Baby Boomers and the Rise in Depression

Depression is a difficult topic to address. Not everyone agrees on the cause of depression, which is part of the conundrum. Some experts point to environmental and dietary catalysts while others believe chemical imbalances in the brain are the culprits. And some specialists believe it’s a combination of the two. Though there are a ton of theories on why mental illness occurs, the one thing specialists in the field tend to agree on is it is very much a disease and of no fault of the victim. This is an important distinction to make because we are finally in a generation where people are speaking out about their own battles with depression. It is no longer viewed as taboo or victimizing.

Depending on what bible of health and medicine you prescribe to, many believe there is a rise in depression and anxiety in recent decades. Some point fingers at “Big Pharma”, claiming prescription drugs and over-diagnoses are the reason there seems to be a spike in mental disease. Others claim mental illnesses have always been around –the medical community has just gotten better at recognizing the red flags and finding solutions, accordingly. But this article is not a comparison between eastern and western medical practices nor is it a critique of how we solve the mental health crisis. This article is about a group of people that are at a particularly high risk of suffering but are in the lowest bracket that take ownership of the problem and seek help.

That group is the male baby boomers. The World Health Organization estimates that roughly 350 million people world-wide suffer from some sort of mental depression. While it is hard to put an exact number on how many of those are of the 45-65 age group, we know it’s a startling high number. Since 2007, baby boomers have had the highest rate of suicide of any age group in the United States which is particularly alarming because, prior to that, they were in a historically low bracket. To put that number into perspective, the New York Times published an article claiming more people in the middle-age group die from suicide than car accidents and those numbers have risen every year since. These claims are backed by the Daily Mail (among multiple other news outlets) that not only show a staggering rate of baby boomers dealing with depression, but also committing suicide and this isn’t necessarily because men suffer more than women or younger people. The propensity to be a victim is about the same. The problem is far more complex and multi-layered.

For starters, men are more likely than women to view depression as a weakness. This is why when you look at the statistics, it appears that women are far more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety but that isn’t necessarily true. Women are simply more likely to report issues, probably because society seems to allow the females for leeway to be vulnerable. Concurrently, middle-aged men come from a generation where mental illness was never talked about. Not only was it less studied in the 1950’s and 60’s, it wasn’t accepted as a legitimate disease. If a man was mentally or emotionally suffering, the attitude was “suck it up.”

Now that we know so much more about mental illness, our society has become much more accepting and understanding of people who have been victimized by its grip. But the older generation never quite caught up with this new movement. Plus, the mental health community tends to focus their attention on millennials and kids, so there is an entire generation that has been overlooked.

Why are the numbers climbing for the baby boomer generation? Experts suggest prescription abuse, economic hardships, insurance plans (particularly Medicare) that rarely cover psychiatrist, and a lack of good diet practices and exercise cumulate to a recipe for disaster. Plus, there is simply more of them than any other age group.

Then there is the mind-boggling fact that men are four times more likely to commit suicide than their lady counterpart. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 79 percent of suicides are carried out by men. This isn’t to suggest all people that suffer from depression kill themselves –ultimately, it’s a fairly low number when compared to the number of people that have suffered from the disease. But any death or suffering that can be prevented should be and the first step is to ask for help. It doesn’t make you weak or alone and there are a multitude of resources and treatments that can help you live a happy, normal life.

If you are suffering from depression, anxiety, and/or thoughts of suicide, here are some resources:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline