Middle-aged suicides on the rise. I get it. Do you?

The New York Times published this article today on middle-aged suicides on the rise. It asserted that “the surge in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans is surprising.”

Odd, because I wrote this essay in July, 2012. Sometimes I wonder if anyone is paying attention.

Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

And as an aside, it is not about gun violence. Middle-aged men start skimming prescription drugs. One pill here, one pill there and pretty soon they have enough for an overdose that will kill him silently and painlessly in the middle of the night, with as little mess as necessary for his family to clean up. He died in his sleep.

Presented for your consideration.

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There is one calculation that almost every American man over fifty* has made in his head that he will almost never admit to. The ones who have made it more than once and many times a year are the ones who have families and responsibilities who now find themselves at the scary end of a medical diagnosis and/or the threat or reality of unemployment.

That calculation is:

Am I worth more dead than alive?

The columns and totals never really see a piece of paper, but they are nonetheless very real.

In the assets column:
That term life insurance that has five more years before it expires and has no value: $250,000.00; Cash in the bank: $50,000.00; That 401(k) I started too late; $30,000.00; Stocks and bonds I randomly bought; $35,000.00; House equity, assuming it can actually be sold in this economy: $100,000.00… and on through the value of furniture, cars and power tools in the garage.

In the liabilities column:
I just got fired, so my unemployment is only $481.00 a week but bills with mortgage and food is $2,100 a month, losing $200.00 a month… I’ll soon lose my health insurance and COBRA is a $900.00 set back per month making that $1,100.00 a month just standing still… if I am unemployed for more than six months, that will be about $10,000.00 gone from the bank account, making the past couple years of savings a waste of time… chances are, I will be unemployed for the rest of my life in this economy, so that will just stretch on, losing my family $20,000.00 a year with me being alive. I will lose my health coverage in less than a year and a half… That is a lot of cash, and that life insurance policy just inched its way to being one year less valuable with no employment in sight…

I just got diagnosed with a pretty serious health condition that will make it difficult for me to work. I will soon be out of a job as my employer will get tired of me calling in sick all the time… I will lose my health care coverage.. if I go into the hospital, that will cost about $8,000.00 a day, depleting my cash in about a week… the mortgage is due in a week… the last tuition bill is due in a couple months… and on and on down to how much dog food is left and how much that will cost to replenish…

If I die today, my family will be ok. If I die in a year or two, my family will be bankrupt, penniless and possibly homeless.

Sure, the kids will say that I am worth more to them alive than dead, regardless of how much money I have. Yeah, “I love you even if you are broke,” “you bring joy to others around you” and “life is not always about money” are things I expect to hear from friends and family.

But I know they are not true. Not really.

Our culture rewards those who are healthy and able to work and shuns those who have fallen on hard times. It guts the sick, dying and unemployed quickly in order to salvage what it can before the corpse begins to rot. It knows the time value of money.

Men know it too. We have made those calculations in our head at every turn throughout our lives. When we buy a house, we calculate how long we’ll have to be employed at this job to pay the mortgage in full. When we have kids, we calculate what we’ll have to earn and sock away to pay for the birthday parties, soccer practice, bicycles, cars and college tuition even as we watch them laugh and dance as if they haven’t a care in the world; even as we laugh and dance with them. We worry our backs and minds will give out before we are able to deliver them into adulthood and breath a sigh of relief when we no longer have to be concerned they won’t have enough to eat.

When we get to about fifty, we eventually make the ultimate calculation. We arrive at a break-even, whether anyone wants us to or not; whether we admit it or not.

The only thing we fear more than getting it wrong is losing the ability to execute if we ever needed to.

*With the exception of highly-paid politicians or the super-rich who never have to worry about health care. For clarification, this isn’t me. I’m fine and gainfully employed at my own company despite my best efforts at getting my boss to fire me 🙂 This is a persona of a 50+ year old man who had a “good job” for most of his life.


8 thoughts on “Middle-aged suicides on the rise. I get it. Do you?

  1. It’s so very sad that our society forces men into the kinds of positions where they think everyone will be better off without them. People shouldn’t have to worry that an illness will bankrupt their family, for example. That’s utterly ridiculous and inhumane.

  2. If people think women don’t make that calculation, they’re wrong. I’ve made it. Mine is more along the lines of “if this is cancer, and I just don’t get treatment, how much will I be able to leave in my will.” Also, I got long-term care insurance so I wouldn’t be a burden to my family and spend down my nest egg if I got a debilitating disease. Maybe there should be some kind of enhanced “laid off or debilitated at middle age” insurance like there’s long-term care insurance.

  3. Lets not forget about middle aged women who divorce in mid-life and find themselves unable to sustain decent employment and survive on their own. I am 54 this year and 5 years ago I had a decent job and 130k in the bank. Now I am flat broke after little work the last 3 years and had to give up my precious little house on 5 acres where I had peace, safety and bliss for 7 years.
    I am now living as a live in companion/house helper for an elderly woman and see no light at the end of the tunnel.

    I absolutely have contemplated killing myself, not yet, but….reality bites and my future is gloomy indeed.
    I am all about quality over quantity and if I have to live in poverty and pain well….fuck it all!
    Bottom line, this is the hard, cold reality for lots of PEOPLE, not just middle aged males.
    I am a bright, creative and humorous woman who has always had a “glass half full” outlook, not anymore.
    I divorced 10 years ago and my ex is at the peak of his career, in corporate management and making well over 100k a year while I clean litter boxes and take an old ladies blood pressure and live in a small bedroom in an old house that smells like cat piss and stale air.

    The odds of me amassing a retirement at this time of life are about the same as being struck by lightening while being simultaneously devoured by a mountain lion. Pffft!

  4. You nailed it. I’m that guy. I can’t work. I’m 51. I was perfectly healthy 3 years ago, and now no doctor can tell me why I’m ill. No employer can hire me because I can’t make it to work most days. And, I don’t qualify for disability because I can’t get a diagnosis. I have small children at home and no actual future. This is Teaparty America. Be healthy and rich, or die.

  5. This is absolutely true. I’m going through this right now. I’m 43 and was just medically retired from the service. I do get VA disability pay but it’s not nearly enough to support my family of five and three dogs. I was a military officer with an education and a handsome paycheck. Now I don’t even have an identity. What I do have is a few hundred grand in life insurance; and it does pay in suicide deaths. I have just over a 100K in equity in my home. I’ve dwindled my savings account down to a few thousand after saving for most of my life. I’ve cut off all non-essential services like cable, home security and even drained my pool. Not sure when I’ll lose my house and family pets. I’ve already sold out our trailer and my motorcycle (i couldn’t ride anymore anyway).
    I’m pretty banged up from the service; however, state disability has rejected me over and over again. I filed for unemployment and was denied because I’m too injured to work (their actual words). I’m really stuck between a rock and hard place. Life would be different if I had last 20 years in the service but my body failed me at 16.5 years in.
    This article holds very true for me. Its on my mind constantly. I could leave my family debt free. My wife works but doesn’t make very much due to having to relocate so often. She would be fine if my life ins was paid out.

  6. I am a woman that just turned 42. I think about this every day. Facing the idea of not sending my sons to college, losing our house… seems to be a valid option to take the insurance money and set them free.

  7. Trust me as a women over 40. I’ve done that math too… and it’s not wrong thinking. I’m not thinking of suicide but if I got cancer and died in 3 to 6 yrs. My kids would be poised to have a real shot at a much more secure life than I had. If I live to 70. I’m literally a liability to them I’ve hit my income potential curb. No one puts a forty year old in a position of upward trajectory in fact at 50 if you don’t have an invaluable skill set that they can’t quickly train into a millennial who are hitting are workforce with double Gen Xs numbers they will find sneaky ways to weed you out. Younger employees are cheaper employees in terms of health coverage and they can get 10 yrs out of them at several dollars less an hour than that 50 yr old costs them. To stay alive I currently operate and a 700 dollar a year in the red. I’m 700 dollars short of what I need to meet food housing costs and I live in absolute poverty one rung over homelessness. Every year I live the gap between what I need to maintain me and my income will only increase and that’s if I’m lucky enough to not get sick laid off or miss ANY work. I own a million in life insurance my one and only asset. I’ve been sick my mom died of cancer young. It’s really a sad statement of fact but I hope I have cancer my kids will miss me, but with that money invested for them in a trust in setting up. They will never know this kind of bleak desperation and my life will mean sonething.

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