Illustration for article titled Why Are Middle-Aged Women Down In The Dumps? I Ask My Mom

According to the World Health Organization, suicide rates have increased by 60 percent in the last 45 years, with depression — shockingly — as the leading cause. Recently, the numbers have jumped sharply in the U.S., and the trend — a .7% rise in six years — is driven largely by an unexpected group: middle-aged white women. Whereas teens, young adults and elderly men have traditionally been the focus of suicide-prevention, these findings may alter the mental health world's perception of "high-risk." Everyone agrees this is an undeniable demographic trend, but the real question is: why?First, the stats: whereas suicides amongst white men 40-64 rose 2.7%, the corresponding female demographic experienced a 3.9% jump, with a particularly dramatic rise (57%) in the number of deaths by poisoning. Says one researcher, "Definitely these are not just little blips...We are looking at a big population change." No one quoted, however, advances a theory about the causes of the trend. "Are these people living alone, with no major responsibility or others to take care of, or are they people overwhelmed with all of the jobs and responsibilities they have? We need to find out more about the conditions under which these people are living." Well, yes, we do. It's no secret that women suffer from far higher levels of depression than do men; the factors are both physiological and psychological and, as has been suggested on this site, women are probably just more aware of depression generally. But a precipitate rise like this suggests factors beyond the biological. Consider Dodai's recent post in which she commented on the finding that a depressing number of women feel their "life is over" at 44. Another British study, this one sponsored by Dove, reports that "negative attitudes by employers and society in general make women over the age of 45 feel unrecognized and unsupported," pervasive ageism prevents them from achieving goals and that those older women who do accomplish things are not recognized. In a society that worships youth, aging is not easy. Nor, one imagines, is empty-nesting, later-life career woes and relationship problems, health worries or financial struggle. And certainly these pressures have only increased. While considering these issues, I decided to consult someone in this demographic: my 58-year-old mother, no stranger to this phenomenon. As I suspected, she had a lot to say. Her feeling is that it is not a coincidence that these women belong to the Boomer generation. "Because we were such a huge generation, and because, I think, our parents' generation had been through so much, we were pandered to in an unprecedented way," she says, "in advertising, society, everything. And we were all so defined by being young that we took an adversarial attitude towards age that has made things very hard as we grow older." (She then went off on a tangent about women who are willing to "shoot poison into their faces" lest they fall into "one of the two acceptable modes of aging: cute or creepy.") And women specifically? "Never before," said my mom, "were there such high expectations for women. My mother may have been disappointed with aspects of her life, but she did not feel like a failure. Whereas, we were the first who were encouraged to dream really big. We did, and a lot of us failed to realize those dreams. We felt we had far more riding on it than men, so the crisis in some ways is probably more painful." I am sure that further studies will do far more to illuminate the root causes of these trends — socio-economic and otherwise. Whatever the findings, the solution is quite obviously better mental health care and perhaps a widening of demographic scope; ultimately, stopping something so tragically destructive is far more important, short-term, than the theory. But it is worth considering the pressures and advantages of this generation of women, unique in history and society; change, for good and bad, is very rough work. Middle-Aged Women Drive Rise In U.S. Suicides [MSNBC] Related: How Prejudice Holds Back Women Over 45 [Daily Express] Earlier: Why Do Some Women Think That Life Is Over By Age 44?


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