Earlier today, I came across some jolting news -- "Early Data Suggest Suicides Are Rising":
[T]he number of suicides in the U.S. crept up during the worst recession in decades... The precise reasons for the rise in suicides aren't yet known. But suicide rates have historically risen during tough economic times, when unemployment is high, suicide experts say....Good to know, living in a state with an 11% unemployment rate. And what about "suicide expert"? There's some job. (All jokes aside, those verses from the Moody Blues' "Question" keep playing in my head: "In the grey of the morning, my mind becomes confused, between the dead and the sleeping and the road that I must choose.")
"We're hearing from people who might not have sought help before," said John Draper, project director [for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline]. Some crisis centers note that financial problems outpace depression as reasons for the calls, he said. "There's a lot more anxiety and fear related to paying bills and finding a job. Certainly there's some hopelessness about the future...."
The number of suicides tends to rise with a state's unemployment rate, said Christopher J. Ruhm, an economist at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, who has studied the health effects of recessions. His research suggests that for every one percentage point increase in a state's unemployment rate, the number of suicides increases 1.3%.
I'm reminded of mass suicides in history -- where things get so awful, suicide becomes a preferable route. Consider (as Wikipedia does) Masada and Okinawa:
- The rampart [assault ramp] was complete in the spring of 73, after approximately two to three months of siege, allowing the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress with a battering ram on April 16. When they entered the fortress, however, the Romans discovered that its 960 inhabitants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide rather than face certain capture, defeat, slavery or execution by their enemies.
- With the impending victory of American troops, civilians often committed mass suicide, urged on by the Japanese soldiers who told locals that victorious American soldiers would go on a rampage of killing and raping. Ryukyu Shimpo, one of the two major Okinawan newspapers, wrote in 2007: "There are many Okinawans who have testified that the Japanese Army directed them to commit suicide. There are also people who have testified that they were handed grenades by Japanese soldiers (to blow themselves up)."Some of the civilians, having been induced by Japanese propaganda to believe that U.S. soldiers were barbarians who committed horrible atrocities, killed their families and themselves to avoid capture. Some of them threw themselves and their family members from the cliffs where the Peace Museum now resides.
- Some 92 percent of employees say financial worries are keeping them up at night... Only 8 percent of employees described themselves as “not worried.”
- More than half of U.S. workers said their work atmosphere felt worried due to the economy... Of respondents, 16 percent described their workplace as "panicky....""Workers are shouldering more work due to layoffs, and finding it difficult not to be distracted by future uncertainties," said Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, Chairman and CEO of ComPsych. "We have seen a record number of calls for on-site counselors due to layoffs as well as requests for ongoing stress management counseling."
EAPs can help HR executives design a plan that meets the organization’s objectives while treating employees with compassion, consideration and respect. That plan may include transition tactics, having an EAP counselor on hand to help mitigate the downsizing effort and extending EAP benefits to the departing employees at no cost to them.
In fact, extending your EAP benefits for up to 18 months may be one of the most rewarding tactics you deploy – because it’s extremely cost effective (costing far less than other employee benefits) and helps to resolve potential conflicts before they escalate.
Offering an extended EAP and helping employees understand the value and benefit of it beyond their employment is an important measure that is often overlooked. Not only does the EAP help minimize the risk of employee retaliation by allowing them to “vent” natural emotions like shock, resentment and denial to a trained, qualified third-party source that respects their situation, but it helps them come to terms with the change. The EAP can also help former employees refocus on potential growth opportunities and next steps by guiding them through development of a personal transition plan and providing resources for job searches, retraining and education.
A wonderful idea, especially as this "recession problem" isn't going away soon (some experts predict that the unemployment rate will keep rising until summer 2010). Despite a few promising indicators, there doesn't seem to be any foreseeable relief on the job front. A Nov. 25 story in the Washington Post tells us that
The unemployment rate will remain elevated for years to come, according to a forecast released Tuesday by the Federal Reserve... Top Fed officials expect the unemployment rate to remain in the 6.8 to 7.5 percent range at the end of 2012 and said it could take "about five or six years" from now for economic activity to return to normal.Which raises the critical question: "With such an anemic forecast, what do people have to feel hopeful about?" With dwindling assets and limited options, how long can unemployed folks hold out? Will a call to an EAP or a visit with a counselor save your marriage or your house? What can you realistically expect from employers, mortgage companies, and the government (the same entities that helped get us into this mess)?
The math is simple: The U.S. economy is capable of growing at roughly 2.5 to 3 percent a year, thanks to population growth and technological improvement, and needs to grow faster than that to create large numbers of jobs and significantly improved standards of living.... the five current Fed governors and 12 presidents of regional Fed banks expect growth of 2.5 to 3.5 percent in 2010 -- which would be enough to bring the unemployment rate down only slightly.
"Business contacts reported that they would be cautious in their hiring and would continue to aggressively seek cost savings," said minutes of the Fed policymaking meeting earlier this month, which were released alongside the forecast. The officials "expected that businesses would be able to meet any increases in demand in the near term by raising their employees' hours and boosting productivity, thus delaying the need to add to their payrolls."
Have no fear -- the White House is hosting a "jobs summit." As the Wall Street Journal reports: "Mr. Obama invited business and labor leaders, as well as academics and economists" (all of whom are, presumably, employed).
Democrats in Congress say they hope to pass a bill in coming months aimed at creating jobs. White House aides are being more circumspect. "Hiring often takes time to catch up to economic growth," said Valerie Jarrett, an adviser on business issues to President Barack Obama. "At the same time, there are limits to what government can and should do, even during such difficult times...." Ms. Jarret said the aim is to create "a climate that will spur short-term job creation." Other officials say Mr. Obama is seeking ways to work with the private sector but will offer no concrete proposals at the event.If that doesn't instill confidence, I don't know what does ("limits to what the government can do" -- tell that to the poor sucker facing foreclosure).
So we return to that constant, dispiriting drumbeat: What can people do? Where can they turn?
In this season of thanksgiving, I say "Turn to the bird." Not just any bird -- a heritage turkey.
Heritage turkeys can be differentiated from other domestic turkeys in that they are... raised in a manner that more closely matches the natural behavior and life cycle of wild turkeys [as opposed to their unfortunate "industrial agriculture" cousins].We learn from the Heritage Turkey Foundation that
Most breeds of heritage turkey were developed in the United States and Europe over hundreds of years, and were identified in the American Poultry Association's turkey Standard of Perfection of 1874. These breeds include the Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red, Narragansett, Jersey Buff, Slate, Black Spanish, and White Holland. Later added to the standard were the Royal Palm, White Midget and Beltsville Small White.An article in the New York Times concurs:
Large corporations have dominated turkey production and breeding since the 1960's, choosing the Broad Breasted Whites because of high breast meat production in a short period. But Heritage Breeds have been quietly gaining a renewed market and respect due to their flavor and superior biological diversity.
Although these breeds make up far less than one percent of the 265 million turkeys produced in America... many chefs consider them the best thing to eat on Thanksgiving.I understand: in the turkey world, this holiday is shorthand for slaughter. Like their human counterparts, millions of turkeys are "getting the axe." But if you're going to gorge yourself, why not choose a heritage bird, the "Standard of Perfection"? Go on. Treat yourself. (And don't forget that, albeit temporary, bonus of the post-meal tryptophan trance -- the welcome stupor, the blessed Lethe and Nepenthe where you're blissfully crashed out on the couch, oblivious to setback or sorrow.)
No matter our crushing concerns, Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to recognize, and appreciate, the simple things. Time with family and friends. A savory, bounteous meal. And, by Jove, it helps put things in perspective. If you think you have it bad, just remember: you're luckier than that big bird -- golden, glorious, dead, weighing down the table.