WASHINGTON-“If I didn’t have a sense of humor, I would have committed suicide a long time ago”-Mahatma Gandhi
Some believe suicide is the single most selfish act a human can perform and in the majority of cases, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem or series of problems.
Today, suicide is taking on a new face and that face is middle aged and non-elderly adults.
Long a province of emotionally confused, disordered and unrealistic teens and the elderly as their time comes to an uncomfortable or unacceptable conclusion, the rate of suicide for those 35 to 65 years of age has increased 28 percent from 1999 to 2010 according the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
The suicide rates for those older than 65 has not changed in 15 year and suicide still remains the third leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 24.
So why the change?
Normally, economic downturns create a rise in suicide rates, but not to this extent. Sociologists Ellen idler and Julie Phillips of Rutgers University claim baby boomers,those born between the years 1945 and 1964, are behind this trend with women in greater rates than men. The greatest danger is those between the ages of 50-59. Those without a college education are also at higher risk.
One explanation, and a very good one, is the lifestyles of the boomers were riddled with early age smoking, drug use and poor dietary habits due to the lack of food quality oversight and explanation as to what were and were not good, nutritious foods.
Lack of food labeling combined with chemical ridden food products were the order of the day with young boomers unwittingly ingesting harmful food products. Easier access to prescription pills resulting in self-harm is another reason cited for accidental and non-accidental suicides.
A rude awakening may be traced to boomers developing debilitating chronic conditions early on in life due to the aforementioned factors and the so-called ‘50 is the new 30’ suddenly becomes ‘50 is the new 80.’
An additional rude awakening is boomers experienced a loss of solid economic futures, when the recent economic downturn took many assets away along with jobs and careers and the industry seems reluctant to hire older folks.
Lack of overall happiness among those in peril can be helped by taking a life inventory of seperating wants and needs, an area where most get confused not realizing most real needs are met.
Perhaps Gandhi had it right when he mentioned his sense of humor. When one loses the ability to laugh and feel joy, one can turn inward, unsocial, alone, lonely and may begin to travel the road to chronic depression, a causation to thoughts of suicide.
In most cases, when a person is asked what they wish from life, the answer is “To be happy”. Conversely, when one is asked why someone committed suicide, a common answer is “They weren’t happy” indicating a pervasive sense of suffering and an equally pervasive sense that hope is lost.
To borrow from the field of statistics, the term ‘regression or reversion to the mean’ almost has the same construct in psychology. There is an existing level of happiness in all of us and this level is a variable.
We may rise above or fall below our established mean but generally, we return to whatever level of happiness we experience on a daily basis.
The problem comes when we do not return to our normal mean and continue to fall farther from the established mean. A critical point is reached when we do not see a clear path back to our personal mean.
In the relatively new field of positive psychology, research suggests about 50 percent of our happiness stems from our genetics, 40 percent within our control and only about a mere 10 percent from jobs and financial considerations.
Sans disorders and mental illness, many of us can overcome psychological genetic influence in this regard leaving the possibility of almost a full 90 percent of happiness up to us as individuals.
If you or anyone you know begins to feel a continuous sense of inability to rise back to their mean or there is a prolonged sense of noticeable depression-over two weeks-consult a primary care physician (PCP) for a referral to a mental health professional.
Some of the warning signs of clinical (abnormal and prolonged) depression are:
-Decreased energy and fatigue
-Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or guilt
-Pessimism, insomnia or excessive sleeping
-Persistent sadness, empty and anxious feelings
-Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
-Over eating or loss of appetite
-Persistent physical symptoms a physician cannot identify as physical in origin and successfully treat
-Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.
Try to not readily accept a psychotropic serotonin related drug from your PCP as serotonin levels may not need adjusting and can add to the problem. Talk therapy may be the best treatment and leave the psychotropic med prescribing to a mental health professional.
As an analogy, if one has a severely injured leg, they go to a physician for treatment so it is not a weakness or reason to fear being stigmatized for one who has a severely ‘injured’ psyche to seek a mental health professional.
A little help goes a long way and it is never too far a journey to return to a mean of happiness.
Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science.
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