From an outward appearance the last man in the world I would associate with suicide was Robin Williams. As someone who watched his movies, his television appearances and of course Mork and Mindy it seemed the comedian would sail through life on a laugh and a quip. But, we had no idea what was going on in the mind of Mr. Williams as his career was rolling towards the finish line. The talk in the news now is that he was depressed, fighting addiction, embarrassed by the failure of his last television project and facing financial problems. This is a deadly mix for anyone to face but it seems from recent studies that it is a particular bad mix for middle age and older white males.
A recent article in the Washington Post noted, “if you tried to create a profile of someone at high risk of committing suicide, one likely example would look like this: A middle-aged or older white male toward the end of a successful career, who suffers from a serious medical problem as well as chronic depression and substance abuse, who recently completed treatment for either or both these psychological conditions and who is going through a difficult period, personally or professionally.”
There is little doubt that profile fit Robin Williams perfectly but it seems it fits a lot of other white males as well. The suicide rate amongst white males who fall into that category is a whopping 32 per hundred thousand. There are a lot of emotional reasons that white men in that category have such a high suicide rate. Men have often related to success in financial terms, and when they run into financial problems or stop earning they can feel as if they have failed.
Men are also more independent and less willing to talk about their problems than women so they keep the emotions inside and are prone to seek escape in alcohol, drugs or affairs. There is also a built in defensive mechanism in men who fit the profile that they have succeeded up to now on their own talents and abilities and they can work these setbacks on their own.
Nadine Kaslow, a psychology professor and vice-chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine notes that as men look back on their lives, they become more reflective, asking themselves whether they focused on what really mattered to them, and what they are going to do next. She states that men ask themselves, “has the career been worth it, or did I sacrifice my family……I think that is part of what happens for people.”
As I read the article from the Washington Post I decided to write about middle-aged men and suicide because of Dr. Kaslow’s observation that men begin to wonder if their life ambitions and sacrifices have all been worth it compared to the losses of family time, vacations and the joy of living.
As Christians we understand that there is much more to life than simply having toys and accumulating things. We realize that spending our lives trying to achieve stardom, fame and fortune are simply a drain upon the joys that we may have with our families and getting to understand and know God better.
At the end of the day a Christian man or woman can look back and say “yes my life has been a success and a joy even though I may not have had as much as other people, because I have a love for God and know I am going into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
I think each of us, as we see our lives winding down and careers coming to an end, have a sense of loss and meditate from time to time on what we could have done different. But, as Christians we have assurance that as this chapter in our life closes, new chapters open with new adventures and new futures.
In the Bible study groups I attend a high percentage of us are retired but from the conversations, ambitions and dedication to family and God you would never think it. Everyone is constantly busy and filled with expectations of how God will use us in ministry in the community. None of us in the group could be called rich financially but we are all rich spiritually because we know that we have lived our lives, with all its ups and downs, to the best of our ability. We have all stumbled and fallen many times on our spiritual journey but God has picked us up without any condemnation and led us onward. We have put our trust in Him even though there have been times in our lives when it seemed we were alone with our pain and sorrow.
I guess what I am saying in this post is that when we walk with God, regardless of how difficult life becomes, we have assurance that we are never alone or abandoned. We know where we have come from and where we are going. The journey is not always easy or what we would want at times, but it is our journey and as long as we allow God to lead and direct our life we live within the shelter of His love and promises.
Robin Williams lost his life because life became overwhelming for him and depression and despair stole it away from him. Our prayers and thoughts go out to his family and the struggles they now must face at the loss of their loved one.