Monday, October 4, 2010

Suicide and Generation X - The Association Management HR Dilemma

I never realized I was spread too thin
'Til it was too late and I was empty within....
Cuz I'm losing my sight
Losing my mind
Wish somebody would tell me I'm fine
Losing my sight
Losing my mind
Wish somebody would tell me I'm fine
Nothing's all right
Nothing is fine
I'm running and I'm crying.....Last Resort, Papa Roach

The Short of It
  • Generation X has a long history with suicide
  • What's new is historically the elderly have held the top slot - but we just passed them up
  • Our suicide rate is skyrocketing along with our early-Boomer brothers and sisters
  • 43% of documented suicides in the US in 2007 were between 35 and 54 years of age
  • 11% were attributed to job related stressors
  • Expectations are this trend will increase over the next few years
  • And directly affect human resources for the next decade

The Long of It

This paragraph from the Centers for Disease Control report says it all:

"Suicide rates were higher among males than among females, AI/ANs, and non-Hispanic whites than among non-Hispanic blacks, and highest among persons aged 45--54 years. Persons aged ≥80 years have typically had the highest rates of suicide in the United States. However, in 2006, rates of suicide among persons aged 45--54 years in the United States surpassed those for persons aged ≥80 years. Problems related to mental health, jobs, finances, or relationships might have contributed to the high rates of suicide in this age group."

Human resources professionals need to ensure they are in a position to deal with the coming wave of issues related to suicide. 2006 was a bad year for Generation X/early boomer 40-somethings and all indications are suicide rates from 2008 to current will be even higher. Some of these folks are your senior managers and their loss, with the economic and psychological toll that takes on the workplace, must be directly addressed.

Generation X in particular has a long history with suicide. Many of us have lost friends along the way (and no, it wasn't because we were listening to Judas Priest). With each new incident we would recoil in horror while at the same time hearing a small voice sighing quietly in the back of our minds whispering the slightest frightening admission that we, on some level, understood "why" all too well.

Let's do some really unscientific (but potentially illuminating) math.

I don't mean to sound like I am painting with a naively simple brush, but I believe a mathematic case can be made that family situations were somewhat less complex in the past than today (although still emotionally draining). Most of the time, although certainly not in all cases, one parent was usually in the position to help the other parent face the end of life with the kids playing a more minor support role, and then the kids were left with giving primary support to the remaining parent until that remaining parent passed on.


2 (1 primary couple - gay, straight or otherwise who support each other)
+2 (2 parents each - 1 parent helps other parent with aging, then primary couple fully supports remaining parent. This generation serves as grandparents for the primary couple's children. Brothers and sisters negotiate details amongst themselves.)
+3 (3 children for primary couple)
-3 (Those children were born in the primary couple's late teens-early 20s so they are adults and self-sufficient)

4 people in the immediate family to directly support during 35-54 years of age.

Flash forward.

The skyrocketing divorce rate in the 1970s and the advent of birth control created a co-hort where the children available in Generation X to offer support to their parents are half as large as the sheer number of people requiring support. Early Boomers and Gen Xers had children later in life than their parents. The damage we dealt with in our childhood and early teenage years has continued unabated. Does any of the following sound familiar?

2 (1 primary couple - gay, straight or otherwise)
+4 (2 parents each but those parents are divorced and not helping each other, so they lean on the kids)
+4 (Stepparents who are aging as well and which potentially come with step-brothers/sisters to interface with. Although some are supporting their new spouses and doing a good job, there are those situations where the actual parent depends more on the child whom they have known for, in some cases, a much greater length of time than their new spouse.)
+8 (Your own divorces leave you with potentially 4 sets of ex-in-law grandparents who interact with your children because your ex's may have had divorced parents as well)
+4 (Amount of children in new blended families - your two with your ex plus your new spouses two who spend an undetermined amount of time with either parent and because you all postponed having kids until your late 20s they are all still home!)
+2 (Increase in longevity actually has great-grandparents and grand-parents still in the mix and sometimes your aging parents can't provide full support so you get to do that too)

24+ people in the immediate family and ex-immediate-family to support, or at the very least interface with, during this time of life!

Now, some of us have friends who are starting to become ill, fight battles with cancer and face other health issues. Or even ourselves. In some cases, we are dying before the people we are supporting are. Newsweek had a great article recently on this very topic The Caregiver Boomerang.

Don't misunderstand - I have no "family values" drum to beat. I believe family complexity, like workplace and societal complexity, is a simple fact of life not an "evil" thing that must be railed against. Although I realize the scenarios above aren't scientific in nature, I encourage you to take a moment to do the math in your own immediate family. On the average, I bet you come up with a pretty staggering number of people who depend on you for direct emotional (and sometimes financial) support.

Let's add those stress factors to the recession and the new effects of the decades long military conflicts we have waged and see how they are bringing us to the brink.  Slackonomics points out, and rightly so, that recession has defined us. For so long we've been scrambling up the gravel hill and this latest setback is another crushing blow (if not wholly unanticipated). In addition to the chaotic environment of aging and death, we have jobs, pets, kids, advancing technology to learn about and cope with and some expectation of retiring and living in something other than a tent eating cat food.

It is a whirlwind of activity with life/death and otherwise decisions being thrust upon us. And our own fears of getting older overwhelm us in the quiet hours after Jon Stewart's Daily Show has offered us 30 minutes of blessed relief in the bitter cynicism and edgy humor we have aged like a fine, red wine.

Is it any wonder we are on the edge?

And here is where workplace clashes become amplified. Human resources and executive leadership must take note of positive changes that can be made in the workplace to help mitigate some of these circumstances.

Your Gen X Employees Think Differently. In the current moment, the way we live and interact in our familial units has a direct impact on how we behave in the workplace. Entire concepts of "leadership," decision making and support has morphed radically from past models. Time compression added to task explosion with most of the primary couples in question both holding down jobs in addition to everything else, forces us to think differently.

Gen X Employees Collaborate and Experiment Routinely. We routinely collaborate with other parents, teachers, caregivers, doctors, nurses, therapists, frantically conducting research online when we think the doctors are not helping, grasping for answers and input from our friends. We build models and test them. We experiment with dosages and combinations of medicines to outwit side effects. We routinely doubt what we are being told and work to draw more accurate conclusions.

Gen X Employees Don't Lead, They Facilitate. We run interference and facilitate discussions between parents who don't want to give up control and a medical system that is all too happy to shove them out the doors. We counsel teenagers trying to get into college, trying to get into the workforce, trying to get their drivers licenses. (Most of the time we just throw fistfuls of condoms at them and hope for the best.) We don't lead because we've moved to facilitation which is where we intend to stay. It's a skill set more suited to the complexity of the environment we live in.

Gen X Employees Need Autonomy. Cut the slackers some slack and stop telling us what to do every minute of the workday. I'm making a decision about where my parents should spend the rest of their lives, and you can't trust me with a fax sheet layout without getting approval from marketing? Right. We are tired and we are surprised at how tired we are. Get off our backs about dress codes and meaningless minutiae. Some of us won't acquiesce to your culture, some of us will leave it. And some of us will leave it permanently.

If you are on the edge, get help. If you know someone who is - take action. If you can make positive changes in your workplace philosophy and policy - do it.

Provide assistance.
Take it seriously.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline -
SAVE - Suicide Awareness Voices for Education -
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention -

Cut my life into pieces
This is my last resort
Suffocation, no breathing
Don't give a f^*# if I cut my arms bleeding....

Here's the link to the video if you can't see it.


  1. I've actually spent the last week thinking off and on about the realities of our exponentially increasing dependents! It's staggering!

  2. I can really relate to that. When we all slow down for just a minute and contemplate the reality it's pretty surreal. The most important thing is to put coping mechanisms in place to ensure we have the energy, strength and health to be able to sustain our involvement without damaging ourselves.

    Take care and thanks for commenting,


  3. Our generation was never a happy one. I always felt like we were the most hated.

  4. It certainly felt like it....still feels a little like it sometimes...but we all have each other :D....

    1. No. We don't all have each other.

    2. That comment makes me sad. My sincere hope is that you do find friends and support...if there is anything I can do let me know...thanks for reading...

  5. Our Generation is Basically the Unwanted Latch Key Kids that Boomers want to keep parenting in the Workplace, while the Millenials see us as an Eskimo To Put on the Iceberg via HR in the Workforce to get the Carclub hired.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.