Adaptability / Career Change / Challenge / Job Search / We Are Connected

Near-Fatal Job Market Fueling Middle-Aged Suicide Rate?

Cover of "The Hunger Games"

Cover of The Hunger Games

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.

10 thoughts on “Near-Fatal Job Market Fueling Middle-Aged Suicide Rate?

    • Thanks, Elizabeth. I secured part-time work 6 months ago. It’s not ideal but I have few other options at this point. I have to be happy enough with what I have. I’m trying to find the path to the next level up because it simply doesn’t exist where I am right now. Still, this is better than I was a year ago. Patience and persistence are key.

    • Absolutely. There’s so much to say on this topic that I haven’t tackled here. Those statistics just stuck in my mind refusing to be ignored, and I knew I had to say something about it. But yes, if we don’t have a support system or feel unable to reach out for help, if we don’t have faith in a greater power, we may strip away the shred of hope necessary to keep it together. When it all comes down upon us, we sometimes miss the basic truth… that we are not ever alone and there is always a reason to live. Isolation–shutting ourselves off from others, either physically or in our thoughts–is a very dangerous thing to do. The moment we simply reach out for help is the moment we become part of a community of people all struggling together… all reaching for a better day… together, finding a way to have hope.

  1. This is the world we live in today, no one seems to think it is not okay. Peeling back the layers and we see worse and worse outcomes, yet still we accept crumbs. We carry on and poverty of spirit, home and nation is accepted as ‘just the way it is’.

    It is not okay. We live longer today and yet by 50 we are thrown away. Dreams undone, familes undone.

    It is not okay.

    • No, it is not okay. This chronic state of affairs leaves many feeling broken. You nailed it… “poverty of spirit, home and nation”. What a somber pill to swallow and to have absolutely nothing come of it is as debilitating as any chronic disease without a cure.

      As I was just discussing with ladonnacontenta in a previous comment stream, we have to do our best to not isolate ourselves too much from others as we face all this uncertainty. These are very dangerous times and the only thing that might get us through is to communicate with others… even if all we are doing is venting. As my mother just finished telling me when I posted this article, “Better OUT than IN.” These discussions are opportunities to get it OUT.

  2. And so the change begins with us. To treat everyone with the respect that they deserve, to honor every job as worthwhile and important and to always choose loving kindness over ignorance and greed. You never know how far a simple act of kindness goes in helping someone cope for just another day. We can make a difference, you and I. We most certainly can.

    • Beautifully said, as usual. Love and compassion are under serious strain in our society. I feel an imbalance in the air around me and at times within me, as is the case this week. My internal barometer is hypersensitive to this change in atmospheric pressure, as I’m sure it is for many like me.

      • Believe me, I completely understand. I too, have been struggling alot of late. It’s difficult,when you are so sensitive, to understand how others can act so callously. But you did a good thing with this post, by adding the hot line phone number. And you have to remember, that for all the negative actions that get all the headlines, there are many good people out there quietly working to make the world a better place to live. When it seems overwhelming, I spend time outside, listen to the quiet and wrap myself in the beauty that surrounds me. Until I have the energy once again, to smile and take another step forward. Don’t ever stop trying. You’re doing good work. 😉

      • I make my way outside to improve my state of mind as well. Sometimes it’s hard to just make it out the door, but I am ALWAYS better off having even just a 30-minute walk. It releases and clears my worries for a time, and often just reminds me that even though we may be alone with our thoughts, we are never really alone. We are part of the bigger universe and we do, in fact, matter. Every action or reaction we have impacts everything around us and within us. Nature just gets that point to me quicker than anything else.

        I wish you well as you navigate your struggles and hope you are back on track soon. Healing is natural. Time is necessary to allow it all to happen. (Listen to me sounding all hopeful !!!) 🙂

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