The “wave of veteran suicides,” in the words of The New York Times editors last year, seems to cap the traumas that the vets have borne in service to the nation. It turns out, however, that actually establishing that there is a connection between military service and suicide is difficult. It may take years more research to fully understand its personal toll. The “Forever War” of an earlier generation, Vietnam, produced a particularly strong debate about serving and suicide. While the tragic consequences seemed clear to some, the data have been much more opaque. The veteran-suicide connection was, as a recent article describes, also opaque a century ago when the veterans in question had served in the Civil War.
Posts Tagged ‘suicide’
Charles Fischer [no relation to your blogger] arrived in New York City in 1890. A well-educated clerk from Stuttgart, Germany, he struggled in America, failing in real estate, in the saloon business, and finally in china plate decorating. He divorced and lost touch with his only child. Fischer wrote his mother, “I cannot stand this much longer. If I don’t get work within two weeks I will have to go out on the street and work as a laborer.” At 10:00 pm on a Saturday evening in 1896, he entered his small rented room on East 3rd Street, sealed up every crack, and turned on the gas without lighting it.
Fischer’s suicide puts into historical context news reports from this past week of a “startling” (to quote the PBS Newshour) rise in suicides among the middle-aged over the last ten years. (Actually, it’s not such new news; essentially the same story was reported three years ago.) Fischer’s case illustrates that suicides often come in waves – his was one of many committed by immigrants in late 19th-century American cities. It also illustrates the role of technology – gas became a common tool of suicide. And it illustrates the importance of financial strains – he took his life in the middle of the Panic of 1896. The 21st-century suicide spurt has an additional twist, however: Boomers.
A June 6 story in the New York Times, “Rise in Suicides of Middle-Aged is Continuing,” reported that 45-to-54 year-olds have the highest rate of suicide and that their rate is rising (– see here and a complex follow-up on June 13 here ). Although there are technical reasons to put a big asterisk on that claim* [see endnote below], it appears to be true that Baby Boomers’ lives have turned out to be a bit different — in unfortunate ways — from those of their parents and of their children. Americans who came into adulthood in the ‘60s were distinct.
“The Sixties,” in a social and cultural sense, probably ran from about 1964 to about 1974, when the bulk of the Baby Boomers were under 18. They (I should say “we”) had a doubly-marked experience: First, Americans born between roughly 1946-48 and 1960-64 grew up in the largest cohort ever (largest until the 2000s, when of course the whole American population was about 50 percent larger); and second, the Boomers grew up in a time of great cultural turmoil. The two facts may well have been connected.