As Long As We're Pulling Theories Out of Our Asses

[What you gon' do with all that junk?
All that junk inside your trunk?
I'm a guess, guess, guess, guess, at stuff,
Guess at stuff -- I don't know what.]

Interesting factoids courtesy of Le Nouveau Yorque Times:

...the suicide rate among 45-to-54-year-olds increased nearly 20 percent from 1999 to 2004, the latest year studied, far outpacing changes in nearly every other age group. (All figures are adjusted for population.)

For women 45 to 54, the rate leapt 31 percent. ...the suicide rate for 15-to-19-year-olds increased less than 2 percent during that five-year period — and decreased among people 65 and older.
For men 45 to 54, the five-year rate increase was 15.6 percent.
The rest of the story is a nice sampling of anecdote and opinion: the anecdotes of course emphasizing the completely individual nature of the suicides, the opinion of course casting wide nets to try to find "an explanation" for this startling statistical turn.
At the moment, the prime suspect is the skyrocketing use — and abuse — of prescription drugs. During the same five-year period included in the study, there was a staggering increase in the total number of drug overdoses, both intentional and accidental, like the one that recently killed the 28-year-old actor Heath Ledger. Illicit drugs also increase risky behaviors, C.D.C. officials point out, noting that users’ rates of suicide can be 15 to 25 times as great as the general population.
Looking at the puzzling 28.8 percent rise in the suicide rate among women ages 50 to 54, Andrew C. Leon, a professor of biostatistics in psychiatry at Cornell, suggested that a drop in the use of hormone replacement therapy after 2002 might be implicated. It may be that without the therapy, more women fell into depression, Dr. Leon said, but he cautioned this was just speculation.
In the last five years, Dr. Katz said, the [Veteran's] agency has noticed that the highest suicide rates have been among middle-aged men and women. Those most affected are not returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, he said, but those who served in Vietnam or right after, when the draft ended and the all-volunteer force began.
Myrna M. Weissman, the chief of the department in Clinical-Genetic Epidemiology at New York State Psychiatric Institute, concluded...a susceptibility to depression among the affluent and healthy baby boom generation two decades ago, in a 1989 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. One possible reason she offered was the growing pressures of modern life, like the changing shape of families and more frequent moves away from friends and relatives that have frayed social support networks.

Legal Drugs
Illegal Drugs
Less Use of HRT
Military Volunteerism (plus 30 years incubation)
Being Rich and Baby Boom
"Modern Life"
Frequent Moves Away from Family & Friends; Frayed Social Networks

That's not a bad sampling of opinions for one little reporter to dig up! We should have a vote! Of course, there could be additional reasons (a soul-crushing working world, a crappy economy, pollution from food and water imitating hormones in our bodies, drugs and medical-grade hormones in the meat and milk supply, desensitization to violence, um, Bush...), and of course there could just be a surfeit of reasons all working in concert to make the Bush years (yes, I'll give this one to him) particularly suicide-prone, but I read a book recently that was all about death and destruction and suicide (and simply dying) in the natural world (The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom), in which he gives examples of animals literally curling up and dying when cut off from their packs, pods, and clans (not cut off by man, but for social reasons cast out), sponge cells, completely capable (biologically) of thriving alone dying when removed from the sponge colony, and even death rates as high as 90% in orphanages where the babies were born healthy and received excellent care -- but no love. His argument is essentially towards the super-organism, that we are so enmeshed in the societies that we are part of that, when we feel disconnected, we are like a cell removed from a living organ that dies alone. Looking at not just suicide but also untimely deaths, he notes a curious consistency in how people die when they no longer feel needed: widowers' likelihood of death in the months after the death of their wives is startling, career men who drop dead immediately upon retirement (as my grandfather did), people who die right after a major family disruption, a divorce, a move... it's just speculation but better supported speculation than any of the above. Perhaps many middle-aged people no longer feel useful enough. This is simply a restating and expansion of the last in the New York Times' list: frequent moves; frayed social networks. I'm just adding to this Bloom's general principle of feeling needed. (In less depressing news, he points out that people who tend to live into the triple digits tend to also keep very busy, have wide social networks, and numerous obligations -- they are needed. Is this helping keep them alive? Well, it ain't killing them.)

If we are not daily surrounded by people who need and love us, people who value our contribution, it is possible we are more likely to, one way or another, by our hands or our hearts, die.

Go Be Useful!

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