PORTLAND — Perhaps no generation in American history came into existence with more hope and optimism for its future than the baby boomers.
Fueled by a post-world war economic boom, a penchant for social experimentation and radical change and sheer numbers, boomers were ready and willing to change the world — for the better.
Now, they are committing suicide in record numbers.
A recent report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the number of middle-aged Americans killing themselves has risen substantially since 1999.
Annual suicide rates for this group (ages 35 to 64) increased nearly 30 percent, with the most pronounced increases among men in their 50s, whose suicide rates jumped by nearly 50 percent.
Historically, there always is a rise in suicides during economic downturns, and this group is right in the sweet spot of its career arc, with many in their peak earning years; others were looking forward to a comfortable retirement.
The financial implosion that we are still climbing out of has eliminated hundreds of thousands of jobs and decimated the retirement savings of countless older boomers. Many have had to postpone their retirement indefinitely.
Men and women who lost good-paying career positions find themselves in an overheated job market competing for lower-paying, lower-status jobs — jobs they can’t get because they are overqualified or considered “too mature.”
Many others are caught in the squeeze of caring for aging parents while still providing financial support for their own adult children who are having difficulties entering the job market and are often still living at home with their parents.
Less tangible, but no less impactful, are the psychological factors attached to this demographic cohort. A psychiatrist quoted in a recent New York Times article said, “The boomers had great expectations for what their life might look like, but I think perhaps it hasn’t panned out that way.”
Then there are the thousands of veterans, younger men and women, who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and who are also killing themselves in record numbers.
We learned not so long ago that the U.S. military was losing more troops to suicide than to combat.
Most suicides are committed using firearms, but there has been a marked increase in poisoning deaths.
Many of these deaths are likely caused by intentional overdoses of prescription drugs, reflecting the widespread availability of OxyContin and other opioid drugs, which are deadly in large doses.
These disturbing numbers and trends exist right here in Maine; but there is hope — real hope.
Because no matter what these sufferers are going through, no matter how painful, depressing and bleak their lives may now seem, there are places close by that can help them, places that can save their lives and help them get back on track — community mental health centers.
A PLACE TO GO
These organizations offer fast, convenient counseling, case management and psychiatric services through their crisis response centers and clinics.
Many of these organizations provide open access, so that people can simply walk through the doors during regular business hours and start getting the help they need.
We represent three of the largest community mental health centers in Maine, and serve a combined total of nearly 25,000 Maine residents annually.
Our counseling organizations are part of a network of mental health providers dedicated to providing comprehensive, integrated mental health care to those who need it most.
There are people in our community who feel as though there is nothing left to live for. If you or someone you know needs some extra help getting through these difficult times, please know that there are many organizations in the community available to help.
We’re here if you need us.
Mary Jane Krebs is CEO of Community Counseling Center, and Jeannine Leptire is CEO of Counseling Services Inc. and Mid-Coast Mental Health Center.
– Special to the Telegram