Would the Suicide Epidemic Get More Attention if the Victims Were Women and Minorities?

Graphic credit: Wall Street Journal

Graphic credit: Wall Street Journal

When does a suicide epidemic become a national crisis? When women and minorities end their lives in greater numbers than men and whites, thus confirming the dominant narrative of a racist, patriarchal society that discriminates against all manner of oppressed groups… Until that time, the rising suicide rate will get only passing attention. Depending on the age group, according to new data, American men kill themselves at a rate four to ten times the rate of women. Whites also end their lives at three times the rates of African-Americans, Latinos and Asians.

In a society stained by “white privilege,” and “male privilege,” a strikingly large number of white males seem to think otherwise. Rather than basking in their advantages, they’re checking out in ever greater numbers. Reviled in the dominant narrative of our age as the oppressor, white males are the one group whose cultural mores reject the idea of victimhood and grievance mongering. Rather than interpreting the inevitable setbacks and vicissitudes of life through the lens of race, class, gender, the so-called “angry white male” is far more likely to direct his anger inward by means of suicide or outward in explosive, mass shootings and death-by-cop incidents.

Graphic credit: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Graphic credit: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

While the right-thinking people are all caught up in the latest victimization drama — the trauma of transgendered people unable to use the bathroom of their choosing — the suicide epidemic receives very little notice. Sure, the problems of transgendered people are real, but c’mon, so are the problems of people whose lives suck so badly that they kill themselves.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Virginia’s suicide profile matches that of the nation (which should come as no surprise, because our demographic profile matches that of the nation). There were 1,122 suicides in Virginia in 2015 — 12.86 per 100,000 population, a hair below the national average. Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the state; more than three times as many people die by suicide here than by homicide.

Does anybody care?

— JAB

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24 responses to “Would the Suicide Epidemic Get More Attention if the Victims Were Women and Minorities?

  1. I promised myself I was never commenting here again, but since I seriously doubt anyone else who frequents this space will bring this perspective to the conversation I would feel remiss if I didn’t.

    As a white man who has suffered from depression for as long as I can remember, who has been to the point of suicide I find your framing on this deeply offensive. You don’t actually give two shits about white, male suicide and I know this because the bulk of this little commentary piece isn’t about the causes or the solutions to the problem, but to your little whine about how everyone else cares about everyone else but white men and their problems. There’s one, whole political party who is using this most recent primary to see which of their candidates can most effectively play to white, male fears and grievances – who will best keep out the Mexicans, who will best throw out the Muslims, who will best shrink government so they can drown it in a bathtub (which will make it really hard to address a national suicide epidemic, but shhhh), who will best lower taxes, who will best keep the right people in the right bathrooms, who will best start a trade war with China, etc. – and they have not seen fit to address this issue at all.

    Why is that? What’s the difference between our suicides and the issue of transgender bathroom usage you needlessly compare this to?

    It’s not that no one cares about white men. It’s that transgender people are willing to speak up and demand their issues be addressed. It’s that in doing that they’re finding allies in other communities to partner with to get their needs met. The issue didn’t just suddenly end up on the nightly news because of unspecified causes, it’s because the people who these laws will effect – another difference that you seem to overlook is that trans* people are being actively targeted by legislation – chose to make their voices heard.

    Are white men willing to do that? Are they willing to stand up and say “I’m hurting inside, I’ve lost hope and the only thing I can think to do about it is to end my life, please help me?” Or will they choose to be like you, and blame the attention other groups get and focus on resentment instead of asking for redress?

    Because as someone who has done the hard work of saying, “I’m in pain, please help me,” you know what I’ve discovered? That women – the people you presuppose are not inclined to care about my white maleness – are far more supportive than men. That Black women have been most supportive of all. The responses from white men generally range from “Have a drink” to “You’re too smart to be suicidal.” But my Black friends have talked about their anxiety problems with me. The women I know who are survivors of sexual violence have shared their methods for coping with PTSD.

    The only people who have ever been dismissive of my problems are other men, and mostly white men at that. No one has ever told me “You can’t be depressed because you’re so privileged.” Women of color have commiserated with me. My LGBTQ friends have bonded with me. We’ve discussed medications and what works and what doesn’t. When they’ve seen me start going down they’ve reached their hands out to pull me up.

    The suicide epidemic would get more attention if white men would stand up and be heard about it. But they don’t. And the question isn’t why no one is paying attention to a group of people who aren’t saying anything, it’s why that group of people refuses to say anything.

    • Well said. I have lost two white male friends to suicide in the past three years. This is probably one of the most insensitive posts I have ever read on this blog. It takes probably the most serious public policy issue (taking one’s life) and tries to make a point about white males and victimhood. Actually, the reason that both of the aforementioned white men committed suicide is BECAUSE they themselves were oppressed by white privilege.

      Yes, white privilege also has white victims. Well-educated white men who aren’t financially successful (compared to their other white male peers) or powerful do tend to think “something’s wrong.” Somehow they aren’t supposed to talk about insecurities or setbacks because that connotes “weakness.” Thus, both of these recent suicidal white men that I knew never even talked to their closest friends or family about what was bothering them. They both left notes detailing their feelings of shame/inadequacy. Perhaps if we didn’t have right wing lunatics on AM radio and blogs all day preaching about “wussification” and the “everybody gets a trophy” society, they might have felt a little more comfortable admitting that life wasn’t perfect to their friends and family. There’s nothing wrong with making bad decisions or not “achieving” wealth and status. But so many white males feel like failures if they don’t achieve in the achievement culture established by white males.

      • I still turn AM radio on from time to time when I’m driving through the country and my FM signal drops and I’m astounded that the people speaking have somehow gotten crueler and more callous than when I used to listen with my dad in the 90s.

        Meanwhile, I listen to a podcast hosted by two very charming young Black women – Another Round – who end each show with “Drink more water, take your meds and call your mom.”

      • You make an interesting observation here: “So many white males feel like failures if they don’t achieve in the achievement culture established by white males.”

        If the achievement culture in our society “was established by white males,” does it logically follow that white males are more likely than other groups to embrace that achievement culture?

        If so, does it then logically follow that white males are more likely to enjoy the upside (financial success) and suffer the downside (feelings of failure) of that achievement culture? Your comment certainly implies that you accept the second of those two propositions. Do you accept the first?

        If we accept that the white-male embrace of the white male-established achievement culture is to some degree responsible for the material success of white males, does it not logically follow that “white male privilege” is not a matter of institutional advantage but a reflection of white-male cultural values — values that have both an upside and a downside — and when people talk about “white privilege,” they focus exclusively upon the material side (say, higher incomes) and ignore the cost that people pay to achieve that success, or the even greater cost they pay if they fail to achieve that success?

        • Could it be that white men just want to be more awesome than their minds can handle?!?!?!?!

          CVille mostly gets it right, but it’s not about achievement, it’s about expectation: “I played by the rules, I went to school, got good grades, worked hard and I’d been told my whole life that if I did those things I would be materially successful. Well, I’m not – or at least not as much as I expected – and I feel like a failure. My expectations were not met, the promises were not kept and I’m so invested in believing that the system is supposed to work I blame only myself.”

          That you used his response about two dead friends to try to turn this into an exercising in pimping your tired “other people aren’t succeeding because their culture isn’t as awesome as white culture!” worldview is actually surprisingly disgusting.

    • First, LOTFL, let me say that I am sorry to hear that you have struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide. I have not endured that struggle myself, but a close family member has, and I was wrapped up with that struggle for a number of years. Depression and suicide are not problems I take lightly at all. They have a way of taking over the life of everyone involved. Further, I think it is a wonderful thing that you have found empathy and support among your friends, be they black women, LGBTQs or whomever. Thank god for family and friends.

      That said, I think you are reacting emotionally and illogically to what I have written. You say you find the way I have framed the issue to be offensive. Well, I find the way other people have framed the issue (or not framed the issue) to be offensive. So, I guess we’re even. Not that it matters. Vehemence of emotion does not make a person right or wrong — it just makes them vehement.

      More to the point, you inject meaning into my comments that are not there. Specifically, you write: Because as someone who has done the hard work of saying, “I’m in pain, please help me,” you know what I’ve discovered? That women – the people you presuppose are not inclined to care about my white maleness – are far more supportive than men.

      I presuppose no such thing. I made no comment whatsoever about the inclination of women (or minorities for that matter) to feel empathy toward other people, white men in particular. My comment was directed toward the “right-thinking people” who frame the dominant narratives in our society. They are the ones who align themselves with virtually every class of person — except white males. They are the ones who ignore the vastly disproportionate suicide rate because it does not fit their larger narrative of white privilege. In many cases, those “right-thinking people” I refer to are other white males, the ones who dominate the major institutions that shape public opinion in our society.

      You also accuse me of not giving “two shits” about white male suicides and turning it into a political issue. Well, yeah, this is a public policy blog, and I like to challenge the dominant narrative of our era. But listen to your own self. Who gets political? Who castigates political candidates who blame others, like Mexicans and Chinese? Why, you do! (If you go back through previous posts, you’ll observe that I, too, have criticized those who blame Mexicans and Chinese for their problems — just not in this context.)

      • “That said, I think you are reacting emotionally and illogically to what I have written.”

        I’m not emotional about any of this at all, and I find it interesting that the one time in the entirety of my interaction with you on this blog you accuse me of being emotional is immediately AFTER I discuss my struggles with mental health. But keep putting the blame on the issue of not discussing white male mental health on some amorphous “powers that be” and not reactions like yours.

        “You say you find the way I have framed the issue to be offensive. Well, I find the way other people have framed the issue (or not framed the issue) to be offensive.”

        Are you also rubber and I’m glue? Christ, I may be emotional but at least I’m not a 10 year old.

        I’ll just put it here but it’s a question you didn’t answer when I posed it before and I doubt you’ll answer it now…where are the groups advocating for white male mental health? Trans* people have their groups. Black people have theirs. Did it ever occur to you that the “liberal media” covers those people because they have groups agitating for them?

        The reason I presuppose that is because the only thing that makes sense is that the groups framing the “dominant narrative” that white men’s issues don’t matter because white men are terrible oppressors would be non-white men. Because why would white males see their peers killing themselves and say, “Well, I’ll just ignore that because white privilege?” Does that make sense to you? Those whites of us who accept the reality of white privilege are ALSO able to square it with the problems it – and the patriarchy – pose for white men, as demonstrated by CVille Resident. So the only groups that would logically leave to not care about white male suffering are not white males. Maybe if you were less vague these kinds of misunderstandings wouldn’t happen.

        “Well, yeah, this is a public policy blog…”

        Yet you offered no policy solutions to this problem you feign to care so deeply about. You also offer no analysis of the problem itself. You just piss and moan that everyone is looking over there because people are actively asking them to look over there. And that’s because you don’t care about white, male suicide even a little bit, but you care about “challeng[ing] the dominant narrative of our era” a whole lot.

        “Who castigates political candidates who blame others, like Mexicans and Chinese? Why, you do!”

        Actually, no I didn’t. I pointed out – without judgment – that one political party is using this primary almost exclusively as an exercise in the airing of white fears and grievances. Which makes sense given the Republican party is 89% white (http://www.gallup.com/poll/160373/democrats-racially-diverse-republicans-mostly-white.aspx). Given those two things, white people obviously have plenty of space to talk about what is bothering them, but they’re spending more time trying to play bathroom monitor. Which again raises the question: why aren’t white men speaking up for themselves and their mental health? And if we don’t care that our friends and family members are killing themselves enough to make some noise about it why should we expect anyone else to make that noise for us?

        Funny enough, you answered the question in your original post:

        “Rather than interpreting the inevitable setbacks and vicissitudes of life through the lens of race, class, gender…white males are the one group whose cultural mores reject the idea of victimhood and grievance mongering. ”

        I guess blaming the Mexicans and the Chinese and the Indians for “taking American jobs” and Black people for welfare keeping taxes so high business just HAVE to leave the United States isn’t intercepting through the lens of race now? Anyway.

        White men don’t cry about class when they’re given the boot at 53 because their job is outsourced because whining is what people who have a culture of grievance do.

        So if external sources like class can’t be blamed and they’re not allowed to view themselves as victims, the only option left is that they’re failures. Can’t blame the bosses because that’s class warfare. Can’t complain about it because then you’re nursing your own victimhood and grievances. With only yourself (and the Mexicans and the Chinese and the Indians and the Blacks on welfare who raised taxes) to blame and no one to talk to about it, I’m surprised more white men aren’t swallowing gun barrels or forcing others to do the same.

    • I lost one of my fraternity brothers shortly after we graduated to suicide. You know, one of those privileged ‘Bros that Jim Bacon talks about. Never saw it coming. Apparently he felt like a failure. How can you be a failure when you just graduated from UVa (on time) two years prior? He had a good job although perhaps not what he had expected. His older biological brother was also a fraternity brother of mine. He told me that he only saw the signs in retrospect. That comment haunted me. Despite a family with some history of depression I’ve never had a depressed day in my life. Given that I have 5 sons (no daughters unfortunately) I made it a point to learn as much about severe depression as I could. I never wanted to say that I saw the signs only in retrospect.

      LOTFL makes a valid point. Society has always “hushed up” suicide, swept it under the rug. Even today, when people talk about friends or relatives who died young from cancer or a heart attack the cause of death is part of the mourning. “How terrible that Barry passed away from cancer at so early an age”. But bring up somebody that committed suicide. Silence and awkward glances. Once people realize that depression is a disease just as surely as cancer is a disease you’ll see your news coverage. Until then, it is something people find embarrassing to discuss. That’s the real story, Jim.

      • What Life on the Fall Line tells is very real and very prevalent, and typically a disease, often inherited, as you Don suggest.

        Of course suicide also is brought on and made rampant by many variant external factors of all sorts, depression along with rage being the prime trigger.

        Unfortunately, our society today promotes many of these factors, although fate often seems to trigger tragic accident. As to the former case, men without women is a leading cause. Hence the Black on Black crime. Hence, too the dramatic rise of suicide prevalent among white men in any case historically.

        Thus men without women has always been a plague and scourge on societies as long as history has be written. This is what Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are largely about.

  2. Jim Bacon is so correct on this.
    Let’s be honest. If Curt Schilling had made an outrageous hateful statement to the effect that we should encourage more white men to commit suicide, he would still be employed at ESPN.

    • If something that didn’t happen had happened then something different would have happened, let me tell you!

      As if a major media network owned and operated mostly by white people would ever hire someone who would be given to such sentiments in the first place, but you keep herping that derp buddy.

  3. I just wanted to point out here that the differential in gender suicide rates – is pretty much worldwide – across many if not most all countries ….

    I think this is yet another example of how data and it’s meaning can be totally misunderstood -misrepresented by ignoring the context.

    Suicide in the World – Table 3

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3367275/

    • The gender differential is worldwide, but it’s still the parts of the world with the highest concentrations of white men – Europe, Americas – with the biggest gap.

  4. LOFL – yes – but it’s clearly not a US “white privilege” , “oppressed victims” – issue.

    I feel for your situation.. as I do for anyone who is struggling with it – and am glad to see you back but sad for the reason…

    but did feel the need to not let this issue be used for rancid right political currency… that JimB seems to be swilling these days.

  5. Dear All,

    I think that what Jim is saying is that the Liberal media’s “filter” is to trumpet every disparity where Blacks, Hispanics, and White women “come out the worse,” while down-playing or at least being less alarmed when Whites, and White men, especially, are more seriously harmed by things. One need look no further than interracial crime to see that. I don’t think it is being insensitive. Some refer to such things as “hatefacts.” Jim saying that this bias exists.

    Sincerely,

    Andrew

  6. Powerful discussion. Thanks all of you.

  7. To any who are “not” commenting in this (my opinion) very insightful discussion, please add your ideas and add them with respect to those you/we disagree with.

    Let’s all remember that it is human to see things from our own “selective attention,” “selective perception” and “selective retention.” That communications research speak that we better hear things we agree with and then remember them better than things we disagree with. We cannot look at the world through anything but our own eyes and, generally, our eyes narrow over time because of the way we look at it.

    A multi-sided discussion, therefore, is crucial for allowing us to learn because it ensures our brains get at least a taste of other perceptions.

    Unfortunately, in the internet age, much of the vile “discussion” has become too easy to “not attend to” and is beginning to be stopped from the gitgo.
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/04/21/comments-are-making-the-internet-worse-so-i-got-rid-of-them/?hpid=hp_hp-cards_hp-card-posteverything%3Ahomepage%2Fcard

    No matter how much we disagree with Mr. Bacon (or some of the other commenters), this web site is providing a robust, but not vicious, discussion of a variety of issues. Please, let’s keep it that way. All of you who feel the discussion gets too heated and pledge as someone above does to stay away, please reconsider.

  8. I will make a final observation:

    LifeOnTheFallLine is absolutely correct. The lack of attention to white male suicide is not about “liberals” or the “media” or “dominant narratives”.

    The lack of attention is due to white males themselves. These acts are almost always the product of alienation or shame/feeling of inadequacy. The individuals tend to never speak about their perceived problems (No wonder the media doesn’t talk about them). Then the family compounds the code of silence by never wanting to say, “Chris committed suicide.” Instead, they are as ashamed as the individual.

    So long as white males buy into “shock jocks”, “market winners and losers”, and various other aspects of “tough guy” culture, this “white male suicide epidemic” will almost certainly continue. As a couple of examples: “Makers” and “takers” is one of right wing radio’s favorite throwaway rants. Gee, you don’t think it causes extreme shame for an unemployed white guy to need unemployment or Medicaid when that is the “dominant narrative” in right wing culture? My God, if you dare go to the community services board for counseling because you can’t find a job and need “public” services somehow you’re “contributing” to “Boomergeddon” and the “debt apocalypse” you disgusting subhuman “taker.”

    Or we have Donald Trump calling today’s NFL players “soft” because they dare worry about concussions and head injuries. No matter that the science seems to confirm that repeated head trauma is dangerous and so many NFL players suffer from mental disorders after their careers. No, by God, this “weak” “soft” culture is “disgusting”…go out there and get your brains beat in and don’t complain you “softy.”

    Words matter. Creating a culture in which any problem becomes “weakness” or any period of unemployment turns you into an evil “taker” who’s assisting the evil “liberal statists” in “destroying our country” by contributing to the national debt…well, you can imagine what that may do to white males who buy into this garbage.

  9. well…… there seem to be subliminal messages emanating throughout the ether (which NOW, has ALSO been apparently taken over by liberals) – “die white guys – die” and no, we don’t want you barking whatever nonsense you picked up from Breitbart and company before you go – just die – super quick if you can.

    there! I said it! and yes.. I’m bad … so bad….

  10. A contemporary of mine drove to the middle of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and jumped.

    Yes, male suicide is a big issue, but framing it in the context of the supposed over sympathy for women, minorities and gays is simply bad taste.

    It shows a special sort of male WASP sense of entitlement. It is about as bad as running a picture showing Mexicans as space aliens wearing Sombreros and holding tacos. I have some good friends whom I respect who happen to be Mexicans and am sure they would love that cartoon.

    Where are we? A prep school for mostly rich, white boys?

    • Thanks, Mr. Galuszka. Do you mean that this web site is a “prep school for mostly rich, white boys” or Virginia or the U.S. as a whole? I could see the comment as valid on all three levels. And in many ways, see the ongoing presidential election as a repudiation of the “U.S. as a whole” concept.

      On the specific level, I’ll bet that 90+ percent of anyone commenting here is a white male — don’t know about rich, or prep school. I personally would love to hear comments from more whom I don’t imagine are “rich” “white” or “prep.” How do “we” (however we’re defined) understand the unarticulated needs/desires/joys/hates/etc of those who have different blinders on? Reading “Fall Line’s” powerful words above, I — whom has never thought about suicide or really depression although I have a solid share of disappointment — forced my brain to expand. Having taught at a bunch of HBCU’s with mostly black staff (I’m white, and male, and was sent to a military “prep” school to keep me out of jail), I learned to my great surprise that the black middle and lower-middle class was generally fairly socially conservative but didn’t vote that way. Having married a woman smarter than I am (and that might NOT be saying much), I love to hear — and pick holes in — the feminist mystique. Having met just yesterday yet another Yankee (this time from Cornel) who has come to the South fearful that white racists will destroy the wonderful progressiveness of his daughters, I love going back and reading Pat Conroy’s words that the Southern White Male is the most stereotyped human on the planet.

      I have missed your insight. Thank you for again providing a taste of it.

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