We have a winner: According to the American Journal of Public Health, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death by injury between 2008 and 2009. However, that dubious distinction has been replaced by a disturbing new cause: Today, the form of death by injury that takes more American lives than any other is suicide.
The indicated change in death by injury is the culmination of a decade-long trend, and it appears that the primary reason may be the economic downturn in the U.S. and around the world. In the U.S., the rate of death by suicide increased by 15 percent over the past ten years. In Greece, the suicide rate for men rose by 24 percent between 2007 and 2009, according to The New York Times, and by another 40 percent in 2012. Suicides motivated by economic crisis grew by 52 percent in Italy in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics were available. What we do know is that researchers say the trend is intensifying at alarming rates wherever austerity measures have taken place and as the economic downturn continues to worsen.
According to the Huffington Post, there are plenty of anecdotal examples of “economic suicide” in the U.S.. A Tennessee man lit himself on fire earlier this year after finding out he wouldn’t be getting financial help from a private organization. And in May, a California man shot and killed himself in the midst of a legal battle with Wells Fargo, while he faced the prospect of foreclosure.
But that’s only part of the story, especially for the elderly. We’ll get to the new statistics about them a bit later in this article, but let’s take a look at some other alarming statistics about suicide.
In my 2012 book, Awakening the New Masculine: The Path of the Integral Warrior, I point out some other frightening statistics about suicide, especially men. According to the national Institute of Mental Health:
“The levels of depression, suicides, drug abuse, alcoholism, and violence among men are all rising exponentially to the point of being staggering and frightening. Ninety-four percent of all inmates are male. Men live an average of seven years fewer than women, suffer far more from ulcers and stress-related disease than women, and are more likely than women to die from the fifteen leading causes of death.”
“Over 80 percent of all suicides are committed by men. In the twenty-to-twenty-four age bracket, males commit suicide six times as much as females, and over the age of eighty-five, men are fourteen times as likely to commit suicide as women.”
As horrible as these statistics are, it’s getting worse – especially among baby boomers – and it’s not just men who are being affected. Even in their youth, boomers have had higher rates of suicide than earlier generations. While the elderly have always had higher suicide rates than the overall population, The Washington Post reported in June that “numbers released in May by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show a dramatic spike in suicides among middle-aged people, with the highest increases among men in their 50s, whose rate went up by nearly 50 percent to 30 per 100,000; and women in their early 60s, whose rate rose by nearly 60 percent (though it is still relatively low compared with men, at 7 in 100,000). The highest rates were among white and Native American and Alaskan men. In recent years, deaths by suicide has surpassed deaths by motor vehicle crashes. We also know that suicides are “vastly underreported,” said Julie Phillips, an associate professor of sociology at RutgersUniversity who has researched this grim trend. “We know we’re not counting all suicides.”
John Draper, Director of the national Suicide Prevention Hotline recently stated:
In light of about 38,000 suicides a year, other data showing that more than eight million adults think seriously about suicide and more than a million attempt suicide in the United States clearly suggest that most suicides are prevented. We know that making it easy to get help is critical, whether through mental health care, crisis hot lines (the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255), clergy or other professional assistance. But hey…let’s defund those!
We know that reducing access to firearms, poisons and other lethal methods is vital in saving lives. We also know that staying connected to family and friends in meaningful ways can also keep people alive in moments of grave despair.
These are things we can all do to reduce suicide in our homes and in our communities. Sometimes it is as simple as picking up a phone and asking for help, or saying to a loved one, “I care about you, and we are not alone; let’s go find someone who can help you.”
We’re a nation that has found meaning in individualism, unrealistic expectations, and financial standing. As James Carville pointed out, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Certainly, as the economy continues to unwind in what author Paul Gilding calls “The Great Disruption,” more and more baby boomers will find a growing number of stressors, including financial battles, taking care of aging parents, many with dementia, and providing economic and emotional support to our adult children, who are also having difficulty launching their own independent lives.
But it’s not only economical. As we move around the country, we’ve become more and more separated, more fractured, and without family or community. A “mobile” nation has found itself without the “family glue” that our ancestors knew was so important.
We’re largely a generation of idealists who are now beginning to realize that our idealism that longed to make the world a better place has failed. Even in a world of online social networks, we have become disconnected, alone, lost, frustrated. In U.S. News & World Report, one reader cast things in a slightly different light.
“Baby Boomers grew up in an America that had traditional values and decency that today are just buzzwords used by the advertising industry to part us with our hard earned cash. We were idealists, we wanted to make the world a better place. The world we live in now is monopolized by greed, legal fraud and moral decay. We spend our lives working long hours only to find no satisfaction, peace or reward at the end of the day. The cost of everything from housing to medical to food has exploded in the last 20 years, yet our earnings are stagnant, and that’s the lucky ones who haven’t been hustled into bad home loans, or lost their jobs, or had a loved one become seriously ill. We, the working class, find little reason to have hope for a happy calm retirement. Why do so many give up? It’s pretty obvious.”
Many of us want things to change, and for healing to begin. “Suicide is a tragedy that is far too common,” CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a news release. “This report highlights the need to expand our knowledge of risk factors so we can build on prevention programs that prevent suicide.” Specifically, we need to identify new risks for boomers and help their loved ones learn to recognize the warning signs — and equip them with the tools to support them or intervene if necessary.
But in a world of Detroits going bankrupt and becoming the new “steal-the-pensions” model for cities-on-the-brink of bankruptcy all over the U.S., including NYC, LA, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Baltimore, and Miami among others, we can expect to see more and more pensions raided and perhaps millions with no way to support themselves into their elderhood, knowing that no Wall Street crooks will go to jail, at least not in a meaningful way, no CEO’s will have their multi-million dollar paychecks taken from them, and no high-ranking politicians will have their pensions taken, and so what if they did? The perks of being rich are becoming more and more obvious, and it is only the working man who will foot the bill and pay whatever taxes are left to be paid after crony capitalism destroys what’s left.
And, it’s not just the U.S. where suicides are rising as the economic crisis’ deepen. Suicide rates are skyrocketing in Greece, Greenland (the suicide capitol of the world), China (with more women committing suicide than men at a 3:1 ratio, with working conditions as a primary factor), India, Italy, Spain, the UK, and others. The evidence of austerity, massive job cuts, slashed pensions (think Detroit) and soaring taxes all contribute overwhelmingly to the deadly side-effects of economic collapse. No wonder people are beginning to rise up.
But forget about the above, rising prices, the emerged police state, and energy depletion, all catastrophic to everyone but the elite (at least that’s what they apparently think in their sociopathic worldviews)…
The nail in the coffin – probably not the best way to phrase it – in all of this is the environment, and in the growing awareness of the idea that no matter what we do now, we have very likely passed the point of being able to prevent changes that will make the planet uninhabitable for humanity. No matter what we do, even if we were to completely shut down the entirety of polluting industrial civilization, more and more scientists are beginning to say we have passed the point of being able to stop the changes that are already taking place and that are multiplying exponentially due to positive feedback loops.
A very brief way of describing this is that if planetary temperatures were to hit or exceed 4˚C above the norms, we could not survive. Large scale assessments of climate change and recent new science indicates we could hit an increase of 4˚C as soon as 2030, give or take a decade. However, none of these assessments take any major self-reinforcing feedback loops into account.
In his lengthy essay, The irreconcilable acceptance of near-term extinction, Daniel A. Drumright states:
“As of right now, the entire concept of [Near Term Extinction] NTE is still the most profound abstract concept the human race has ever been confronted with. Even though the signs are everywhere one decides to look, the totality of its cumulative impact is still enough off in the distance for entrenched self-preservation to render it an abstraction in our daily lives. So again, the following is written from the viewpoint as to when this is no longer true, when NTE breaks through abstraction, and detonates in full acceptance of the most profoundly devastating reality we’ve ever had to both live with and through.”
He goes on to say, “What else is NTE other than the final acceptance of the consequences of our species’ fundamental inability to live in balance with our environment?”
But rather than get into a discussion about whether or not we are bound for the 6th Great Extinction, let’s assume for the sake of this essay on suicide that it is true. You can go back to whatever belief you need to hold later. The purpose of bringing up the possibility of NTE is to take a look at if there might be scenarios where taking one’s life actually is the best choice.
Assuming these non-linear climate changes – regardless of their cause – actually make the planet uninhabitable for humanity, the downward spiral of the ensuing collapse would obviously be catastrophic. As more and more people come to awareness of the physical meaning of NTE , the chaos of climate collapse would likely result in death by one of three possibilities: predation, starvation, or suicide.
Drumright rightly points out that choosing the third option, suicide, would no longer carry the “stigma of cowardice,” or be looked upon as a failure of character, but, rather, when the time finally arrives, and all physical hope fades, and any hope of “peaceful tranquility” finally eludes us, deciding when we’ll depart this realm – and how – our chosen death will altruistically be the “last ethical act left us.”
Those of us who believe in “something greater” than ourselves may die more gracefully than those who don’t carry some sort of metaphysical awareness. Perhaps more importantly, it will be easier for us to find meaning in what time we have left largely because we tend to believe that there is purpose to the universe that is not only larger than we are, but that we are – even in our dying – part of that purpose. The spiritually inclined tend to believe that their consciousness – separate from their physical selves – will continue, where atheists and agnostics will likely have a deeper sense of loss.
A moral and ethical act: Somehow I don’t think God would object.
To read more about this subject, please see my 4-part essay The Great Transition: Humanity at the Tipping Point
Gary Stamper who is the author of Awakening the New Masculine: The Path of the Integral Warrior, and is working on a new book, tentatively titled Collapsing into Consciousness: Birthing A New Human For A New Earth. He has founded and manages Collapsing into Consciousness, a massive website and forum that is the first-of-its-kind community of like-minded visionaries, problem solvers and early adapters, focused on real world solutions around The Great Turning.