. Send in the pawns, the 20-something-year-olds emerging from college and the 50-something-year-olds laid off from their callous, conscience-free companies, and sit on your thrones–you movers and shakers and dream breakers–as you watch the bloody game play out. There is no allegiance to the 50 and overs, and there is no real interest in who survives the battle. It matters not to the powers that be. They’re placing bets on the outcome with the extra millions they’re holding back from you and me and the struggling economy.
I have found it completely humiliating and disturbing to accept the conditions under which an older worker must find employment. I am one of them, but I am one of the more fortunate ones; I only have myself to take care of. I cannot even fathom being the head of a household, having had the rug pulled out from under me, only to be sent unwillingly onto this battlefield with bare hands to fight off all the other pawns and stake a claim on a decent job. It’s barbaric.
My ego has been beaten down on this battlefield; my self-esteem has bled out deep crimson from my veins with each blow I have suffered. Still, I’m holding my own. I haven’t successfully reached the other side yet (meaning I haven’t found a traditional job yet), but I’m still in the game (by picking up temporary work and masterminding ways to work for myself instead). It’s been tough, but I know that it’s often even tougher for men, simply because they are less likely to seek emotional support like women do. Many men, by middle age, seem to have tightly wrapped their identities and lives around their work. I’ve been flexible enough to consider redefining myself in that regard, but I’ve noticed that many men have so strongly identified themselves with a certain job title or function that they are rendered an empty shell without it.
Chronic joblessness can lead to financial distress. I’ve prepared for such a possibility, but were I also responsible for the survival of several others in my household, I don’t think I’d be holding it together so well. If I were physically ill but unable to afford care, I don’t think I’d be holding it together. If I were unable to afford care for my loved ones and forced to watch them suffer, I don’t think I’d be holding it together.
It’s like a scene in The Hunger Games for many in this near-fatal job market, only some of us are twice as old as our competition. Maybe we’ll be able to whip ourselves into shape enough to compete physically, but in the end, it will be our wits that will keep us in the game. We must keep our wits about us and find a way to overcome the nooses and traps set by the throne dwellers. We are not alone in this game, and we must do what we can to lift each other up.
On that note, if you are in this situation and struggling with thoughts of suicide, please make a simple phone call that will help save your life: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and on the other end of the line is someone who will listen and cares. Sometimes, that is all we need.