Men & Suicide

I came across a  new report on U.S. military deaths that contains a stark statistic: An estimated 7,057 service members have died during military operations since 9/11, while suicides among active duty personnel and veterans of those conflicts have reached 30,177 — that’s more than four times as many.  There is some debate whether or not the rate of military suicides is greater than the population at large especially when controlling for age and gender.  However, the simple fact is that the suicide rate for both military personnel and non-military are increasing – especially for men.  In a previous blog, “Men at Risk”  I discovered  that suicide deaths per 100K for men is 31 and for women 9.8 (45-65) and 32.5 for men to 5.2 for women (65+).

The military has attributed the alarming suicide rate to the fear and stress that is different in the post 9/11 era. Terrorists utilizing tactics such as suicide bombers, and IED’s coupled with multiple deployments are risk factors for military personnel.   I’m certain that fear and stress are factors for precipitating suicide but fear and stress are not unique to just military and veterans.

What is happening in our current society that causes fear, stress and loneliness that accounts for the alarming suicide rate among men.   One factor that comes to mind is the changes in heavy industry caused by automation and globalization.  Many skilled male factory workers making a middle class wage lost their jobs and could only find employment at on or near minimum wage level.  The stress of not being able to provide for their families coupled with the blow to self esteem by becoming a low wage earner has certainly led to the massive increase in suicide, drug use and overdose for middle aged men.  

Depression, the gateway to suicide, is experienced at roughly equal rates between men and women.   However, women do a better job of seeking help than men.  Apparently, the notion that it is unmanly to seek mental health help among older men is still present.  Instead of acknowledging their depression and seeking help men who are  depressed often turn to self medication with drugs and the hopelessness that precedes a suicide attempt. Like any complex issue there is no simple solution to the alarming rate of suicides. 

However, there are things that can be done.  It is clear that insufficient attention has been paid by our government to the loss of decent wage factory jobs.   There is a lack of funding for re-training and making mental health treatment more user friendly for men.   On the community level we need more peer driven Men’s Groups.  I know, after 25 years of men’s work, how men can better deal with life’s challenges in the group setting.  Those of us who have participated in a men’s group are astonished that more men are not seeking and forming men’s groups.  Is there insufficient media attention to the benefits of the groups?  Do men and women hold onto the stereotype that a men’s group is just a place for men to get drunk and trash women?  It is clear that those of us who do benefit from men’s work need to do a better job of letting our communities know the benefits of the group experience.   Also, institutions that men seek out, like the Veteran’s Administration, need to encourage the formation of peer led men’s groups that are not just the traditional self help groups like AA & NA or with a mental health diagnosis.   I am convinced that greater participation in a men’s work will be an important factor in combating depression and suicide.

Men & College

It looks like some folks at the Wall Street Journal and CNN have recently woken up about the differences between men and women enrolling in college.  If my memory serves, I have been writing about this issue and its implications for society for some time.  Maybe it’s time for the enrollment disparity – 60% women to 40% men –  discussion  to be raised to a higher priority in terms of social and economic policy. 

“It’s a crazy cycle,” said Adrian Huerta, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California who focuses on college access and gender. “We know that when you have a college education, there are good outcomes with health. You’re more likely to live longer. It matters for employment stability and civic engagement. You’re less likely to rely on social services.”

There have been changes in some parts of the workforce.  What were traditionally college/professional level blue jobs (mostly men) like lawyers, clinical psychologists, doctors, dentists have attracted more and more women.  However, college level professional pink jobs (mostly women) like nurses, social workers, teachers still do not attract men in any significant manner.

What is it about earning a college degree that is a turn off for so many young men?  The answer does not appear to be in the trades.  Many of them are not turning to the trades as an alternative to college.  There is a nationwide shortage of workers in the trades which tend to attract far more men than women. The reality is that those men and women who choose to attend a vocational program and learn a trade will in at least in the short term earn a decent wage.

It is clear that social pressure has pushed workers away from trades. Spenser Villwock, interim CEO of Independent Electrical Contractors, a national trade association, says social pressure for college to the exclusion of all else created a disincentive for new workers. “The message became that you need to have a college degree or you’re a lesser individual,” he says. “We aren’t exposing people to these opportunities, and the funding model in public schools supports college-or-bust.”

The evidence seems to indicate that women continue to make gains in a variety of good paying professional type jobs that require at least a Bachelor’s Degree yet continue to shun occupations requiring manual labor even when those jobs offer far better pay than non-college women currently earn.    Simultaneously, a cohort of young men are not pursuing college or training in the trades.   Is the increases in domestic violence, suicide and drug overdose a result of the men who are left behind without a degree or a marketable skill above a minimum wage job? 

We need re-messaging about the alternatives to attending college.  The focus should be on post high school training which includes college as well as non-degree training programs.   Expanding apprenticeships along with high school guidance counselors and curriculum that exposes students to a greater variety of career choices would help.  The reality is that the employment marketplace we are in now and the future skills rather than a generalist college degree are the most important factor in earning a good living.