Robin Williams arriving at The 33rd Annual People's Choice Awards in 2007.

Robin Williams arriving at The 33rd Annual People’s Choice Awards in 2007. Photo courtesy of s_bukley via Shutterstock

(RNS) Robin Williams’ suicide may not have been that surprising: Baby boomer men are 60 percent more likely to take their own life than their fathers’ generation, according to a Rutgers University sociologist.

The trend is particularly alarming because middle age is typically a time when suicide rates decline before rising again in old age.

Suicide usually rises drastically during adolescence and young adulthood, then typically levels off in middle age, according to Julie Phillips, a Rutgers sociology professor who researched the effect of unemployment and the Great Recession on suicide rates nationally.

That plateau hasn’t happened with today’s baby boomer men.

“The rise we’ve seen in suicide rates since 1999 among boomers while in their 40s and 50s is unusual,” Phillips said. Boomer men are now 60 percent more likely to take their own lives then men their age who were born in the 1930s — or roughly men of their fathers’ generation.

“We’re in a position now where suicide rates for middle-aged people are higher than those for the elderly,” she said. “That hasn’t happened before, at least not in the last century.”

Phillips offered some reasons as to why baby boomer men remain at risk for suicide even when they hit an age that has often brought more stability:

Boomer men lived through the jump in divorce rates, making them more likely to be living alone than previous men their age. All age groups also report being less religious than earlier generations. And studies indicate that baby boomers are not becoming more religious as they age, Phillips said. Their disinclination to go to church appears to be permanent.

The current elevated suicide rate in middle age doesn’t bode well for the future.

“The concern is that as those middle-aged people move into old age, where suicide rates are typically higher for men at least, we may see them get higher still,” Phillips said.

A double-whammy of health problems — chiefly obesity —  combined with the Great Recession may have hit baby boomer men hard, in part because such problems may have been unanticipated, she said.

Also alarming is that the younger generation, in their 20s and 30s, appears to be charting a course of higher suicides as well. “This is a troubling trend that we should continue to monitor,” she said.

(Kathleen O’Brien writes for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.)

YS END O’BRIEN

20 Comments

  1. The article is missing important information.
    And it is making a veiled assertion; that the decline in religion for baby boomers has a direct correlation to an increase in suicides.

    “60% more likely than their fathers” isn’t enough detail.
    What are the numbers? Where is the evidence that says those suicides are related to ‘non-belief’ specifically?

    Also, Homosexuality, Transexuality and Bisexuality have been linked to higher rates of suicide – religious guilt has been shown to have something to do with that. Is there any evidence that non-belief is alleviating that problem?

    Additionally, there has never been more easy access to guns. There are 300 Million guns in America today and it is easier to shoot yourself in some communities than to get a cup of coffee!

    Furthermore, what about treatments? Depression IS an illness!
    Funding for depression and other mental illness has fallen precipitously over the last several decades. Chaplains and Religious counselors often do more harm than good – but the burden has fallen on them.

    Robin Williams’ tragedy is a reminder that even the wealthiest, most famous people often may not know how to take good care of themselves or have the determination to get treatment. Even when they do, it can fail.

    Depression is an illness the USA has not even begun to fight.
    It is disastrous to link lack of religion as a cause.

    Somewhat Related:
    When a once very religious person discovers he no longer believes in God (I know this personally) there is a lot of work to do to ‘de-convert’ – to reverse the years of indoctrination which dictates how and what you need to believe – and to find instead a more positive philosophy of life than the human blood sacrifice imposed through religion.

    • Max I didn’t read that at all what I read was the evidence is still out about the cause if this increase. I have my own theory on Mr. Williams Suicide but I keep it to myself until I know people better. I love your belief in de-converting but take this as a thought each person adjusts to change in their own way. Me I’ve always found great beauty and majesty in the ritual of the church whether I believe in God or not.

    • Agnostic Boomer

      I also found a lack of hard facts in the article and would be interested in how the numbers stack up. Our fathers experienced WW2 and/or Korea. Boomers have been through Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan, and for some more. War changes your whole view of life (as a veteran myself) and for many a feeling of guilt. PTSD can manifest as depression, and yes, depression is a disease, and should be treated as such.

      Will disagree regarding guns. If somebody wants to commit suicide, they will find a way to do it with or without a gun, as Robin Williams’ death reveals. I’ve known several who have committed suicide, only one was with a fire arm, a shotgun, and he was very religious. Others were by hanging, knives, drugs, or jumping from a high place, even though most of them had access to fire arms. As I’m sure all have heard, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

      Regarding religion, I was educated by Methodist Missionaries. A lot of years sitting in religion class. Can’t say that sways me one way or the other regarding faith. That said, religion doesn’t enter into the equation for me. I would say that I never want to inflict the pain on those that love me, that suicide causes. I’ve witnessed that too many times, including my wife whose mother killed herself.

      I’ve also suffered at the hands of ex-wives, in-laws, etc. financially and emotionally to the point of complete mental breakdown. I am faced with working longer than many friends my age (same age as Robin) who are now or soon retiring. I think for many, these could be triggers for suicide.

      Through all the various hardships I never went down the road of thoughts of offing myself. I think some people can just handle more than others, but boomers have had much different lives than our fathers, and I don’t think religion is necessarily related.

      So if I ever feel the urge, I will be at the front of the line seeking help, from friends, loved ones, and doctors.

      • “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

        I’m glad I didn’t own a gun
        when I discovered religion was all pretend.
        I was depressed not for loss of God, but for loss of an entire system of ideas including my beloved aunts, uncles and grandparents – and it was shattering.

        Lessson learned:
        Question ALL assertions and claims from authorities early in life and often!
        Never surrender your critical faculties.

        Be strong. The mob wants you to think like them.

    • I am sorry for the lost of your faith. Life is tough and the road of life is scattered with many casualties. As I get older (mid-sixties) I find life is tough and we all need help getting through the tough times. I have found those who have a strong faith not based on indoctrination but based on a reasonable, defend-able, and logical philosophy seems to weather the storms of life better. It’s not an absolute. Nothing in life is guaranteed. I would encourage you to re-examine the reasons for your position and once again embrace the desire of a loving and holy God to guide you down the road of life. Suicide is a permanent answer to a temprary situation. Nothing lasts forever, good or bad.

  2. Another victim of our corrupt and treacherous addiction treatment system and the emotional butchery of indoctrination into the 12-Steps-to-Depression-and-Self-annihilation. Our society is sick to continue allowing the deceitful charlatans of this mega billion dollar industry exploit, manipulate and destroy our most vulnerable members.

  3. socialjusticeNOW

    More male privilege! White cisgender men commit suicide more because they have bodily autonomy. Women, POC and genderqueer people do not own their bodies and thus cannot decide what to do with them.

    Suicidal men, CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE!

  4. Sister Geraldine Marie, R.N.

    It is a sad commentary that religion has been so ignored, even hated, in our national life. Yet there IS a Supreme Being Who is all loving, wise and good. All the troubles we see are a direct result of denying that fundamental truth, and seeking something or someone other than God, Who alone can give mankind everything it needs. “Our hearts are restless O Lord, until they rest in Thee.” (St. Augustine)

    • The religious soiled their own linens on that front. If not for the constant use of religion to generate hatred and excuse bad behavior, there would be far more respect for it.

      • were you ever spanked or given time out Larry or did your parents let you do what ever you wanted.. Good parents would tell a child when there wrong
        because they don’t want the child seriously hurt

        Now I think your smart enough person Larry to connect that teaching with
        why Christians call sin sin..

        • Rob, sane parents don’t raise their hands to children who are not their own. What you do to your own and how you discipline your children should be no concern of mine and visa versa.

          If self-righteous Bible thumpers merely minded their own business instead of that of everyone else. They might garner a little more respect.

          But they don’t.

    • @Sister Geraldine Marie,

      “there IS a Supreme Being Who is all loving, wise and good.”

      We call this ‘arrogance’ because you have no evidence for your claim.
      Yet you claim it is ‘fundamental truth’.

      How can it be true if you can’t demonstrate it?

      We call this dangerous and immoral because there are no checks and balances stopping your ‘supreme being’ from doing whatever YOU say it commands!

      Think of the explosive dangers underway in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Texas before you repeat your empty claim of a Supreme Being!

      You are supporting all of the enemies of humanity.

  5. Also, Homosexuality, Transexuality and Bisexuality have been linked to higher rates of suicide – religious guilt has been shown to have something to do with that.

    Your conclusions are in your premises.

    Being damaged goods has something to do with it.

  6. now don’t make any assumptions when you read these facts..
    there just facts and have nothing to do with each other ..

    Teen suicide is way up also..

    church attendance is way down suicide is way up .

    more atheists more suicides of all ages

    big bang theory is more popular

    those who believe in creation down

    suicide is up..

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