Early every Friday morning I meet a group of my favorite and best friends to run a few miles and then enjoy coffee and conversation. I leave my house around 4:00 a.m. and this Friday was no different except, as I loaded my running gear and work stuff in the car, I heard a distant alarm. “Beep, beep, beep.” At first I thought I imagined it but paused to listen closely. “Beep, beep, beep.” As the alarm continued every few moments, I narrowed it down to either something in a car or one of the houses across the street. I assumed the owner of whatever was alarming was either oblivious or absent. Not wanting to be late, I hopped in my car and headed off to meet my friends promptly forgetting about the alarm.
Despite being very overdressed for conditions, I enjoyed the best 8 miles I’ve run in a long time. We celebrated one of our group member’s birthday and possibly his pending retirement. Then, off to the showers, and work. It was a typical work day where I spent my time on some “important” electronic paper shuffling. All this was followed by another mundane commute. When I got home, Janice had a story to share.
Shortly after 11:00 yesterday morning, the police arrived, kicked in the across-the-street neighbor’s door, and opened the garage. He was laying rather peacefully behind his car on the garage floor. The car engine had run itself out of gas. Over the course of an hour, more police and firemen arrived to air out the house. The coroner came to remove the deceased. All was wrapped up in slightly over an hour. Janice had watched the proceedings from our kitchen window. It is the second time in four years someone on our small street has taken their life in such fashion.
I’m not going to pretend we were close to either neighbor. In fact, we didn’t know the woman down the street at all. We barely knew the gentleman across the street usually only having polite conversation. (I do know his name but leaving it out on purpose.) When a close on-line friend died last year, I mentioned I don’t know a lot about most of my neighbors. It’s a sad fact that most residents of modern suburbia know little to nothing about each other. I am always a little jealous when I drive through Reading and see groups of adults congregating on their porches talking while their children play together. Add a bit of lawn, and we all become hermits. Our relationship with our neighbor was no different. He left early in the morning, came home late at night, and it was rare to see him on the weekend. He didn’t do much lawn care and seldom worked on his house. He often came home on Friday night with a different vehicle (usually a truck or van) and we came to learn that his father was disabled and he took him out every Sunday. He needed a handicap accessible vehicle of some sort for this.
The first thought most of us have in these situations is “If only he’d reached out for help”. Or, “I wish I could have done something”. Well, maybe. This article refers to the United Kingdom but I don’t think it is all that different in the US. Despite more prescriptions for mental health related illnesses than ever in our history, the suicide rate (especially among men) is also the highest it has ever been. Some key facts from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US. (What a gruesome contest).
- In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide.
- In 2017, there were an estimated 1,400,000 suicide attempts.
- Suicide is generally underreported. (Think about that given the numbers shown above.)
- The age-adjusted suicide rate in 2017 was 14.0 per 100,000 individuals.
- The rate of suicide is highest in middle-age white men in particular. (My neighbor qualified.)
- In 2017, men died by suicide 3.54x more often than women.
- On average, there are 129 suicides per day.
- White males accounted for 77.97% of suicide deaths in 2017.
Deaths from suicide like my neighbor often elicit responses like “I don’t know what lead a person to make such a decision”. This is an eerily similar response to unexplainable mass shootings when an otherwise obscure white male is involved. I’m not psychiatrist but I am beginning to believe there are similar root causes with one outcome just more violent than the other. I understand things like gender bias against women, the fight against the glass ceiling, and the long history of worldwide racism. But clearly as a society we are missing something that men (especially middle-aged white men) feel that their only option is death.
I’m still in my pajamas typing this and just stepped out to the kitchen to fill my coffee cup. The windows across the street are dark and will remain so for quite a while. I know now that the alarm I heard yesterday morning was the CO detector in my neighbor’s house and that it was triggered by hours of car exhaust seeping through the door. I’m confident that nothing would be different today had I investigated the source but in the future, no matter what, I will take time to do just that. In the meantime, I hope to get to know my neighbors a little better. Maybe they need someone to talk to now and then.