Tag Archives: suicide

Purpose, Value, And The Suicide Gender Gap

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There are few subjects more depressing and tragic than suicide. It’s not a topic people like to talk about. When people take their own lives, either out of sorrow or desperation, it’s terrible. It leaves deep, painful scars on friends and loved ones.

However, it’s because suicide is such a difficult subject that people should talk about it. Before I go any further, I want to urge anyone who might be feeling deeply depressed or suicidal to seek help. The suicide hotline is always available. Please, if you’re feeling that hopeless, call 1-800-273-8255. As someone who has had depressing stretches in life, I urge others in a crisis to seek connection.

Unfortunately, it’s not a connection that people are making these days. According to the American Psychological Association, there was a 30 percent increase in death by suicides from 2000 to 2016. It was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States in 2016. By the numbers, we haven’t seen rates like this since the Great Depression.

There are a great many depressing and tragic factors behind this rise. The ongoing opioid crisis is certainly a factor. A few researchers have cited the influence of social media as contributing to self-destructive behavior. Like mass shootings, everyone has their theories, criticisms, and solutions to the crisis. I’m of the opinion that human beings are too complex to boil it down to something simple.

I agree that in certain cases, opioid addiction can factor into someone committing suicide.

I agree that in certain cases, the use and influence of social media can factor into someone committing suicide.

That’s not to say they’re the cause of it. They’re just small trees in a much larger forest that’s difficult to see, given the heavy emotions involved in this topic. However, I do believe it’s possible to see that bigger picture. To do so, it’s necessary to highlight one particular trend in suicide that also happens to be tied with gender politics.

While suicide is tragic, regardless of gender, there exists an unusual paradox within the data. Women have been shown to attempt and contemplate suicide more than men, but men are still the ones dying at greater rates. It’s not a trivial gap, either. Men are more than three times as likely to commit suicide compared to women.

This indicates there are factors beyond depression, stress, and mental illness. There are other forces at work here and they’re affecting men more than women. What that is and how it works is difficult to surmise. However, speaking as a man who has seen other men endure depressing situations, I believe there are certain factors that gender politics compounds.

At the core of these factors are an individual’s sense of purpose and value. There are many terrible things running through the mind of someone who is suicidal, but it’s not unreasonable to suspect that people who feel suicidal often feel their lives lack purpose and value. There’s nothing left for them to contribute. There’s no value for them to provide. Without that, what’s the point?

It sounds like the kind of sentiment that should affect men and women equally. Depression and despair, after all, know no gender. However, there are a few confounding factors for men. For one, there’s still a significant taboo for men who admit to even having such feelings. It stems from the same taboo about men showing emotions, in general. It’s seen as a form of weakness and men aren’t allowed to be weak.

To understand the implications of that taboo, consider the following scenario.

A man is sitting by himself. He’s crying uncontrollably. He’s sad, depressed, and lonely. He feels like he has nothing to live for. Someone walks by and shows concern. They listen to him lament about his sorrow. They offer sympathy, but tell him he needs to toughen up and get his act together. He just needs to grit his teeth and push forward with his life.

For most people, this scenario isn’t that unrealistic. Most decent human beings will show sympathy when they see someone suffering, male or female. However, the gender of the person suffering does have an impact. I’ve explained before how and why society places a greater emphasis on protecting women’s bodies over those of men.

Even if you discount the extent of that influence, the implications are still clear. We see a depressed man and tell him to fight through it. If he needs to be coddled or treated, then that’s a failure on his part. If he’s that weak, then he has little value to offer. Without value, he has little purpose as well. In essence, he has to prove he’s somehow useful to warrant not killing himself.

Now, consider this scenario.

A woman is sitting by herself. She’s crying uncontrollably. She’s sad, depressed, and lonely. She feels like she has nothing to live for. Someone walks by and shows concern. They listen to her about her sorrow. They offer sympathy and encourage her to find professional help. They even offer contacts and connections. She’s suffering and there are people willing to help her.

Take note of the different approach in this scenario. The person still show sympathy and compassion, as most human beings are wired to do. Where they diverge is in the assumptions surrounding the woman’s distress.

For her, it’s not something she can tough her way through. She’s not expected to just grit her teeth, pull herself out of this deep pit, and move beyond whatever is making her so upset. She’s suffering and the first instinct is to get her some meaningful help. Her life has inherent value. Her just being alive is sufficient to give her purpose.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of that assumption. It’s an assumption that many men feel like they don’t get. Their suffering is seen as a personal failure. A woman’s suffering is seen as a systemic failure that needs fixing. It perfectly reflects one of Chris Rock’s most memorable quotes.

“Only women, children, and dogs get loved unconditionally. A man is only loved under the condition that he provides something.”

In the context of suicide, men who don’t provide anything have no value. Absent that value, they have no purpose for existing. The source of this disparity is difficult to pin down. Some of it is cultural. Most data shows that when people live in a society with high social cohesion and abundant career opportunities, suicide is low.

That makes intuitive sense. Those social bonds provide purpose. Those opportunities provide value. When people have both, they’re less likely to be depressed. Even if they are, they have a support system that’s there to help them, regardless of their gender or disposition. These bonds are harder to maintain for men because they have to provide something.

Even though women may contemplate or attempt suicide more frequently, the current makeup of society and gender norms provides them with any number of affirmations to remind them of their value. If nothing else, it gives women a moment of pause. Most men don’t get that moment. It’s truly tragic, but it’s a tragedy that gender politics does plenty to compound.

Again, if you are feeling suicidal, regardless of your gender, please take this as my personal plea to seek help. It’s okay to do so. Your life has value. Your life has purpose. Call 1-800-273-8255 if you need to talk. People will listen. People will give you a chance. Whatever the disparities may be, let’s not add to the tragedy.

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Filed under gender issues, Marriage and Relationships, men's issues, psychology, sexuality, women's issues

Celebrities, Loneliness, And The Price Of Fame

We all love to dream about it. We all love to build an elaborate fantasy in our minds. It’s right up there with our fantasies involving Channing Tatum, Kate Hudson, and a pool full of premium lube. It’s that tantalizing idea that we, despite our unremarkable physical traits, limited talents, and lack of opportunities, could be a celebrity.

It’s not an unreasonable fantasy to entertain. Celebrities are constantly showing off how awesome their lives are. They live in big, opulent mansions. They have more money than most of us could ever spend in a lifetime. They’re surrounded by servants and assistants who cater to their every whim,  be it a sandwich or a threesome with a couple of Swedish bikini models.

Whether they’re a movie star, a TV star, or a rock star, we all envy their extraordinary lives. That’s why it’s always so shocking and confusing when we hear that a famous, accomplished celebrity has taken their own life. It’s a tragedy and one that evokes an outpouring of mourning.

It was just hard to imagine someone as beloved and cherished as Robin Williams taking his own life. Just recently, it was hard to imagine someone like Chester Bennington from Linkin Park doing the same. These men achieved a level of success that even other celebrities envy. Why would they make such a terrible decision to end their lives?

It’s a question that we find ourselves asking way too often. Celebrities have been taking their own lives with alarming frequency in the 21st century. Some, like Kurt Cobain and John Belushi, had well-documented issues with substance abuse. Some, like Corey Haim or Freddie Prinze, saw their fame and fortune fall over time.

Whatever the circumstances, the shock still resonates. The question still remains. Why would someone who achieved something so few achieve choose to end their lives? Some of these people came from poor, impoverished backgrounds. Why would they end it after achieving the kind of success that most only dream of?

These are impossible questions to answer because we can never know what goes on in someone’s mind when they decide to take their own lives. We can speculate, but we can never truly know. I certainly won’t claim to know what was going on inside Chester Bennington’s mind. That would be wrong, especially as his family, friends, and fans mourn him.

However, even if we can’t know, there is one way to gain some insight into this tragedy. It requires another thought experiment, albeit one of the more uncomfortable variety. Considering how uncomfortable some of these experiments have gotten, that’s saying something. Even so, I think it’s an important insight to have, especially when you’re trying to make sense of celebrity culture.

Picture, for a moment, that you wake up in an alternate universe of the world you know. Everything is the same, from the shape of the planet to the laws of physics to the annoying video ads you see before YouTube videos. The main difference is that in this world, you have none of the friends or family that you know and love.

Instead, you’re in a world surrounded by total strangers. Most act nice. Some even try to be your friend. However, you don’t know for sure whether you can trust them. These people and this world may seem familiar, but it might as well be totally alien, complete with little green men and anal probes.

Then, throw in another huge complication. Imagine you’re rich and famous. Everybody wants a piece of you. Everybody envies what you have. People you don’t know and never would’ve known in your old life just throw themselves at you. They want to be with you physically, emotionally, and often sexually, as is often the case with rock stars. They even claim to love you with all their heart, sometimes excessively.

Therein lies the problem, though. How can you be sure they actually love you? How can you even trust them when they make such bold proclamations? You’re rich and famous. They’re not. You have a lot. They don’t. They also don’t know you on a truly intimate level. They know the image of you, be it in the movies or on a stage, but they don’t know the kind of person you are when the cameras go off and the lights fade.

Maybe these people want some of your money. That does happen, especially with women looking to hook up with athletes and rock stars. Maybe these people want a piece of your fame. That’s where you get some of the crazy fans who will throw themselves at their celebrity crushes in a frenzy. Maybe they really just want to have sex with you because they get a huge thrill out of having sex with famous people.

There are way more possibilities I can list, but at the end of the day, you can never know for sure. You can never truly trust someone who claims to love you. You can’t even just walk down the street, make some new friends, and build new bonds from there. You’re a celebrity.

Your entire life is overly scrutinized. People only know the character that is you, but not you on a truly intimate level. It means that, even among those who claim to be your friends, you end up feeling alone. Add on top of that the everyday stresses of being a celebrity and your caveman brains will start to strain.

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Could you really function with that kind of mentality? Could you live the rest of your life not being able to trust anyone around you? Could you handle being in a world where nobody truly knows the real you?

Many think they can. Why else would there be lines around the block to participate in the next American Idol rip-off? I don’t doubt these people are sincere, but I doubt they’ve actually thought about the implications of celebrity life. I doubt anyone does, even if they were born into it.

There is a price for fame and fortune. It’s downright Faustian in its cost. Sure, you might be able to live in luxury, your every whim and desired pampered to at every hour of the day. However, you’ll still be isolated and alone. You’ll be stuck in a world where you can never be sure of who to trust. You can never know whether someone actually cares about you or the celebrity version of you.

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That kind of loneliness and isolation can be pretty debilitating. It’s also completely incompatible with the default settings of our caveman brains. We are very social creatures. We crave connection and bonding. I’m not just talking about the sexy kind either. Take that away from us and it really screws us up. That’s why solitary confinement is rightly considered torture.

When you feel things like that, you naturally want them to go away. This isn’t a headache, a broken bone, or chipped tooth, though. This is a very different kind of pain, one for which you can’t fix with a band aid and an aspirin. That’s why many celebrities will turn to drugs and vices.

I’m not just talking about heroin, cocaine, and orgies either. Some celebrities will go so far to alleviate that isolation that they’ll effectively cut ties with reality and try to live in their own fantasy world. We saw that happen with Michael Jackson. We’re seeing that with celebrities like Tom Cruise, who uses a sci-fi cult religion that’s famous for legal extortion to deal with these feelings.

At the end of the day, no matter how successful or glamorous they may be, celebrities are still human. They’re still wired like our caveman ancestors, even if they believe weird things. If they struggle to meet these very basic human needs, then it’s going to cause problems and some of them will end in tragedy.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to manage. There are plenty of celebrities who do an excellent job handling the fame, fortune, and attention. Celebrities like Hugh Jackman, George Clooney, Jennifer Anniston, Bruce Springstein, and even Weird Al Yanckovic regularly show that it is possible to survive that lonely world.

While these celebrities show it is possible for some to function, it doesn’t make the tragedies of those like Chester Bennington any less painful. It also wrongly convinces many that they can handle that world too. Nobody aspires to be a celebrity if they aren’t convinced they can’t handle it.

The hard truth is, though, that precious few people can pay the price that comes with fame and fortune. Fame and fortune may make for an eventful life, but it doesn’t make us any less human. It doesn’t make loneliness and isolation any less debilitating.

Chester Bennington, Robin Williams, and countless others struggled with that loneliness. They endured that struggle on top of whatever personal pain they also carried with them. No amount of fame and fortune can make that struggle less agonizing. For some, it’s just too much.

It’s a feeling that few outside the celebrity world can understand. When everyone wants a piece of you and everyone wants to tell you what you think you want to hear, there’s no way to know for sure who you can trust. In the end, it leaves even the most talented and gifted among us feeling lost. In a sense, that only doubles the tragedy when a celebrity takes their own life.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, Thought Experiment

The Death of Chester Bennington, Linkin Park, And A Piece Of My Youth

I was going to write about this sooner. I intended to put a pin in everything I’d been working on so I could talk about this still-developing story. I had to step back and give myself a few days because it was just too hard. As much as I value writing about feelings within a particular moment, some just can’t do justice to the feelings behind them.

By now, many have already heard the terrible news that TMZ broke last week. Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park, is dead. His death has been ruled a suicide. For fans of Linkin Park and the music world, as a whole, it’s a terrible loss.

Bennington, whose suffering from the scars of child abuse and various forms of substance abuse is well-documented, used his powerful voice to put into words a pain that is unique, but profound to all those who hear it. For those who came of age in the early to mid 2000s, having listened to the raw, unbridled passion of their music, the loss cuts much deeper.

I know because I was among those who grew up listening to Linkin Park. Their music came along at just the right time. I’ve talked before about how messed up I was as a teenager. I was socially awkward, depressed, and constantly struggling with my insecurities.

Linkin Park, and the powerful voice of Chester Bennington, made those feelings tangible and real. It made it feel as though I could grasp these painful feelings. They became less overwhelming and less distant. It put into words the thoughts I could not process. It also rocked in ways that defined a time, a place, and a feeling.

Their first two albums, Hybrid Theory and Meteora, have a special place in my heart. Even though my life has gotten a lot better since those dark days of my adolescence, the music still resonates with me. It reminds me of what I felt, what I went through, and how it made me stronger.

That’s why the death of Chester Bennington really hit me hard. Compared to the issues he endured, mine seemed so minor. For a man to have that kind of voice and that kind of passion requires a special kind of talent. That talent, mixed with his own personal pain, helped define a generation. For that, I will be forever grateful to Bennington and Linkin Park for giving that generation a voice.

To Chester Bennington and his family, Rest In Peace.

To anyone out there who is dealing with pain, be it emotional or physical, please seek help. As part of Linkin Park’s ongoing effort to help those dealing with suicidal thoughts, they are spreading awareness of suicide prevention. So if you, or someone you know, is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

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