Men, Unemployment, and the Silent Crisis of Suicide

Twenty years ago depression was a disease fought in the darkness. Very few understood what depression was, and those who had mental illnesses hid their disease from the public, and friends. The depressed became great actors who lied to people saying they said they were, “fine” when they knew they were fighting something that filled their minds with doubt instead of hope. Now; the stigma is virtually gone and more sufferers are willing to reveal their darkest thoughts. The public is now more informed, and increasingly sympathetic to those who suffer from mental illness, but there are still massive steps that need to be made to tell the depressed that despite bouts of madness telling them otherwise, there is always hope.

That hope and passion for life, is often predicated on feeling fulfilled and having a purpose. To be employed gives you the sense of pride that many of us need to keep going. Having a job says you’re responsible, driven, motivated, and mature. Being employed is an important part of adulthood that allows you to provide for yourself and/or your families, who depend on the necessities of life, and the extra pleasures that makes a child’s upbringing fun, and full of wonder. When employment is lost the stress can be overwhelming. Utility providers call you non-stop asking for a payment, you frantically look for work, as time seems to be running short, and the fears of possible bankruptcy, or homelessness ruin your mind, and put your relationships on this ice.

It is no surprise the number of suicides continue to rise as economic insecurity and mass unemployment affects families throughout the world.

The Center for Disease Control recently released a study that found suicides in the US have risen to levels not seen in thirty years. In 2014 13 out of every 100,000 Americans took their own lives; up from 10.5 out of every 100,000 in 1999. Since 1999 suicide rates have risen every year for Americans between the ages of 10 to 74.

Speaking to the New York Times, Robert Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard argued, “This is part of the larger emerging pattern of evidence of the links between poverty, hopelessness and health.” A simple look into the current state of the Western world shows that to be a correct assertion. In Walker County, Ala, thanks to the coal mines citizens depended on for income, companies ceased operation. Premature deaths of the middle class have doubled, thanks to the suicides and addiction. Suicide numbers in New York continue to rise as well.

The link between job losses and suicide is sadly shown In Alberta, where the oil based economy has been decimated thanks to low oil prices. Employment insurance claims have skyrocketed to historic proportions thanks to the loss of jobs in the oil sands that has caused a rippling affect through other industries in the province. The usage of food banks has also risen to the point where lineups are seen down the street; making food banks look like border crossings. The province is full of economic anxiety that has been increased due to the government continuing to raise taxes to pay for the debts they accrued thanks to fiscal mismanagement. In a story published last December when the layoffs began to affect thousands of Albertans, rates of suicide increased 30% from the same six month period reported in the previous year.

The rate shocked professionals in the province who work in prevention. Speaking to the CBC, Mara Grunau of the Centre of Suicide Prevention revealed, “(The suicide rate), far exceeds anything we would ever have expected, and we would never have expected to see this much this soon.” The sentiment extends to other in the mental health field who are growing increasingly concerned.

“For me it says something really about the horrible human impact of what’s happening in the economy with the recession and the real felt effect, the real suffering and the real struggle that people are experiencing,” reported David Kirby, a counselor at the Calgary Distress Centre who also noted calls to the organization have risen by 80%. Those calls have been based on experiences that happen in relation to job losses, like strained personal relationships, anxiety, and domestic violence issues.

Unemployment linked suicide is not a phenomenon tied just to the Western world; it is a global problem. A Lancet study of 63 countries including Canada and the United States found, “Between 2000 and 2011, the relative risk of suicide associated with unemployment rose by 20% to 30% in all regions.” The number increased by almost 4,000 from 2007 to 2008; the year the global economic recession hit, and countries like Greece, and Italy suffered from massive deficits that got the attention of the world.

The issue of suicide has often been discussed in terms of celebrities revealing issues with depression, and the bigger commitment to removing the stigma attached to mental illness, but one factor is often ignored. Men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women. The methods of choice between men and women differ as males are statistically more likely to use deadlier methods like shooting or hanging themselves, while women more commonly try to poison themselves, making it more likely that women will survive suicide attempts, while men are more likely to die from them. Men are also more susceptible to suffer from fits of anger and irritability, become addicted to drugs or alcohol and partake in high risk behaviours.

Way back in 1897, famed sociologist Emile Durkheim published a book titled Suicide that found men are susceptible to suicide when they are driven away from social institutions and lose economic security. More troubling is the increased likelihood that men without college degrees will end their lives. In a piece published by The Atlantic, W. Bradford Wilcox noted men without college degrees are twice more likely to end their lives than men with degrees. Furthermore, married men are less likely to commit suicide than single middle aged men.

Every few months another paper publishes a study that details demographic implications of suicide, or the rise of unnatural death as the result of unemployment and once the stories are published, the epidemic is ignored so we can concentrate on issues we deem more important like a presidential candidate having hot sauce in her purse, and a new music video released by Beyonce.

Mental health is not deemed a priority in our world; even as numbers continue to increase. Homeless people who are predominately mentally ill are still on the streets with little hope. The mentally ill are more likely to be killed by police than the mentally healthy. Dedicating a day to mental health awareness, and releasing a memoir detailing a battle with mental illness are steps in the right direction, but it is not enough. While the media perpetuates fear campaigns linked to the spread of diseases like H1N1, the Bird Flu, Ebola, and now the Zika virus that are always proved to be grossly exaggerated, the rise of unemployment linked suicide fails to get even half the press those viruses are granted. We are routinely told we are at risk of dying from diseases that start in third world countries that lack the resources the Western world has, but when it comes to the rise of suicide, the media is derelict in their duty to report on real issues that impact the world.

Mental illness is not a bug that goes away with bed rest and Tylenol; it is not a trend that loses importance when seasons change. People are committing suicide under the belief that their lives hold no value, because their identity is based on working for a living, and we are too concerned about the tweets of dumb celebrities, to put mental illness under the microscope to properly study the disease and work towards providing the resources to people who believe there is no reason for them to live. Mental illness is not a fantasy; it is real, and what we are doing to curb suicide is simply not enough. Like in years past these stories will hit websites, and mainstream media outlets for a day, telling us that there is some concern, then some white celebrity will post a picture on Twitter showing their cornrows, and that will be considered bigger news that grants dozens of stories, tweets, and condemnation.