Job Loss and Economic Catastrophe Fueling Suicides & Murder
Experts say economic downturns generate domestic violence and the current economic catastrophe is living up to its mark. A tragic alleged murder-suicide in California is generating outrage, after a husband and wife lost their jobs as medical technicians and allegedly decided to kill themselves and their children.
News reports say the man reportedly faxed a suicide not to a local news station, claiming he and his wife decided to kill themselves after both lost their jobs as medical technicians. According to the BBC, the fax said, "We have no job and five children under eight years old with no place to go. So here we are.”
What confuses many is why this happened, in an age of unemployment insurance, food stamps, public assistance and food pantries.
The mayor of Los Angeles told reporters, that,
According to many reports the man who committed this crime recently lost his job and allowed the desperation to put him over the edge. Unfortunately, this has become an all too common story in the last few months but that does not, and should not, lead people to resort to extreme measures. Help is available. Resources exist. the mayor said. (BBC)
In early January, a Canadian family died, allegedly as a result of a murder-suicide, after the wife lost her job at a local shopping mall. The wife survived and faces charges.
The three children appear to have been strangled or poisoned, police said, adding there is enough evidence to pursue first-degree murder charges against [the wife]. (UPI, “Four slain in family suicide pact”) Canadian researchers note a strong relationship between job loss and addiction as well. Researchers have discovered that although Western society is accustomed to job loss as an integral part of our economic system, the shame and stigma of losing one’s job generates guilt, blame and stress, creating risk factors for substance abuse as well. But even though unemployment is an ongoing issue in our society, the shame associated with job loss and the tendency for people to blame themselves for their unemployment continue to increase the population's vulnerability to mental health and substance use problems. (http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/publications/factsheets/unemployment)
And it’s just more than a job that is lost. So much of a person’s self-worth is connected with his or her job that losing a job may be catastrophic to mental health. Job loss generates other losses, which may include:
· daily structures that provide a sense of coherence
· camaraderie at work
· income and access to opportunities offered through the workplace (e.g. networking with colleagues, promotions, transfers, etc.)
· self-worth and sense of purpose
· peace of mind and feeling of security
· social status, identity, status within the family
Researchers note that job are such a part of our identity, such an integral part of who we are, that when people lose jobs, it is often an “industrial death sentence’, completed by suicide.
One man who allegedly killed his coworkers and committed suicide more than a year after losing his job called his firing an “economic lynching.” (Jeanne M. Brett and Fritz Drasco, Eds. The Psychology of Work)
According to a county health department in Washington state, indications of a suicidal mind-set include:
· Comments like:
”I’d be better off dead,” “I can’t take it anymore,” “Life isn’t worth living,” “I just want to end it all,” “I just want the pain to stop.”
· A strong wish to die, having a preoccupation with death.
Signs of depression such as moodiness, hopelessness or withdrawal.
· Sleeping more or trouble sleeping.
· Loss of a loved one, job, home, significant other, etc.
· Anniversary of an event (death of a spouse, family member or close friend, divorce, prior suicide attempt, job loss etc.).
· Giving away prized possessions or writing a will.
· Sudden lift in spirits after a period of depression (it may be a signal that a decision has been made about how to suicide).
· Suicide plan – the person has a plan of how they will kill themselves.
· Family history of suicide or depression.
· Increase drug and/or alcohol use.
· Withdrawal from friends and family.
· Doesn’t seem to care about anything at all.
The current economic downturn is part of a long-standing contribution to suicide, as debt generates depression and other mental health issues. Despite available resources, some people can become so despondent, that suicide seems their only relief.
Daniel J. Reidenberg, a psychologist and executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), says, "When someone is suffering from depression, their brain doesn't think logically or rationally, so they're not able to consider options. They're not able to find resources. They're not able to get out of bed let alone make a phone call. They can't take care of themselves; depression literally takes over their life." (http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/debt-depression-and-suicide-1264.php)
USA Today is reporting that crisis hotlines are seeing an increase in suicide calls:
It's unknown if the economic meltdown will lead to more suicides, says Lanny Berman, executive director of the Washington-based American Association of Suicidology. "Maybe the fact that so many are calling is a positive sign. They're seeking help." (USA Today, 1-11-09)
Mental health professionals are concerned because, Berman says, “… the unemployed have two to four times the suicide rate of employed adults.” (Ibid) Job loss and foreclosure are reportedly fueling a major increase in suicide prevention phone lines nationwide.