“Suicide rates are highest for men in their 50s and we’re not sure why”, declares the CBC headline. The report that follows strikes a personal chord. Suffering depression not inexplicable in terms of coping with life events, I can understand the psychologists’ sense of mystification:
For Vancouver psychologist Dan Bilsker, what’s striking is how little we really understand about why the numbers peak when men are in their 50s. “It doesn’t fit previous models of things driving suicidal behaviour.” In those models, by their 50s, men should “be feeling more in control of their lives, have worked out a lot of issues, be coping pretty well,” he says. After all, most of them are working, they’ve had jobs, relationships, children, life experiences. So the high suicide rate “raises a more disturbing model.”
The report says there is a challenge in, “getting men to reach out to others for interpersonal support, or for professional help like counselling or psychotherapy. ‘Men are far less likely to have done that in the six months to a year before carrying out a suicide action than women.'”
Being 55 years of age and having suffered depression for most of my life, I can imagine why getting men to seek interpersonal support is such a challenge. When in a frame of mind where I might be open to support, I do not need such advice, I can find my own way. In the dark times, the last thing I would wish to do is to talk to strangers, particularly to those who might be younger and those whose experience might be academic. I can understand men in their 50s who can simply no longer cope, sometimes it would be easier to have suffered multiple fractures, or a serious illness, at least people could see the pain, as it is the pain is there, but is invisible to everyone except the sufferer. Tragedies happen because men can no longer endure the pain. A friend described attending a funeral last week of a friend of 52 years of age who could no continue.
It’s not like a sudden acute moment that can be isolated and identified, allowing one to pick up the list of telephone numbers in the local newspaper and contact the necessary service, allowing one to find the interpersonal support, it’s more like clouds across the sun: light and shadow. There are moments of brilliant light that are suddenly obscured and dark times that are suddenly illuminated by a piercing light. What the medical world seems to offer is a uniform greyness; no dark moments, but no light moments either.
If there were plain answers, there would be no need for reports and no psychologists being forced to struggle for answers, there would be no need for the support agencies, but would there maybe also be the loss of something indefinable. Would it be possible to have a world without the darkness, without the extremes, without the tragic moments, but also to have a world with a place for people like Vincent van Gogh?