Monday, April 25, 2016

America Has Become More Depressed and More Suicidal

Seven years of Barack Obama’s bright and cheery optimism and America is suffering from despair. The president and his flunkies assure us that things are great. The economy has recovered; unemployment is low; the stock market is high; everyone has health insurance; black lives matter; white privilege has been diminished; we have declared war on climate change.

No one much cares about winning wars. We now care that the military is politically correct. No one much cares about growing the economy. We now care about social justice. We are not debating tax policy. We are mired in a public discussion about transgendered restrooms.

For those who believe the goals are not incompatible, the evidence says otherwise.

However good the Obamaphile media thinks the country is doing, a closer look at the American psyche tells a different story. Suicide rates have not quite reached 1932 levels but they have been going up.

For most of America the Obama recovery has been a mirage. The rich have gotten richer while the rest have languished. The middle class has been hit the hardest. More and more people have fallen out of the middle class and are just scraping by… if that.

The good economic news seems more to have been produced by the Federal Reserve. Moneyprinting has enriched a precious few while economic policy has left the rest behind.

In a self-pitying essay for The Atlantic Neal Gabler recently described his own financial problems. Perhaps it’s a symptom of our times that writers are obliged to write about their penurious circumstances and their financial mismanagement, but one would have preferred that he had been more discreet. To be fair, more discreet means fewer readers and lower fees. In our culture, exhibitionism pays. Surely, this fact contributes to the general despondency.

Americans are living through a period of economic decline. Beyond the misery lie the statistics. The one that stands out, to Gabler and to us is this: How many Americans have enough emergency funds on hand to pay for an unexpected $400 expense?

The response amazes:

The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?

A once great nation has been brought low by electing the wrong politicians. Never let anyone tell you that the Obama administration has not been transformative. It has just transformed the nation for the worst. It looks good on the outside, but the façade covers up a rotting interior.

With the economic decline Americans have also suffered a loss of self-respect. Or is it vice versa. When the president and the first lady do not have pride in their country—or better when they believe that the only reason to have any pride lies in the fact that the country put them in the White House—everyone else will lose pride, lose confidence, lose their optimism and fall into despondency and hopelessness.

Peggy Noonan describes what a political operative found when he was walking through a New Hampshire neighborhood trying to collect votes for Jeb Bush:

Out door-knocking for Jeb Bush, “I was struck as I walked along a neighborhood using the app that described the voters in each house. So many multigenerational families of odd collections of ages in houses with missing roof shingles or shutters askew or paint peeling. Cars needing repair.”

What was the story inside those houses? Unemployment, he thought, elder care, divorce, custody battles. “It was easy to see a collective loss of hope in a once-thriving town.” He sensed “years of neglect and sadness. Something is brewing.”

It’s not just the economic loss. Many Americans feel that they have fallen down and do not know how to get up again. Or better, they do not think that they will ever get up again. Within three generations the greatest and most dynamic nation in the world has been rendered weak and ineffectual, humiliated on the world stage, led by a man who does not believe in America. When you elect Jeremiah Wright’s protégé, what do you expect?

Moreover, Noonan’ observes that Americans are suffering from broken homes and families, from broken communities. They no longer know who they are and where they belong. All the talk about being a fully-actualized individual has produced a nation where more and more people feel alone and isolated, cut off from their social moorings. This has led to more despair and more suicides.

The New York Times offers an interesting report:

Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults. The rise was particularly steep for women. It was also substantial among middle-aged Americans, sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s.

The suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, jumped by 63 percent over the period of the study, while it rose by 43 percent for men in that age range, the sharpest increase for males of any age. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the study on Friday.

The increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation’s suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study. In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999.

Middle aged women had been told that they did not need a man and did not need a marriage. All they needed was career success. How did that work out? Young white women, we learn, are becoming more suicidal. The situation for teenaged girls—the sexting generation, a generation that has been spoon-fed feminism--  was not very encouraging, either:

Researchers also found an alarming increase among girls 10 to 14, whose suicide rate, while still very low, had tripled. The number of girls who killed themselves rose to 150 in 2014 from 50 in 1999. “This one certainly jumped out,” said Sally Curtin, a statistician at the center and an author of the report.

The white lower middle class has suffered the most. Told that their accomplishments counted for nothing, they began to die off sooner. They were told that they has gamed the system by profiting from white privilege and that they needed to be knocked down a peg, the better to give everyone else a chance. They were told that there is nothing special about America and that there was nothing exceptional about the nation they worked to build and to defend. Bereft of their pride, they are living in hopelessness and misery:

 Recent research has highlighted the plight of less educated whites, showing surges in deaths from drug overdoses, suicides, liver disease and alcohol poisoning, particularly among those with a high school education or less. The new report did not break down suicide rates by education, but researchers who reviewed the analysis said the patterns in age and race were consistent with that recent research and painted a picture of desperation for many in American society.

The federal health agency’s last major report on suicide, released in 2013, noted a sharp increase in suicide among 35- to 64-year-olds. But the rates have risen even more since then — up by 7 percent for the entire population since 2010, the end of the last study period — and federal researchers said they issued the new report to draw attention to the issue.

Psychiatrists believe that the solution is more psychiatric treatment. Surely, there is some truth in the proposition. And yet, the problem is also political and sociological. Even the best medication is unlikely to heal this condition.

The Times analyzes the social aspect of the problem, the social isolation and the anomie:

Julie Phillips, a professor of sociology at Rutgers who has studied suicide among middle-aged Americans, said social changes could be raising the risks. Marriage rates have declined, particularly among less educated Americans, while divorce rates have risen, leading to increased social isolation, she said. She calculated that in 2005, unmarried middle-aged men were 3.5 times more likely than married men to die from suicide, and their female counterparts were as much as 2.8 times more likely to kill themselves. The divorce rate has doubled for middle-aged and older adults since the 1990s, she said.

Disappointed expectations of social and economic well-being among less educated white men from the baby-boom generation may also be playing a role, she said. They grew up in an era that valued “masculinity and self-reliance” — characteristics that could get in the way of asking for help.

“It appears this group isn’t seeking help but rather turning to self-destructive means of dealing with their despair,” Professor Phillips said.

Another possible explanation: an economy that has eaten away at the prospects of families on the lower rungs of the income ladder.


Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: In a self-pitying essay for The Atlantic Neal Gabler recently described his own financial problems. Perhaps it’s a symptom of our times that writers are obliged to write about their penurious circumstances and their financial mismanagement, but one would have preferred that he had been more discreet.

I don't see anything wrong with Neal Gabler's article, nor value in pretending it doesn't exist to "keep face", i.e. lying so you look better than you are. Problems don't fix themselves by pretending they don't exist. That's what addicts do, until they can't.

And his arguments are very close to Elizabeth Warren's speech from 2007: The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class with Elizabeth Warren

As best I can tell the old ideal was "savings", and the new ideal is "access to credit", and you can see the attraction. And that opens the obvious question - if 47% don't have $400 in savings, do they have $400 in available credit on their credit cards? If they have maxed out credit cards, they're in a worse situation than merely having no money. They have monthly payments on their balances that are extracting all their income above their regular bills.

And the Atlantic article says this problem:
"If you ask economists to explain this state of affairs, they are likely to finger credit-card debt as a main culprit. Long before the Great Recession, many say, Americans got themselves into credit trouble. About 38 percent of households carried some debt, according to the analysis, and among those, the average was more than $15,000."

So forget the savings for a $400 car repair. The real problem happened 5 years ago when they had their FIRST car repair bill that went on their credit card and was never paid off. So people are living off their future income, until they can't. And that's the danger of easy credit - it allows hard decisions to be delayed indefinitely.

A few years ago I brought forward this issue with my pastor. I said it is irresponsible for churches to ask for tithing from people who are holding credit card balances, because the tithing makes them feel good, that they're contributing to social good while they're making their future destitute. I suggested many people are ashamed of admitting their debt problems, and are easily guilted into spending money they don't have, and so there is an ethical problem of taking money from people without knowing whether they can afford it.

My pastor said it had returned people's tithing for a year, when they hit financial difficulties, and I agreed that was good, but still flawed, again on the savings versus access to credit problem. So I suggested the church discourage people with credit card balances from tithing AND instead say paying off credit cards ought to be considered a substitute for tithing, putting at minimum at least 10% of your income to credit card debt beyond the minimum payments. And my pastor didn't say that exactly in his tithing sermon, but something close to that.

Yet, I told the same story to a poor and religious couple I knew who tithe and carry a balance, and the husband intensely rejected what I thought was a hopeful story, and he felt sure people would never tithe if they were given an out, and his church would fail, and I was surprised how important this was for him. And he wasn't quite on the false "Prosperity gospel", but something close. He really believed 10% was "God's money" and he didn't trust himself to put God second.

Anyway I refuse to say President Obama is responsible for any of this. It started long before he was elected, and if I need a scapegoat president, I'll blame President Reagan's "Morning in America" when credit cards got their foot in the door to replace savings.

People don't become depressed when they have problems. They become depressed when they can't deny their problems any more.

priss rules said...

There was a time when an average American's life was defined by religion/church, identity/culture, family/relatives, tradition/memory, patriotism/community.

An Irish-American, for example, wasn't merely a free individual and consumer but a man of church, family, tradition, and nation.
But church is now dead or telling people that Jesus died so that homos can get 'married'. Family is dead in a lot of communities. And even where it exists, too many parents never mature and want to be 'cool' with their kids than be disciplinarians. As so many people are childless or have just one kid, many kids grow up with uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces.
As PC has taken over the curriculum, the only patriotism left is USA is great because... uh... we let men in dresses use women's restrooms.

Americans always loved popular culture, but it was just a facet of life. It was entertainment, not life itself. Now, with so many people un-moored from family life, church, community, and heritage, pop culture is their only reality. Their lives revolve around videogames, movies, TV, pop music, etc. Pop is the religion of America. It's even taught in colleges: the philosophy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
And what passes for Ideas is mostly PC hysteria about 'micro-aggressions' and 'triggering'. No one seems to understand that truth is supposed to provoke and trigger. It is falsehoods that soothe.

Also, there was a time when pop culture was harmless or even moral. What harm could good ole Westerns do? One might learn a moral lesson or two from Shane or High Noon. But so many movies and TV shows now wallow in utter filth. The music scene is downright thuggish and pornographic. 'Twerking' is the defacto official dance of America, and it is featured without shame on primetime TV.

Boorman's ZARDOZ was instructive about how civilization grows decadent and dies. This trend began long before Obama though he hastened it by shilling for the ridiculous homo lobby.

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Suicide rates have not quite reached 1932 levels but they have been going up.

Curious about the rates, I looked them up. This new article shows overall 2014 rate up to 13.0 per 100k.

This study shows the rates from 1928-2007, with the rate of 18 in 1928 (before the crash, but much of America was suffering before the crash), and peaked at 22 in 1932. And it looks like the low was about 10.5 in 2000.

So yes, we've "not quite reached 1932 levels" if understatements can be made without misrepresenting reality.

Stuart: Psychiatrists believe that the solution is more psychiatric treatment. Surely, there is some truth in the proposition. And yet, the problem is also political and sociological. Even the best medication is unlikely to heal this condition.

The issue of medication also concerns me. If we imagine we've suppressed suicide rates by medication intervention, and that suppression is now failing, and the trends reversing, that means we're actually doing worse than the rates suggest.

If we have to medicate 20% (what's real number?) of the population with antidepressive medications to keep 0.1% of people from killing themselves every year, it's fair to say this success is a coverup of other failures we've not addressed.

Ares Olympus said...

On: "Recent research has highlighted the plight of less educated whites, showing surges in deaths from drug overdoses, suicides, liver disease and alcohol poisoning, particularly among those with a high school education or less."

Illegal drug abuse is another factor of depression, and in many ways worse than suicide, since its a downward spiral self-destruction that is spread over many years, and can emotionally and financially take down families connected to the addicts.

Related I also just heard a controversy with conservative governor of Maine, saying he'll veto a bill that allows access to a drug that can be used to save people with overdoses. At least it is interesting that Governor LePage considers it his personal crusade to block something that otherwise has bipartisan support.
The legislation would also allow police and fire departments to obtain a supply of naloxone and provides immunity to pharmacists or health care professionals who dispense the antidote when “acting in good faith and with reasonable care.”

But in his veto letter sent to lawmakers on Wednesday, LePage said the bill would allow pharmacists “to dispense naloxone to practically anyone who asks for it.”

“Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose,” LePage wrote, repeating a contention that has caused controversy before. “Creating a situation where an addict has a heroin needle in one hand and a shot of naloxone in the other produces a sense of normalcy and security around heroin use that serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction.”

Pharmacy chains such as Rite Aid and CVS already dispense naloxone without a prescription in other states. About 30 states allow sales of the drug without a prescription.

CVS requested the bill in Maine after receiving a letter from U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine asking the chain to expand the availability of the antidote. The bill got support from both law enforcement and health organizations during the legislative hearing.

LePage has stirred controversy before with his suggestions that naloxone has become a sort of life-saving crutch for opioid addicts as he points to reports of drug users who have been revived multiple times from overdoses by police or rescue squads. Bill supporters reacted strongly on Wednesday to his statement that the antidote merely extends lives “until the next overdose.”

“With this insensitive statement, Gov. LePage is insinuating that Mainers suffering from addiction are beyond reach – that they cannot be saved,” Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, said in a statement. “I disagree. Narcan can be the difference between an early grave and an intervention that can put an addict on the path to recovery. We know that Narcan saves lives. It is incumbent on us to make sure it is readily available.”

There were 272 drug overdose deaths in Maine in 2015, representing a 31 percent increase over the previous year.

Gov. LePage considers himself "prolife", while this looks like what he's really calling for is "protecting suicide by accidental overdose." But I have to remember pro-life for many only includes the innocent preborn, not adults who are responsible for their own actions.

There are no good answers with addiction, and perhaps as LePage suggests trying to reduce the risks of high-risk activities only increases those who will follow that activity.

And if we are willing to be heartless, suicide is actually an economically efficient process. If you can convince unsuccessful people that they are losers, and give them the means to end their lives, limit access to ways to get them help, then perhaps we'll all be better off without their dead-weight costs to society.

It's a free-market win-win for all.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"Another possible explanation: an economy that has eaten away at the prospects of families on the lower rungs of the income ladder."


The mainstream, establishment types cannot get their arms around the Trump or Sanders phenomenon. There's a reason for this. If you look at the exit poll breakouts of many of these primaries, men are voting for Trump and Sanders in droves. They're facing economic displacement. The mystified and flummoxed cognitive elite and chattering classes do not have to interact with the masses on the "lower rungs," they patronize them. The people at the top have no idea what is going on in America.