Why are there so many midlife suicides?

As an well-informed boomer and specialist in midlife psychology, I have been trying to draw attention by writing about and publishing pieces on the ALARMING increase in depression and suicide among Boomers, especially among women going through menopause,  since 2008.

DEATH NEED NOT BE AN OUTCOME OF MENTAL ILLNESS IN OUR WORLD TODAY! WE CAN DO SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS…

In 2013,  when my cousin killed himself and my brother John disappeared after descending into a profound, private despair, I dedicated my book: Find Your Reason To Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife, to themas I continued to seek a deeper understanding of the reasons why midlife suicides keep rising. Here’s an excerpt from one of those pieces from the Huffington Post, April 2013:

Why is Boomer Suicide on the Rise?

There have been a number of studies on boomer suicide that seek to explain why we continue to kill ourselves at an ever-increasing rate. Some say it is the period effect,” blaming the historical and cultural experiences we share as a generation. The “cohort effect“ theorizes that being born into the largest age cohort in American history created unbearable competition for limited resources, including jobs.

Then there are the facts: Boomers share higher depression and substance abuse rates than any previous American generation. Could it be that we did not face the kind of adversity growing up that creates successful coping skills? Were we raised to be too optimistic, and now find we cannot deal with how it all turned out?

Beyond all of the mythology around boomers, the fact is we now face extreme wage inequality, and the highest level of poverty since the generation born before World War I. We also face ever-increasing personal debt. In 1965, the ratio of household debt to income was 60%. In 2012, that ratio had risen to 163%.

We may have been born at the high point of American optimism, but that has vanished…

Some say Boomers have been witnesses to the death of the American dream. Most of us grew up with high expectations for our lives, but now, as we reassess where we’ve been and where we hope to go, we must admit, this is as good as it gets. We will never be richer or younger than we are right now.

I only know that I tire of so much misinformation about boomers and their lives. I have had enough personal experience with midlife depression to now feel determined to do what I can to alleviate some of the suffering, and this terrible waste of human potential.

Globally, about a million people kill themselves each year, the single largest cause of violent death. It remains mysterious and debilitating for those who surround every suicide and ask the question: What made him/her do it?

Laura small for blogThrough my research, I have learned just how normal and natural it is to feel depressed and disillusioned in our 40s and 50s as we discover that our lives may not turn out as previously planned. What is the best way to cope with these feelings of hopelessness? I share what I have learned in my ten years of research, and what has worked for me, in my books about boomer psychology, midlife despair and how to change your midlife for the better.

Please follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/midlifequeen
Laura Lee Carter, Midlife researcher, author, psychotherapist
Advertisements

Why take major risks in midlife?

Mike at home

Mike woke up one day after we moved in, went straight outside and did this!

I met a nice couple who just moved in below us on Tuesday. They are like us, newlyweds in their 60s from the metro area up north. They came by to explore their new neighborhood, although in our case the homes are pretty far apart. I showed them my memoir about the tough process we went through when we first got here and they bought one.

Then I started reading my memoir again. How time flies! It’s been almost four years now since we plopped ourselves down in Walsenburg, and started building west of town. And yes, an author can actually forget what they wrote a few years ago.

Although certainly imperfect, this book is an honest and funny account of my experiences in a part of our country which at first felt a bit like a foreign land. Building here was fraught with major challenges. In case you don’t know, one definition of fraught is: “causing great anxiety or stress.”

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you now imagine.  – Thoreau

Why did we do it? Here’s a short essay from my book that explains everything:

The American Dream In Progress  –   March 6, 2015

I am surprised how much interest there is in building solar in rural America. My views on this blog have increased dramatically recently, and that includes views from all over the world.

But then I got to thinking, and realized the dream we are presently pursuing is the most fundamental of all. The immigrants who risked everything to come to America did so just to be able to purchase their own land and build a new life here. Having your own piece of land is, in a sense, what this country is all about.

Mike on old tree up at build site 2014

Mike on an ancient cedar before we had to cut it down!

This realization makes me very happy and proud. My husband Mike has held this dream for most of his life. Building a passive solar home has been his primary goal since he was a teenager. Now we almost have our home completed, and in spite of the many unexpected difficulties and inconveniences that have arisen in this process, we will soon be living the life we only dreamt of last year.

Hold on to your dreams! Don’t give up when those dreams require taking risks that scare you. Don’t let others talk you out of your most important goals. You have the needed vision to live your dream.

“The person who says it cannot be done, should not interrupt the person doing it.” –  Chinese proverb 

Do YOU have what it takes to follow your dreams? Check out my memoir…  and please follow me on Twitter!

Making friends in small towns

A new friend has been through hell lately adjusting to the many strange things that go on when you move to a small town. That is not to say that you don’t also meet plenty of strange ones in cities too, but I have come to think there is something unique about moving to a town under population 1,000 where many people also come and go with the seasons.

My friend got stuck in the middle of lots of confusion and negativity which resulted in bad feelings. In talking with her about all of that, I began to recall how many beginner friendships I had in my first two years here, most of which ended quickly. So I decided to make a list and ended up with well over twenty individuals or couples where some sort of friendship began and then either went nowhere or worse.

I basically met no one worth being friends with for about two years here. Either they weren’t friendly at first, our politics were too far apart, we had nothing in common, or they started out friendly enough, but then went unfriendly fast. What I have found is that La Veta is not so much a close knit community as one with a few main cliches, where few are truly friendly when you’re new here.

A few said they were just waiting for us to leave after a year or two. Four years later that is not happening! Luckily there are enough decent people to go around, so who cares about the rest?

Friends help friends PandasWhen my friend started lamenting her recent bad experiences with new friends, I told her that I always approach this topic with the certainty that I am a great person to have as a friend, but I needed to learn how to be pretty selective here. A friend is someone who improves the life of someone they care about. Mike and I live by that code. Once we are friends with someone we will help them improve their lives in any way we can. I make an extra effort through this blog and my book about this area, to reach out to those just moving here for the first time. I call that being neighborly.

Good friendships take time. There will always be a period of  adjustment and testing in the beginning. I have found I do best with those with a similar education and background. Jealousy kills friendships. Most people here are quite nice, but I must keep in mind that some moved here to avoid relationships altogether.

How lonely are you?

According to recent research, Americans are a pretty lonely group, and the younger you are, the lonelier you feel.

nationwide survey by the health insurer Cigna underscores that fact. Their survey of over 20,000 American adults age 18 or older, finds that loneliness is widespread in our country, with nearly 50 percent of respondents reporting that they feel left out always or sometimes.

The Cigna results offer some alarming findings:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).

  • One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.

  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).

  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people or feel like there are people they can talk to.

  • Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely (average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2) – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.

  • Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have regular meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family.

  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.

Is social media part of the problem?

Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness; respondents defined as very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score (43.5) not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7).

More time online and social media may be causing a rise in depression and suicide among American adolescents. People who spend less time looking at screens and more time having face-to-face social interactions are less likely to be depressive or suicidal.

It appears that how people use social media determines its influence on one’s sense of isolation.

Members of Generation Z, born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, had an overall loneliness score of 48.3. Millennials, just a little bit older, scored 45.3. By comparison, baby boomers scored 42.4. The Greatest Generation, people ages 72 and above, had a score of 38.6 on the loneliness scale.

Albert-Einstein-I-live-in-that-solitude

I have been what I consider to be a loner for most of my life, and enjoyed most of that time alone. Even though I moved here with Mike, I feared moving to rural Colorado because I didn’t know if I would find friends here. As it turns out, I have a nice group of friends who understand the value of a great education, deep friendship and healthy solitude.

Laura and Rasta on insulation 2014 (2)

I also find I enjoy spending more time alone when feeling so connected to nature as I do here.

A Study of Vigilance in Rural Colorado

Vigilance: the action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties. Synonyms: alertness, attentiveness, watchfulness

As a psychologist, my natural tendency is to observe changes in my own and others’ behavior. By living in cities for most of my life, and then moving outside of even the smallest town recently, I have had a marvelous opportunity to observe how my consciousness has changed. One area I find particularly interesting is my level of vigilance.

This is a state which most are not conscious of, because it can often be barely felt on a conscious level. Simple thoughts like “Are my doors locked?” “Do I feel safe now?” and “Am I safe?” can come up constantly. I became much more aware of these feelings after moving away from cities. In this way I discovered that we all experience varying degrees of safety in any environment.

I see now that while living in cities I felt the need to be constantly vigilant. Especially living as a single woman there, I was always quite aware of locking my doors, noticing strange sounds or things going on around my home, etc. Cities offer such a tight concentration of people everywhere, with traffic, lines at the store, etc. They seem to require a heightened level of vigilance at all times.

Sunflowers on a county road

MY COMMUTE TO TOWN

However, I didn’t become aware of my city-inspired heighten state of vigilance until I tried living away from others. When I first moved out into the country I felt isolated and concerned about that sense of isolation. How would I make new friends? What about emergencies?

But in less than a year or so those fears turned into a new sense of security and safety. We live among others who have three to six acres of land, and most keep completely to themselves. In this new setting I found that I needed to train myself how to mellow out. I was still hyper-vigilant, a trait that no longer served me.

Each year I live here, my level of deep security and relaxation increases along with my level of introversion. Some might see this as a bad thing, but I must say it feels really good to feel truly safe for the first time in decades, both in my home and in my life.

Should a seeker not find a companion who is better or equal, let him resolutely pursue a solitary path. There is no companionship with a fool.  – The Dhammapada

 

How do we get “good with money?”

When I recently saw the headline: “Money Habits Established by Age 7” on PBS, I was astounded! Could we really be that set in our ways by seven? But then I thought back to my earliest saving habits and I could pretty much believe this. While my older brother could never hold on to money for any length of time, and my big sister also struggled with high finance, I was a born saver from way back.

I can even prove it:

1967 budget for trip to Disney Land California

We took a family trip to Disneyland the summer of 1967 and wouldn’t you know, I documented every penny I spent on that trip. I was twelve years old! I started out with a little over $15.00 which sounds like nothing, but this was back when postcards were a nickel and rides at Knott’s Berry Farm were 35 cents. I ended up with a dollar left. I also had a savings account by then. I loved to watch my money grow, while my siblings didn’t. I’ve always wondered why.

kid counting coinsI read an article yesterday that predicted that the oldest sibling would be best at finances and the youngest fairly bad at saving. Nope, that’s not how it worked in our family. How about yours? Where does the desire to save money come from? Why do so many boomers have nothing extra saved for retirement, while some of us saved like crazy starting at age 20? That is a mystery to me!