The image would be comic if it wasn't so sad. Feeling hopeless and alone years ago, I remember holding a belt and looking at my shower curtain rod, wondering if it would hold my weight. I couldn't have been too serious about harming myself with such a flimsy plan.
That picture popped into my head last week when I heard the news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that more people now die by suicide than in motor vehicle crashes. Adults aged 35 to 64 were 30 percent more likely to commit suicide in 2010 than in 1999. Having battled severe depression and related suicidal thoughts, I realized that 2010 found me in the group whose suicide risk had jumped by the most - males in their 50s.
In honor of National Mental Health Awareness Month, here are five ideas about reversing this trend.
Related: Boomer Suicides Soar. Is the Economy to Blame?
1. Put an end to stigma for mental health treatment. There's no doubt about it - seeking treatment for depression, perhaps the best way to ward off suicide, is still frowned on. And society's disapproval may be worse for men. A Clark University (Mass.) study found that men were reluctant to seek help for mental health issues because:
- Friends and family members will view them negatively and lose respect;
- Their status as "real" men will be jeopardized;
- Male peers will reject and socially isolate them; and
- Coworkers will lose faith in their abilities and they might lose their job.
Ending these antiquated attitudes, and encouraging men and women to be treated for a full range of mental and emotional disorders will save lives.
2. Enforce "parity." The Mental Heath Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 mandates that mental health issues be treated no differently than other kinds of sickness. Politicians who championed this legislation always compared treatment for mental problems to other ills - like diabetes and cancer. But anyone who has ever tried to get health insurance to pay for necessary psychiatric help knows that real parity is still a dream.
Mental health services are often downgraded to "counseling" provided by psychologists and social workers. Health plans are stingy with more expensive medication management and long-term therapy overseen by experienced doctors. That's not the way cancer or diabetes is treated.
3. Create a real safety net - in the community and at work. The feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that define depression and may lead to suicide are intimately tied to a sense of isolation. Because men, especially, are reluctant to share their diagnosis and struggles, they don't take advantage of support, either at work or among their friends and neighbors. And those supports are inadequate.
Ask someone who is deeply depressed whether there's a safe place to share their feelings at work, or in their community, and the answer is probably "no." Can we create those havens?
4. Advocate for true gender equity. Pressure on men as providers may be less today, but it's still there. With men and women as economic and social equals, they could share all the burdens of supporting their families and each other. I'm hoping all boats are lifted by a rising tide of equality, not that women bear an increased burden.
5. Increase support for veterans. About 70% of veterans who commit suicide are over 50. They are clearly not getting the help they need and it's a national scandal. Write to your representatives in Congress and ask them to do more to solve this crisis.
Have suggestions of your own? Please add them below in the comments.
Also of Interest
- Boomer Suicides Soar: Is the Economy to Blame?
- Seeing Spots? It May Be a 'Floater'
- Join AARP: Savings, resources and news for your well-being