We Could Have Known

Date: November 15, 2016   By: Fe Anam Avis

Image rights: CC0 Public Domain

Long before the recent presidential election, we might have surmised the suffering among white, middle-aged Americans, not by examining political polls but by reflecting on rising suicide rates.  Middle-aged white people are drinking more, using more opioids, more of them are getting sick with the diseases that usually kill older people, and when they do get sick, they don’t get better.  And they are killing themselves at higher and higher rates.

Since 1999, men aged 45 to 64 had the highest increase in suicide rate among all groups, rising 50% by 2014.  Middle-aged white males and females – about 18 percent of the US population – account for one-third, or about 14,000, of all suicides, more than twice the combined number of suicides for all blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaska Natives.

Job loss in the rust belt is cited as a major issue.  Unemployment is a significant factor but the data suggests that not all job losses necessarily have an equal impact, as the effect on suicide risk appears to be stronger in communities where being out of work is uncommon.  A case in point:  even though the unemployment rate for white males is half that of black males, their suicide rate is four times that of blacks.

This suggests that the issue for white, middle aged persons may not simply be economic but spiritual.  In an article titled “Blacks at Middle and Late Life:  Resources and Coping,” writer Rose C. Gibson argues that middle-aged and elderly blacks are much more likely to respond to worries with prayer while middle-aged and elderly whites become less likely to respond to worries with prayer.

Time will tell if this election provides the economic relief sought by middle-aged whites in our country.  One thing is certain:  no political figure, Democrat or Republican, can meet the spiritual needs laid bare by the mounting suicide statistics in the heartland.



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