Living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, there was a very disturbing statistic that emerged following the devastating Hurricane Katrina landfall in 2005. There were reports that suicide attempts in the areas hit hardest by the Category 4 hurricane rose by a massive 600%. Six hundred percent! It was a brutal time and human nature, for those most deeply affected on a psychological level, seemed to turn dark. It was a hopeless time, especially before outside communications were established and for many, it was simply too much. These days, it’s a storm of a different kind and because of it, debt and suicide are becoming strange bedfellows.
Debt and Suicide of the Hopeless
So hearing about the concerns of an increase in suicide attempts due to continued economic problems struck a particular chord with this writer. A new report shows that middle aged Americans are suiciding at levels not seen before. Historically, the elderly and teens were most prone to attempt to commit suicide, but the baby boomer generation seems to be considering it as their only option these days. Further complicating matters is the rise in prescription medication deaths. Often, family members never learn if the overdose was accidental or part of a plan to end a life.
There is a clear and direct relationship between rates of unemployment and suicide,
reports the American Association of Suicidology (AAS). The peak rate of suicide in 1933 occurred one year after the total US unemployment rate reached 25 percent of the labor force. At the individual level, unemployed individuals have between two and four times the suicide rate of those employed. Continued financial problems and similar crises have been well documented as a too-big part of the lives for those who attempt and succeed in their suicide attempts.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more people now die of suicide than in car accidents. The most recent numbers show that deaths from automobile accidents totaled 33,867 over a twelve month period, compared to 38,364 suicides in that same timeframe.
It was also noted that it’s likely the economy has a lot to do with why one chooses to end his life. A look back at history tells the tale – suicides always increase during a downturn in the economy.
The increase does coincide with a decrease in financial standing for a lot of families over the same time period,
said one psychologist in New York City. Debt and suicide, sadly, often go hand in hand.
Just because the rates are climbing higher and at faster rates for middle aged Americans, it doesn’t mean other age groups aren’t increasing. A recent survey conducted by the website Forgive Student Loan Debt found that 10% of those polled would be “comfortable” with suicide as a form of college loans protest to Congress. It’s startling that someone would believe they’re teaching a lesson to a government by ending their own lives. It’s true, though as overwhelming debt and suicide are clearly two dynamics some can’t get past.
The American dream for parents is to be able to send their children to college after graduating high school. The goal, of course, is to provide them the necessary tools to become responsible adults. Unfortunately, that’s not happening for too many of those students. They leave school only to take their places in the unemployment line. It can be brutally stressful. For many, the idea of not being able to enter into their chosen careers was never even considered. College graduates face a still-poor economy when they’ve completed their educations and many are graduating with not only student loan debt, but high credit card debt as well. They too can lose hope and often feel overwhelmed. For some, suicide is the only solution.
Many wonder if it’s really “just” the debt that leads so many to choose death over life. How, they wonder, can money be the only reason to justify such a permanent out? A few years ago, a new documentary, Maxed Out, explored why some are driven to suicide because of their credit card debt. The fact that so many can relate to the same story, several years later, shows just how these worries transcend the times. In one instance, a woman was driven to kill herself because of aggressive debt collectors who hounded her over unpaid credit card balances. Even more startling is 20% of those polled recently say they too would consider suicide as an out if things became desperate.
One reporter is quoted as having said,
The credit card banks have merged into a handful of bloodsucking monopolies controlling not only your credit cards, but the usurious check-cashing/payday lending and sub-prime mortgage industries as well.
So is this new reality? It would be if there were no historical measuring sticks. Following the stock market crash in the late 20s that ultimately led to the Great Depression, suicides were occurring as much or slightly more often than they are now. And, like the Depression of decades ago, child hunger is increasing as are the number of Americans living at or below the poverty level. Couple this in with high unemployment numbers that haven’t budged in months, a growing number of Americans with no savings or healthcare insurance and no end in sight, it becomes clear the many factors that often come together in “perfect storm” scenario. And for those who consider bankruptcy as a solution, they learn that student loan debt can’t be included, so often, they’re simply out of escape options, save for suicide.
Debt in the U.S.
The fact is, debt remains a massive problem in the United States. Credit card debt and student loan debt are just the tip of the iceberg. Many families are emerging with generational dynamics. Many have not only their elderly parents living with them, but their adult children as well, especially for those young adults who are hit with reality after graduation. The stress, the guilt and the helplessness is simply too much for some troubled souls.
What are your thoughts? Do you think, like many do, that corporations enjoy massive profits by deceiving American consumers – especially those lower and middle class consumers? Would you ever consider suicide if your financial problems became overwhelming? We want to hear your story.