Are middle-aged men an endangered species?
Two years ago, my good friend Joe, 62, went to his regularly scheduled meeting with the accounting officer in his firm. Joe was shocked when he saw his boss sitting with the financial guy. He was thanked for his years of service as Vice-President of Sales, given a severance package, a box to pack up his things, and was sent on his way. Joe was in shock for weeks. He had been a stellar producer for years. In these last two years, Joe has been unable to find a job at the same level. Who wants to hire a 64-year-old mid-level manager?
Tim, in his early 60’s lost his job as Director of Public Relations for a big museum. Five years earlier he had been let go as Public Relations manager of a college. They decided to outsource their PR work. Today, he is working part-time as a contract worker, without benefits, for a small museum at half the pay.
During the recession of 2007-2009, this was a common story for middle-aged men. A survey in 2015 conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that Joe and Tim’s story was increasingly common. Forty-five percent of job seekers who were 55+ had been unemployed longer than 27 weeks. One-fifth had two stints of unemployment during a 5-year period before the survey. Close to 60% of long-term unemployed older workers found jobs that paid less than their previous employment.
But there is another dark side to this story. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) between 1999-2010, the suicide rate for middle-aged men increased by over 50%. This is a startling and unexpected increase in deaths by suicide. In 2014, there were more deaths by suicide than by automobile accidents. At the same time, there have been disturbing increases in deaths from overdoses of painkillers and the chronic liver disease that excessive drinking can cause. Furthermore, during 2000-2010 the rate of adults applying for disability doubled. These trends are alarming.
We can only speculate on the relationship between dashed economic dreams and depression.
I have seen many men in this situation in the last five years in my office. They were discouraged, angry, and sad. Some were able to find jobs, some retired, although they didn’t want to, and some fell into a disabling deep depression from which they didn’t recover.
Studies have shown that about 16% of the United States population will meet the criteria for major depression in any given year. Women are diagnosed with depression twice as often as men. But a recent study in the Journal Of the American Medical Association Psychiatry (2013) suggests that men were diagnosed less frequently than women because of gender differences in the way they exhibited depression. Men are less likely to report symptoms such as sadness, tearfulness, or loss of interest in pleasurable activities. However, males may be more likely to drink, take drugs, become irritable or angry, experience sleep problems or engage in risk-taking behavior.
What does all of this mean? Men may be at greater risk because they are less likely to be diagnosed with depression or admit that they are depressed. Undiagnosed depression increased anger and irritability, combined with the greater likelihood of risk-taking behavior and drug or alcohol use can be a lethal combination.
So what can we do?
- It’s important for family members and friends to be on the lookout for symptoms that may suggest depression in men. Try to engage them in a dialogue about what they are feeling and thinking and strongly encourage them to go see their primary care provider. This may take some time. Be patient and persistent.