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Men Over 65 Are at High Risk for Suicide

Men over 65 have the highest rate of suicide in America.[1] Why? Lack of purpose in retirement, loneliness, lack of independence, worry over finances, disillusionment in relationships, failing health, unrealized hopes and dreams, and the deaths of friends and loved ones have all been offered as possible explanations. Societal pressure to be stoic and deny vulnerability, and reluctance to seek psychological help are undoubtedly additional factors.[2]

Across age ranges, men and women attempt suicide in about equal percentages, but men complete suicide four times more frequently than women[3], almost certainly because men opt for suicide by gun, which is almost always lethal. In spite of the erroneous myth that suicidal people will always find a way to kill themselves, the truth is that in societies where guns are difficult to obtain, suicide rates are much lower. Add the availability of firearms to the list of causes.

Older men in America today fall into three general generations.

The World War 2 Generation that came of age in the Great Depression and fought in the second world war are close to or over 100 and are dying off quickly.

The Builder Generation was born before 1946, but they were too young to remember the depression or be involved in World War 2.

Boomers, as the name implies, are a massive generation with significant divisions. Boomers who came of age in the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s were teenagers obsessed with fast cars, drag races, and Elvis Presley. They have more in common with the Builders than with the younger Boomers.

Younger Boomers who came of age from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s were strongly influenced by the Civil Rights Movement, the war in Vietnam, the assassinations of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, violent riots in many major cities, and the Jesus Movement.

All either are, or most likely will, experience failing health and the loss of friends. All may suffer disillusionment and feelings of failing to achieve one’s dreams and aspirations.

The World War 2 Generation has gone (and is going) to their graves proud of the knowledge that they found the resources to survive the Great Depression and participated in liberating democratic nations from fascism.

Builders often subconsciously feel inadequate – they wish they were part of the “greatest generation,” but they know they aren’t. If they are “white,”[4] they had the world handed to them. They had all kinds of privileges, but they don’t want to admit it. Similarly, the older Boomers. Together, many Builders and older Boomers long to drag America back into a whites-only, male-dominated world that never really existed. Attend a classic car show – the majority of the car guys are “white” Builders and older Boomers.

Younger Boomers are not exempt from any of the pressures pushing up the suicide rate, but those who have stuck to their idealism and principles of justice, and successfully resisted the pull of consumerism, often tend to continue involvement in social issues. Sadly, many have not only not resisted consumerism, they have dived into it wholeheartedly. Mammon is notorious for leaving devotees emotionally empty.

Of course, these are broad generalizations. There are many individuals of all ages that don’t fit the stereotypes of their particular generation.[5]

These are our elders, repositories of history, experience, and wisdom. Healthy cultures care about them. Rather than assume that the men over 65 in America are strong and self-sufficient, we can all help lower their suicide rate.

· Normalize and encourage psychotherapy.

· Normalize and encourage open expression of feelings, including loss, grief, disappointment, and fear.

· Encourage activity, healthy habits, good nutrition.

· Tap into their wisdom, ask questions, seek advice

· Many of the jobs and volunteer positions available to seniors require very little thought or leadership. Let’s change that.

· People with a passion for something that matters are happiest. That might be nature, teaching, art work, social justice, or learning to play the banjo.

· Change the laws so people who are not thinking clearly, are depressed, angry, or have mental health issues do not have access to guns.

· Rather than shuffle the elderly off into old-people homes and communities, make them an active part of whatever you’re doing.

· The norm once was multiple generations under the same roof, like the Waltons. Let’s get back to that.

· Healthy spirituality is essential for the wellbeing of humans of any age.

[1] Accessed 26 September 2023. [2] According to Psychology Today, analysis reveals that certain sub-groups of men are at particular risk of suicide. This includes (i) divorced men (ii) military veterans; (iii) unemployed men; (iv) Aboriginal men; and (v) men with mental illness. Men in these groups often experience high levels of isolation, financial strain, social stigma, stereotyping, and suspicion from wider society. [3] accessed 26 September 2023. [4] I put “white” in quotation marks because there is no such thing as a white race. That concept was invented in recent history to justify chattel slavery. There is only one race – human. The human race is wonderfully diverse with many different cultures and ethnicities, but we are all one race. [5] For example, my dad lost his father at an early age, supported his mother and sister through the Great Depression, worked his way through college, joined the Navy a year before Pearl Harbor, spent five years at sea in all three marine theaters, and got a PhD on the GI bill. He was also strongly anti-Vietnam war, pro-civil rights, and a first wave feminist. And, I know a fair number of younger Boomers who are far-right-wing supporters of despots, enthusiastically joining conspiracy theorists of all ages in an effort to reverse the tide of history.

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