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Male Suicide: Where's the Outcry?

The suicide rate for middle-aged Americans has risen by nearly 30 percent over the past decade. This news is depressing enough on its own, but the gender breakdown is where it gets disturbing: According to the New York Times, middle-aged American men kill themselves at nearly four times the rate that women do.

W. Bradford Wilcox looks at the broader context for these stats and finds that larger social and economic factors may be at play:

The geographic caste of suicide underlines the communitarian argument made by Emile Durkheim in his classic work, Suicide. Durkheim stressed that men (note that men kill themselves at much higher rates than do women) are more likely to commit suicide when they get disconnected from society’s core institutions (e.g., marriage, religion) or when their economic prospects take a dive (e.g., unemployment). So, men are more likely to thrive and survive when they have a job, a wife, and a community connection to a church or some other group that grounds their lives.

Unemployed men are 126 percent more likely to kill themselves than their employed counterparts. And as we’ve written before, unemployed men are generally unappealing candidates for marriage, hurting their romantic prospects and increasing their sense of alienation. Unmarried men are a whopping 240 percent more likely to take their own lives than married men.

Perhaps most shocking about this story is the relative silence with which it has been met. If women were taking their lives in record numbers, largely due to their inability to find employment or husbands, you could bet that federal tribunals, support groups, and cries for policy change would abound. But thousands of men take their own life, lost in the shadows, and much of the press seem content to let the stories remain there.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/corlyss.drinkard Corlyss Drinkard

    “Perhaps most shocking about this story is the relative silence with which it has been met . . .”
    Eerily similar to the recent reports of psychically wounded products of the Chinese one-child policy and the silence surrounding that phenomenon. I can’t remember the number, but 30 million sticks in my mind, aging men who have never married, who will never have children to do the comforting rites for them that their culture requires of descendants on behalf of ancestors. Speculation has arisen that these cultural orphans have been bred to fight and die in some coming conflict with whomever – India, Japan, the US. In the meantime they present a social problem that the Mandarins never bothered to consider when they were making up their policy. Several of the men have gone berserk and slaughtered school children with crude but effective weapons like machetes and axes. If something like that happened in the west, we’d have the UN and umpteen NGOs studying the heck out of the pathology because of the children’s deaths, not because of the pitiful, apparently hopeless men.

  • USNK2

    Truly hypocritical to decry the number of Americans on SS disability – even calling it massive fraud – in one post and then fret over the suicide rate the next day.
    Mr. Mead is turning into a hack. Sad, but that is what happens when you have job security, something most of us have never known in the USA

    • http://www.facebook.com/corlyss.drinkard Corlyss Drinkard

      Connect the dots for me, USNK2. I don’t get the conclusion from your relating the disability post and the suicide post to conclude that WRM has become a hack.

  • wigwag

    As Charles Murray discusses in his must read book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” the phenomonon that Professor Mead points to does not afflict all white men equally. It’s primarily a class issue; upper class white men (those who work mostly with their minds as opposed to their hands) are doing just fine; better than fine actually. It’s middle class, lower middle class and poor white males who are suffering with no relief in sight.

    This paragraph from the book review that appeared in the New York Times on February 10, 2012 sums it up nicely,

    “[White] men claim physical disability at astounding rates and are less likely to hold down jobs than in the past. Churchgoing among the white working class has declined, eroding the social capital that organized religion once provided. Illegitimacy, crime, joblessness — these are not merely the much debated pathologies of a black underclass… They are white people problems too.”

    All of the economic trends that Professor Mead writes about in his blog will surely make the plight of this population worse, not better. Lacking motivation, skills, access to marraige, the entrepreneurial spirit, and, if Murray is to be believed, native intelligence, working and lower class white men face a downward spiral that will lead to more mental illness (and suicide) and a burst of crime and hopelessness.

    The private sector lacks the motivation or capability to redress this looming disaster. The cultural factors, including the collapse of religion seem intractable. What conservatives don’t get is that the role of government in ameliorating this problem will be critical; to prepare for a socially peaceful transformation away from what Mead calls the “blue model” government will need to become even more activist than it is now. What liberals don’t get is that the tried and true social welfare policies that they’ve advocated for seventy years are no longer affordable and they no longer work (or we wouldn’t be facing this problem in the first place.)

    Unless we develop a smarter, more effective and more engaged Government, look for the number of white male suicides to continue to increase.

    • http://www.facebook.com/corlyss.drinkard Corlyss Drinkard

      A fellow Murray fan! Glad you mentioned his insights into the kinds of social change that trouble so many of us.
      Personally, I think government is not the answer to this or many character issues in society.

      • wigwag

        I don’t agree with Murray about everything; I think his understanding of the genetics of intelligence is little more than pop science. On the other hand, I think he’s a brilliant and provocative sociologist whose work should be appreciated far more by the left than it is. I don’t think that the right should view Murray as a hero but it is good that they recongize him as very smart.

        It’s not just civilian white men who are committing suicide at very high rates; both black and white men in the military are committing suicide at rates that ought to alarm all of us.

        Professor Mead’s post put me in mind of a book by Jeffrey Eugenides that was later turned into a movie by Sofia Coppola, “The Virgin Suicides.” The book and movie were not about the suicide of working class white men but about the suicide of middle class young girls living in Grosse Point Michigan in the 1970s.

        What the working class men who are committing suicide today and the fictional characters in the book had in common was strong feelings of alienation. While its purpose is self destruction not homicide, it’s the same type of alienation that drives Islamic suicide bombers. Figure out how to change material and social conditions enough to alleviate this sense of alienation, and things might begin to get better.

        But, of course, the whole thing is very complicated.

        • Jim Luebke

          “Figure out how to change material and social conditions enough to
          alleviate this sense of alienation, and things might begin to get
          better. ”

          That’s what the 50’s were about.

          It worked.

  • slickwilly169

    To Obama’s appointees, this is not a problem. It’s a feature!. It’s a desirable outcome.

  • Geoffg1324@gmail.com

    Men are disposable we know that and when I am unemployed and/or socially useless I will do the right thing and remove the stain I have become from the equation.

    • Ronin

      But make sure you take your toys with you.

    • Charming Billy

      Ever’ man’s lonesome. What’s he to do then? What’s he to do when he
      gits knocked down? Why, take it for his share and go on.

      — Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

  • rheddles

    Perhaps this from noted solon, Jan Schakowsky, helps explain the state of the war of the sexes:

    “Today I am asserting that humanity is at a crossroads on this small planet and that our survival as a species is dependent on women taking charge, taking the world in our own hands.”

    “I really do believe that we are at a tipping point from which there could be no turning back — a turning point that the traditional male hierarchy of the world ignores at their own peril. A peril that puts us all in the unacceptable danger — actually of extinction, so let us begin the era of the woman.”

    Makes me want to exit stage right.

    Good luck with all the Mohammeds, Jan.

    • Jim Luebke

      The problem with the “era of the woman” is that matriarchy is as sign that the culture in question is in a state of active collapse.

      From the ancient Minoans, to the American Indians 500 years ago, to the inner-city African-Americans of today, matriarchy is a hallmark of collapse.

      Men do not participate in any system — in fact, men try to destroy any system — that denies them status and respect. It’s biochemical. The system we have now is trying to counteract this with drugs (both officially / legal and unofficially / illegal), but that will replace one set of problems with another, and will not save cultures from collapse.

      The question is, how bad does it have to get before people realize how bad it will be if we don’t return to a system that actually works?

  • Charming Billy

    The dog bites man story is that college educated white men — and college educated everyone else — are joining the unemployable underclass as automation replaces college educated “brain workers”. Why hire people when computers can do it faster and cheaper?

  • ChuckFinley

    Would you classify Timothy McVeigh as a man who was disconnected from society’s core institutions of marriage and religion? I would. It seems that he picked a rather loud and public method of government assisted suicide.

  • owenmagoo

    irony that the general population is now being treated with more psycho-pharmaceuticals than ever, and mental illness in the form of suicide is growing with it.

    unless those commericals that offer that ‘thoughts of suicide/ depression while taking drug ‘x’ may actually be occurring.

    imho, I repeat, IMHO- we need to reconsider the effects of ssri anti-depressants. increased serotonin corrolates with responsiblity. Policemen, teachers, soldiers-their responsiblity is obvious, and the serontin to levels reflect this.

    jacking someone’s serotonin level, without an outlet for the sense of responsibility to occur, is begging them to take responsiblity for oneself…or perhaps, kill oneself.

    nonsense? it is actually one of the warnings when prescribing the med.
    tangentially: is there much difference between suicidal thought and acts of mass murder committed by a perp who is suicidal?
    the fda doesn’t exactly provide guidance on it, so there must not be a real concern. worth looking at our most recent mass murderers, in the context of the drugs they were on.
    and, given the privacy of healthcare, we will never be given understanding to the number of people, taking psychotropic meds, and killing themselves, or others…
    violent outburst and increased aggression are also some of the ‘minor side effects’.
    let’s assume that the ssri drugs are wildly successful for 90% of the population given the drugs. what happens to the other 10%?
    we could very well be lead-piping ourselves, in roman fashion, and we will never know. given the system, I highly recommend investing in big pharma…they are making money providing a subjective drug, to a subjective populace, by people with subjective views, with subjective results.
    good luck proving guilt.

    • wigwag

      Your point is an extremely interesting one, but I doubt that it will turn out to be relevant to the observation that Professor Mead is making in this post.

      Unemployed and broke, many if not most of the lower class white men who are killing themselves probably don’t have health insurance. This makes it unlikely that they are taking many SSRIs because they probably don’t have the money to pay for these medicines. Several SSRIs (prozac for example) are now off-patent and the price has come down, but they still require a prescription; how many of these men are paying to see psychiatrists or primary care doctors who can prescribe SSRIs? My guess would be not alot.

      If I had to venture a guess, I would speculate that the drug that is exacerbating the suicidial tendencies of these men is alcohol.

      • owenmagoo

        i disagree. the two groups cited, males, unemployed and unmarried, are specifc examples where a diminished serotonin level would be most evident.

        If my theory about the dangers of increasing serotonin within indviduals who have no constructive outlet is a detriment were correct, this is the first group I would examine.

        males are hardwired to ‘work and love’. increasing their level of the neurotransmitter which associates with the responsiblity, without the actual responsiblity occurring is well worth examining.

        under current circumstances, it is also impossible to examine.

  • Toads

    Oh, it is much worse than that. More and more laws are being re-written to make men second class citizens.

    Read The Misandry Bubble. It is the most comprehensive essay on the subject of male disposability.

  • http://twitter.com/wcvarones W.C. Varones
  • Raul Johnson

    I wonder if this could be at least partly physiological. With so many middle-aged men taking cholesterol meds and eating low-fat diets, who knows what effect it’s having on brain function.

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