Part 1 – The Tale of Two Men
The first time suicide impacted me directly was when a male friend committed suicide. He was a boy I saw cracking jokes and doing pranks, and who I watched grow into a wonderful, dedicated man. I can still see myself at work, wearing my green suit, when I learned he had committed suicide. A twin bomb of shock and guilt exploded in my heart. All I could think was, “If I had only known.” I was shaken for days. In fact, I wasn’t able to go to the funeral, but I wish I had. I wrote his family a long, heartfelt letter saying everything I wish I could have said to him. No one can ever fill the special place he had in my life.
Career Success: the Ultimate Currency
Success in your career is the ultimate currency for men. Baby Boomer men were taught their defining role in life is being the family provider. American society has been through numerous cultural revolutions in their lifetimes: society’s changing sentiments towards war, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, etc. For the first time in our history, middle-class men feel marginalized and are experiencing reverse discrimination.
Gauntlet of Scorn
Despite the fact that we all will experience death at some point in our lives, our society doesn’t handle trauma or grief well. Men in crisis must first acknowledge their perceived weaknesses, in a society that is intolerant of weakness in men. They must also have the courage to confide in someone and ask for help. Now that I am “in recovery”, I have a half dozen close circle of women I reach out to when I feel triggered. My husband has only a few men with whom he would confide. If he were willing to do so. Historically, men have sought solace in negative coping skills such as addictions and suicide.
Women: One-Fourth the Suicides of Men
It may come as a surprise that women actually commit suicide about one-fourth as often as men despite the fact that women suffer from depression at a much higher rate than men. “Women process their experiences with friends. They discuss their feelings, seek feedback and take advice,” George E. Murphy, M.D., an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis says. “They are much more likely to tell a physician how they feel and cooperate in the prescribed treatment. As a result, women get better treatment for their depression.” (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/11/981112075159.htm)
Epidemic of Death
The nation’s suicide rate is the highest it’s been in 30 years. Males from the ages of 45-64 saw the greatest percentage increase in suicide rates. The suicide rate jumped 24% from 1999 to 2014, according to the CDC. 70% of the men dying by suicide are white males, aged 45 and above, without a college degree, and divorced. “It is a leading cause of death and we just don’t have a handle on it,” says Matthew K. Nock, a psychology professor at Harvard and one of the country’s leading suicide researchers.
Very few recognize stigma or trauma in the moment. We are in shock, denial, anger and a whole host of negative emotions that are only acceptable in our society during an “approved” tragedy. But we have the power to combat this epidemic of stigma, mental illness, suicide, addiction, and death. It begins by recognizing that we all face adversity to some degree. At any given moment, we are all struggling. As a part of the NAMI training, you learn about the emotional stages of trauma. Just like we teach our children good teeth hygiene, we need to teach good mental health hygiene. The first course would be “How to cope with trauma and the grief process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance”.
161 Lives will be Lost Today
Under our fruit trees this summer, I will always remember my son’s anger when I told him of my unsuccessful suicide attempt. I am so grateful to be alive today to say, “It was not your fault.” Consequently, as a mother, I cannot escape the statistic that, every 16 minutes someone is killed by suicide. The suicide rate is the highest it has been in 30 years. The suicide rate has gone up in every age category. We mourn “acceptable” tragedies. Every day the children and spouses of 161 Americans must grieve in silence.
The Civil Rights Movement of Our Era, Mental Illness
New York Giants wide receiver Brandon Marshall calls mental health awareness and acceptance “the civil rights movement of our era.” (USA Today) With celebrities like the Royals in England, Michael Phelps, Demi Lovato, and others changing the conversation on a worldwide stage, stigma in our society is being busted. I am not a famous athlete or famous celebrity. I am just a thoroughly Midwestern mother living in the heartland of America. However, my own experience has taught me that when I tell my story, people have the confidence to ask for help. We can change this narrative of silence, destruction, and death. You will learn more as you read in Part Two of this Tale of Two Men.