I send up my S.O.S.
A message in a bottle set out to sea
It just reads “Soul in distress”
But nobody ever got back to me
Can you hear me now

[Can you hear me now – Emmylou Harris]

Four people were found dead in an Illinois house just before Thanksgiving, and the deaths are being labeled a murder/suicide.  Despite the grim nature of the story I had to read the article- sure I would see that the father (who apparently killed his wife and sons and then committed suicide) had recently lost his job.  The article didn’t say but I would not be surprised if that comes out in a later article.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  

According to an article on CBSNews.com job loss not only affects individuals financially – it can affect their mental health as well.  Yeah, well duh.

Over the past 9 or 10 months the Labor Department has regularly reported that the number of Americans who are unemployed is at a record high. Those who have lost their jobs not only worry about money or paying their mortgage, but also their families and how society views them. With all this stress, unemployed folks can end up depressed and lonely as they try to fill the void.

“Spouses are fighting more often, people may turn to drugs or alcohol, smoking, overeating,” says Dr.  Sudeepta Varma , psychiatrist at New York University Medical Center. “Losing the job… isn’t so much the problem, but the anxiety and the depression and the substance abuse [that can follow]… are often extremely more damaging than the job loss.”

Historically, the suicide rate follows the unemployment rate; Dr. Varma says that suicide rates do tend to go up during times of economic crisis.  So far the link between the economy and rising suicides is only anecdotal since there is generally a two-year lag in national suicide figures.  But browse the headlines over the past year or so and you’ll find stories like the laid off 55-year-old Petaluma building official who killed himself, the 90-year-old Ohio widow who shot herself as authorities arrived to evict her from her home, and most notably for the sorrow and horror it provokes, the Los Angeles man who killed his five children and their mother, and then took his own life after he and his wife lost their jobs.  

According to an article titled ‘Economic Crisis is Getting Bloody’ , which details recent mass killings related to job and home loss as well as suicides, the Elkhart, Indiana coroner estimates that a quarter of the suicides in that town (22 so far this year)  are directly related to the economy.  Elkhart had an unemployment rate of 15% in September 2009. 

Many mental-health crisis and suicide hotlines are reporting a surge in calls from Americans feeling despair over financial losses and the  only up spin on that is that people are seeking help and so may not join the suicide statistics or grisly headlines. 

It’s hard to know where to turn when you suffer setbacks like the loss of your job or home.  Or both. Former colleagues, relieved to have escaped the scythe of unemployment, retreat.  Friends commiserate but are busy with their own working lives and grow weary of hearing of your plight. Social services are a confusing warren of crowded and seemingly unconnected offices requiring similar (but never the same) stacks of paperwork and manned by unsympathetic and overworked staff.  Forms filled out disappear with a ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’ rejoinder.

It’s easy to become depressed, feel powerless, lost and lonely.  Your actions seem futile and you are overcome by a lassitude. You lie awake nights agonizing over dwindling bank accounts and mounting bills.  Or you self medicate so that you don’t lie awake once again dwelling on all those things that you seem to have no control over.  Stress has corrosive effect on happiness and joy dissipates in the face of constant anxiety.

As months of fruitless job searches pass by it’s hard to maintain hope.  And without hope you are left with all those other inhabitants of Pandora’s Box as your companions on the slippery slope.

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