Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"Talkin' 'bout my generation"

A few days ago I referred to "The Suicide Epidemic" at the Newsweek/Daily Beast site. Yesterday The Washington Post followed up with "Baby boomers are killing themselves at an alarming rate" and asking "why?"
...[N]umbers released in May by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a dramatic spike in suicides among middle-aged people, with the highest increases among men in their 50s, whose rate went up by nearly 50 percent to 30 per 100,000; and women in their early 60s, whose rate rose by nearly 60 percent....

There are no large-scale studies yet fleshing out the reasons behind the increase in boomer suicides. Part of it is likely tied to the recent economic downturn — financial recessions are in general associated with an uptick in suicides. But the trend started a decade before the 2008 recession, and psychologists and academics say it likely stems from a complex matrix of issues particular to a generation that vowed not to trust anyone older than 30 and who rocked out to lyrics such as, “I hope I die before I get old.”

“We’ve been a pretty youth-oriented generation,” said Bob Knight, professor of gerontology and psychology at the University of Southern California, who is also a baby boomer. “We haven’t idealized growing up and getting mature in the same way that other cohorts have.” ....

...[M]any boomers are reluctant to accept the realities of aging, Knight said. To those growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, America seemed to promise a limitless array of possibilities. The Great Depression and World War II were over; medical innovations such as the polio vaccine and antibiotics appeared to wipe out disease and disability; the birth-control pill sparked a sexual revolution. The economy was thriving, and as they came of age, boomers embraced new ways of living — as civil rights activists, as hippies, as feminists, as war protesters. ....

...[C]ompared with their parents’ generation, boomers have higher rates of obesity, prescription and illicit drug abuse, alcoholism, divorce, depression and mental disorders. As they age, many add to that list chronic illness, disabilities and the strains of caring for their parents and for adult children who still depend on them financially.

Perhaps a little more adversity in youth could have helped prepare them for the inevitable indignities of aging, Knight suggested, adding that “the earlier-born cohorts are sort of tougher in the face of stress.” Despite the hardships of life in the first half of the 20th century, he said, older generations didn’t have the same kind of concept of being stressed out. .... [more]