Golden Gate Bridge crisis phone

More people currently die of suicide than in car accidents, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The suicide rate rose sharply among Americans between 35 and 64, jumping by about 50 percent for men in their 50s and women in their early 60s. Some experts suspect financial woes and abuse of painkillers may be contributing to the increase in suicides among Baby Boomers.

Eve Meyer, executive director of San Francisco Suicide Prevention, the oldest volunteer crisis line in the United States, founded in 1963
Thomas Simon, deputy associate director for science in the Division of Violence Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and an author of the new issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
Thomas Joiner, psychology professor at Florida State University and author of "Why People Die By Suicide"
Ellen Idler, professor of sociology at Emory University

  • Pontifikate

    What are the figures for Boomer suicide in the US vs. other suicides? How about a picture of the trend in suicides in general over the last 10-20 years? Comparative figures in other countries? Every time I hear about someone killed on train tracks, I wonder about who? how old? why? and why don’t you hear anything about this alarming trend? It doesn’t surprise me. People over 40 are considered expendable in this society, job discrimination is rampant and the social safety net practically nonexistent.

  • thucy

    This is heartbreaking news, but not surprising. This economic downturn has been brutal. Meanwhile, even the Democratic President takes a “let-them-eat-cake” attitude.
    But to those feeling at the end of their respective ropes, I beg you to stay and fight. Because to lose yourself would be to deny the evidence of what has happened to so many Americans, and to deny yourself the redemption, grace, and potential joy of standing up for yourself through civil disobedience. Don’t let them take away your “you”, “you” are what matters

    • Ehkzu

      So typical of Republican “wingers” that for them every discussion–including this one, about the causes and prevention of suicide–is twisted around to make it about our first black president’s supposed wickedness.
      Also note that the Republican party has become so anarchistic that this guy’s prime recommendation is to break the law. If I didn’t know better I’d think I was reading the ravings of the kind of leftist loons I knew in college. How is it that right wingers have come to sound just like them–telling us to “stick it to the Man” ?

      • thucy

        Sorry, but I’m not a right-winger, just a centrist Democrat watching a Democratic administration that stands to the right of Ronald Reagan.
        And yes, civil disobedience is against the law, but per Martin Luther King, Jr., it is not against the higher aims of our constitution.

  • Wookie@home

    When the fraud of the big banks drives people to end it all, it’s called “Death by Banker”.

    The con men on Wall St and their co-conspirators around the US and elsewhere reaped huge gains by suckering people into accepting unpayable debts. There has been no accountability for a reason.

    Here’s an exposé about Obama’s true roots: He’s been in tight with the loan sharks from the very start:

    • Ehkzu

      Note how some people are so incensed about our first black President that they insert their partisan agenda into every discussion, no matter how off-topic their obsession is.

      And the link is to a scandalmonger whose journalistic standards have been challenged many times, as here:

      in which one of his targets says, in part, that “Palast conflates meetings, truths and half-truths, statements taken out of context to produce a toxic smear which would be actionable in the country he claims to work in…” does not take Palast’s statements or work to be reliable.

      • Karim

        Honestly, only a black racist, and a really dumb one at that, would still today in 2013 attack criticism of Obama by claiming racism. That is a sure sign of a person with a very low IQ and certainly no conscience, and certainly no patriotism. Sure it’s good that we have a black president, but Obama is just an Uncle Tom for the corporations as Ralph Nader predicted he would be.

  • thucy

    The guest Ms. Meyer is brilliant and blunt in laying out the economic/housing issues, as opposed to mental health issues, driving suicide.

    • Ehkzu

      It’s important for mental health professionals to realize that not all personal problems are personally caused, and thus not all solutions are psychiatric. If a person is depressed because his good-paying job moved to China and now he can’t find anything but minimum wage part time work, then he’d have to be delusional not to be depressed.

  • Chuck

    How do these stats compare to other 1st world nations?

    • Ehkzu

      Rates per 100,000: Australia 8.6, Canada 11.1, China 12.7, India 23.2, United Kingdom 7.6, United States 11.4.

      • thucy

        source? NPR cites for US:
        “The suicide rate for people 35-64 rose to 17.6 per 100,000 people in 2010 from 13.7 per 100,000 in 1999. That’s an increase of 28 percent.”

  • theresa

    I volunteer on the friendship line at IOA here in the city which has a nation wide number. The hardest calls for me are the middle age though healthy, the loneliness and isolation from others coming through their own actions or circumstances outside of thier control. The seniors I talk with though lonely are still in better shape, more resilient and less bitter.

    • thucy

      The seniors you talk with may have:
      1) medicare
      2) social security
      3) pensions
      The middle-aged are dealing with a VASTLY different economic outlook. The seniors you talked with didn’t come of age in such a brutally competitive work environment, which has had intense ramifications on relationships.

  • Joe Gold

    I was a journalist trained to avoid mentions of suicide in news stories, as reporting of suicides tend to lead to MORE suicides.

    The fact that we talk more about suicides, both in military and civilian populations, may be a significant factor in the increase.

    Personally, as an intelligent, educated baby boomer who can’t get even a basic job, whose hundreds job applications go ignored month after miserable month, are feeling useless in this world is a very real factor that drives my sense of having no value in the world.

    • thucy

      I think I recall your byline in the Chronicle from childhood? This is a terrible economy, but I can’t imagine a time when your skills were more important to society.

    • Wayne

      Joe, traditionally what people do when they’re stuck in places that lack jobs is, they emigrate.

      This is why France is called France and not Gaul, and why Normandy is named after the Norsemen.

      I emigrated and came here, finding a decent-paying job. If I didn’t have a job, I sure as heck would not stay here.

      If you ignore the high-paying jobs, the Bay Area is otherwise like Disneyland: expensive and service-oriented.

  • disqus_Pgi9nk7Vi4

    i have known two friends who have committed suicide: one in college (we are at the tail end of the boomer generation) and another at 35. the two had this in common: they had both lost hope — totally and utterly — for a decent future. the first was a recovering drug addict who developed back pain that floored him. he tried everything to avoid pain medication and to stay sober. he even had surgery; acupuncture, and on and on. his choice was to remain prone and pain for the rest of his life or to risk his sobriety and take pain medication.
    the second, a lawyer, was fired from her first job as an attorney. she could not find another one given the economic climate at the time. afterwards, she became addicted to pain medication once some dental work was done. finally, as she felt sure no one would ever hire her as a lawyer again, and addicted already to pain meds, she ended her life.

  • John Tweed

    What about the responsibility of the corporate world?
    If self worth issues are a big factor, then what is the role of the continuous drive by HR departments to determine the ‘value’ of an individual. They have filtering programs to eliminate people that they have determined are of ‘low value’, even when their methodologies are seriously flawed. What is the suicide rate among those individuals?

  • Ehkzu

    Some suicides are carefully planned, but many if not most are impulsive acts. For example, that’s what Golden Gate bridge jumpers who happen to survive tell us–and they never try again, as far as I know.

    Because of this, having a firearm in the house makes it easy to turn momentary despair into permanent death. Especially since suicide by gun is relatively quick and painless compared to the most common other methods–jumping, hanging, poisoning. Even sleeping pills take a while to work.

    This is also true of other kinds of violence, as it happens. Thus the fact that America has the highest rate of private firearms ownership in the world is part and parcel of us having the highest rate of violent death in the rich world.

  • Has anyone looked at the relationship of the increased use of prescription pain killers (which play havoc on Dopamine and Seratonin levels) and increase in suicide rates?

    • thucy

      not just pain killers – a potential side effect of many anti-depressants is suicidal ideation, and most of these are not being prescribed by psychiatrists, but GP’s

  • Eric Nichols

    My name is Eric from Dayton, OH. I would like to say that I do not disagree with the facts telling us that single, non college educated, lonely middle aged men commit suicide, but ask to make sure we realize that we need to make sure we know anyone can. My father, 54, took his life last February. He was married, 4 kids, college educated, financially secure, and involved in numerous activities and a board member at many places.

    He was extremely good at hiding his feelings and emotions when it came to letting those closest to him know his true feelings. I would say that we should be aware of those earlier mentioned factors, but also we need to be aware that it can happen to anyone.

    Thank you

  • Kevin117

    Consider that suicide may be the sane choice in an insane culture.

    Given that we live in a society that values people by their wealth AND given that the wealthy can use their money to influence legislation to further concentrate the nation’s wealth into fewer and fewer hands, away from the majority of citizens, (this is simply a fact, 40% of the nation’s wealth is in the hands of only 1% of the population), why not let people die with dignity? It’s not like our ethical, moral or economic systems and values are going to change anytime soon. Pumping people with drugs to counteract the natural results of our culture is not a solution. It only makes those not suffering feel better.

    When your society has programmed the above values into you for your whole life it’s kind of late in the game to tell the middle aged to “just see things differently”.

    (We’re talking about middle aged people not teens)

    • Kevin117

      I mean… What people are questioning is the American capitalist’s definition of happiness and success. Our definition of success may not really make one happy, but it sure makes one prideful. But by our rules economic failure should make us ashamed. And society tries to shame those who don’t feel shame by calling them “lazy takers”.

  • Janice Keller

    Four years ago the people of Washington (where I currently live) agreed that people with a very poor quality of life have the right to end that life. Why is someone with mental anguish, when there’s no realistic solution to the issues (e.g., no job, no self-esteem, no home, no friends) not equally deserving of a legal, dignified way out?

    • Pontifikate

      More effort should be made to make lives better and meaningful rather than make it easier to commit suicide.

    • BoneShards

      There is a difference between poor physical quality of life issues that cannot be effectively treated to obtain a better outcome, and transitional factors like unemployment, lack of community, home, or friends. I find your response to the latter incomprehensible for there are realistic solutions other than suicide to alleviate the mental anguish that results from having been displaced in a society by an economic crash, a culture that devalues age and glorifies youth, that puts a premium on individual enrichment, oftentimes at the expense of community and the welfare of others.

  • Thea

    I think there’s a suicide prevention campaign out there called Know the Signs.. have you seen the billboards? They’re all over the place. It helped me a lot… I hope people visit it.

  • Steven Perham

    Thank you for having this discussion. Your guests point to a prevalent issue in American society: that is one of dislocation, especially for middle-aged men. We are told early on that success is tied to material wealth and if by the time we’re middle aged we haven’t met that expectation in ones own mind or the minds of others, then many people have few skills or resources to reorient and to reconnect with a community — to have a sense of purpose and to feel valued. Add to this, financial circumstances and poor access to mental health care and you see these tragic suicide statics. Then multiply that number by the family and friends whose lives are changed forever.

    For me and my family this in not a statistic, but a loving father, husband and grandfather. My Dad took his life in 2010.

  • Selostaja

    As a Baby Boomer who lives carefully preparing for retirement, I can understand the logic of suicide as sometimes we can feel we are worth more dead than alive to those we support. The funds are like an unattainable oasis while we see our lifestyles decline. We have thrown ourselves into our work and in our later years, are discarded, seen as a human resource of diminishing return. If our ‘value’ is only defined financially, an increasing number of suicides can be expected whenever we hit another economic downturn.

  • Robert Jackson

    It could be argued that anybody who never contemplates suicide is just not paying attention to the state of the world. Even “success” is empty and futile these days. The only hope seems to be a retreat into narcissism and me-first consumer culture. When a society is so sick with self-loathing, suicide among its members is inevitable and even attractive.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor