This past Thursday I attended the funeral of my 54-year-old cousin Chuck. This marks the second apparent suicide in my direct family in the past three years. Perhaps now you see why “midlife crisis” is a serious subject for me.
I found an excellent article by a person whose brother committed suicide at age 48. In this Toronto Star article, Don Gillmor covers some of the more recent studies on boomers, and why we have been killing ourselves at an ever increasing rate since 1999.
There are theories like the “period effect” about the historical and cultural experiences we shared as a generation. And the “cohort effect” which theorizes that being born into the largest age cohort in American history created far greater competition for limited resources including jobs and careers.
Then there are the simple facts that boomers share higher depression and substance abuse rates, an area where we outshine everyone else. Some say it is because we did not face much adversity growing up, and therefore did not develop adequate coping skills. We were raised to be optimistic about the future, so we grabbed our credit cards and took on lots of debt.
Beyond all of the mythology around boomers, the fact is we have experienced the highest wage inequality, and the highest level of poverty since the generation born before World War I. In 1965 the ratio of household debt to income was 60%. In 2012 that ratio has risen to 163%.
We may have been born at the high point of American optimism, but that has vanished. Most of us had high expectations for our lives, but as we sit now and reassess where we have been and where we hope to go, most must admit, this is as good as it gets. We will never be richer or younger than we are right now.
I tire of all the jokes and misinformation I hear about boomers and their lives. I find suicide to be a terrible waste of human potential, a permanent solution to an often temporary problem. I also have had enough personal experience with midlife depression, to now feel determined to do what I can to alleviate some of the alienation and suffering that comes along with making some major changes in midlife.
The disappearance of my own brother after watching his slow descent into a profound, private despair caused me to want to understand more about the reasons why boomer suicides continue to rise. I share what I have learned about midlife psychology, boomers and emotional change in my new book: Find Your Reason to be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife.