This past Thursday, I attended the funeral of my 54-year-old cousin. This marks the second apparent suicide in my direct family in the past three years. Perhaps now you see why "midlife crisis" is a serious subject for me.
There have been a number of studies on boomer suicide that seek to explain why we continue to kill ourselves at an ever-increasing rate. Some say it is the "period effect," blaming the historical and cultural experiences we share as a generation. The "cohort effect" theorizes that being born into the largest age cohort in American history created unbearable competition for limited resources, including jobs.
Then there are the facts: Boomers share higher depression and substance abuse rates than any previous American generation. Could it be that we did not face the kind of adversity growing up that creates successful coping skills? Were we raised to be too optimistic, and now find we cannot deal with how it all turned out?
Beyond all of the mythology around boomers, the fact is we now face extreme wage inequality, and the highest level of poverty since the generation born before World War I. We also face ever-increasing personal debt. In 1965, the ratio of household debt to income was 60%. In 2012, that ratio had risen to 163%.
We may have been born at the high point of American optimism, but that has vanished. Some say we have witnessed the death of the American dream. Most grew up with high expectations for their lives, but now, as they reassess where they have been and where they hope to go, most must admit that this is as good as it gets. We will never be richer or younger than we are right now.
I only know that I tire of so much misinformation about boomers and their lives. I have had enough personal experience with midlife depression to now feel determined to do what I can to alleviate some of the suffering, and this terrible waste of human potential. Through my research, I have learned just how normal and natural it is to feel disillusioned in midlife, as we discover that our lives will not turn out as previously planned. What is the best way to cope with these feelings of hopelessness?
The disappearance of my own brother after watching his slow descent into a profound, private despair caused me to seek a deeper understanding of the reasons why midlife suicides continue to rise. I share what I learned about boomer psychology, midlife despair and how to change your midlife for the better, in my new book: Find Your Reason to be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife.