News & Politics

Suicides Surge as Financial Crisis Worsens

Our readers respond to a recent story about the increase in suicides as more Americans face economic desperation.

As the economy spirals out of control, more and more Americans are seeing their jobs, savings, and hopes for the future evaporate.

Increasingly, many have resorted to desperate measures to ward off eviction, dept, and unemployment; an alarming number are even turning to crime and suicide.

Not surprisingly, the tragedies of the wealthy grab headlines while the suffering on Main Street is largely ignored by the mainstream, national media.

In a recent article published on AlterNet, Nick Turse tells some of those stories: the 23-year-old woman on the verge of eviction who robbed a bank to pay rent; a Georgia woman who shot herself in the head prior to her eviction hearing; the 43-year-old man who hanged himself after getting behind on mortgage payments; and many, many more.

In fact, Turse reports, suicide hot-lines throughout the country have reported an increase in calls since the start of the financial crisis.

And yet, writes Turse:

... while various bailout schemes have been introduced and implemented for banks and giant corporations, no significant plans have been outlined or introduced into public debate, let alone implemented by Washington, to take strong measures to combat the dire circumstances affecting ordinary Americans.

There has been next to no talk of debt or mortgage forgiveness, or of an enhanced and massively bulked-up version of the Nixonian guaranteed income plan (which would pay stipends to the neediest), or of buying up and handing over the glut of homes on the market, with adequate fix-up funds, to the homeless, or of any significant gesture toward even the most modest redistributions of wealth. Until then, for many, hope will be nothing but a slogan, the body count will rise, and Americans will undoubtedly continue going to extremes.

AlterNet's readers had some very strong reactions to Turse's article.

and_abottleofrum writes that this is just the beginning:

This is an extremely disturbing article, but there's so much more to come and all of this has been quite predictable. Suicides will become a lot more common, so will violent crime, domestic violence, and property crime -- however I wouldn't call robbing a bank to pay one's rent a crime at all.

...

This is the onset of a cruel chapter of human history. There's a lot more suffering to come. Many reading these threads will find themselves economically destroyed this year; many may end up homeless, anomic, permanently scarred, and persecuted by authorities that want to keep their misery out of the public view.

Quannah agrees, drawing a disturbing and by now familiar historical parallel:

This reminds me of the stories I've read about what people were doing in 1929 after the Stock Market Crash.

We're only beginning to see the tip of this iceberg. This is a sad commentary on what our society has wrought. Worship money and things and when they are gone, a person has no worth. That's a cancer on our culture. And it could prove to be our ultimate downfall.

Others also point to our culture-wide preoccupation with financial success as the culprit. Cybershaman writes:

...in western culture we worship those who have money. They are paraded in front of us daily as an example of the 'winners' in our society. HOW they made their money is irrelevant. Sweat shops, prison labor, snake oil, we don't care how the money was made. The fact that they made money at all makes them a 'winner'! THAT'S why we will never go after these bass turds or stop the next wave of people just like them.

Not surprisingly, much anger is leveled at the wealthy. Charles000 argues the actions of Wall Street financiers are tantamount to treason:

These Wall Street criminals have committed self serving acts of corruption and crime on a scale for which there is no precedent.

I would term such as "economic treason".

Obama could, if he were truly devoted to the concept of "change", start by working with congress to drastically change the lives and lifestyles of the banking cartel criminals and their corporate carpet-bagger comrades that have committed this economic treason.

Many other commentors pointed out that our government is just as much to blame for the crisis. And as the economy continues to worsen, many of our elected officials seem indifferent to the plight of ordinary people. Mcartri points out that that in response to the suffering on Main Street, "177 out of 177 House Republicans said, "SO??"

Alan 8 puts the blame on the Bush Administration, but does not let Democrats off the hook:

These people are yet more victims of the Bush Administration, which represented the interests of the wealthy. Economic violence can be as devastating as physical violence.

Which is why we shouldn't forget that the Democrats let the whole Republican agenda just happen over the last eight years. It only takes one senator to filibuster.

photon's feather agrees that Democrats are "indeed beholden to the same corporate interests as are the Republicans" and wonders why many commenters don't put as much blame on them: "Why do you refer to it as the Republican agenda?"

Cybershaman replies that the GOP is more responsible for the current crisis than Democrats:

 ... even though the Democrats jumped on the bandwagon and went for the easy buck too, it was the GOP who planted the seeds with Reagan's deregulation frenzy. The white collar criminals were given free reign to game the system.

Besides, who were the people who predicted this outcome (progressives), and who are the ones who promoted and now defend this paradigm (conservatives). Democrats have conservatives in their ranks, do Republicans have progressives? Will they even allow progressives in their ranks? I think the Justice department shenanigans proves they don't.

Hagwind takes a different tack, disputing the data behind Turse's argument:

Sorry, a string of sad stories from around the country doesn't add up to "Financial Crisis Driving Hordes to Suicide." Neither does a shrink reporting an increase in suicidal businessman patients. Hard, cold statistics are so often misused and misinterpreted that it's easy to forget that sometimes they're useful. They would be useful in this story. Instead we get stuff like "an unknown but rising number." Go ahead, report the stories; they're important clues to what's going on in the country. But if you want to argue that this is an alarming trend, I want to see some evidence.

But and_abottleofrum disagrees, pointing out that the suicide statistics are just beginning to trickle in, and furthermore are likely being underreported in the mainstream media:

It'll take at least a year for official numbers to come in. But I know a person who's been suicidal in the last month after losing a job: my own brother. My brother ran into a street three weeks ago and yelled at cars to kill him. He was morose and desperate after being laid off and I was trying to take him to a downtown clinic for the poor at the time. After pulling him out of the street I convinced him to come with me to a hospital, took him to the emergency room, and he was hospitalized for three days.

For me this article rings true, and mainstream media will be squeamish about reporting on suicide rates during this economic collapse until official numbers come in, which will be a long way off.

2dogarage agrees:

1/28/09 L.A. Man kills wife, 5 kids, himself Job loss at hospital blamed in letter faxed to TV station before fatal shootings...I wonder how many examples it takes to make an alarming trend for you? ... Things are just beginning to melt down.

gazooks also points out that things will likely get worse before they get better, and that everyone must pitch in and help the most unfortunate:

... that the cause and effects of growing desperation is just getting started and will be with us for a generation.

It's easily apparent that economic stresses can lead to tragic acts. And only if we're aware of the breadth of a trend can we help those who are personally close to us that are in trouble. We all know someone on the brink.

...

The desolation of those suicidal is absolute as is the horror of violence towards those that they take with them. It isn't a cowards end; it's an expression of utter hopelessness.

We have some very tough times ahead and would do well to consider community and as compassionate and generous a course of action towards all those impacted as we can.

Tana Ganeva is an editorial assistant at AlterNet.
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