Suicide and the Corporate World

I was looking up the American Federation for Suicide Prevention the other day (no, nothing personal; just curiosity). At the top of the page it urges “Demand More for Mental Health!”

You know, I’ve often wondered: since mental health became a wide-spread industry back in the early-mid twentieth century, have suicide rates increased or decreased? And have people in nations where mental health is a major factor generally become happier, healthier, and better adjusted?

Not that psychology is necessarily to blame for that, of course. It might be that the discipline prevented the effects from being even worse. Just that it seems to me that this whole situation is beginning to look rather absurd. Rather like British gun control, then knife control; violence keeps rising, and they try to put legal band aid after band aid on it, ignoring the increasingly blatant fact that “you know, we didn’t used to have to do this, and it doesn’t seem to be working very well anyway.”

Personally, despite suffering depression, I’ve never been suicidal. But I will say that a year or so back in the corporate world makes me feel more understanding toward those who are.

In particular, consider the fact that so many people have, as their main occupation in life, driving to a hideous building five days a week to sit down in front of an electronic device for eight hours, trying to figure out ways to make an imaginary person (a corporation) a little richer today than it was yesterday. The work they do in this regard very rarely has any kind of permanent or intrinsic value (e.g. software – making electronic logic gates produce an intended result – is about ephemeral as it gets, especially as the vast majority of software jobs are just managing the endless bloat and maintenance the comes with the technology). No essential elements of their personalities are brought to bear – sex, religion, family, race, nationality – or allowed to be relevant except insofar as they can allow the corporation to preen itself (“we are proud of our diverse workforce”). Suicide rates are highest among middle-aged white men, by the way; just another example of the glorious privilege enjoyed by that demographic (and men kill themselves close to four-times the rate of women).

The employee must obey arbitrary and stupid commands, as he has probably done all his life (trained to do so in school), and probably won’t be staying there more than a couple years; certainly can’t count on doing so. His paycheck goes chiefly to an ever-rising cost of living (including the cost of driving to and from work, which may devour another hour or more of his day), creating the ever present fear of what may happen if he loses his job, or if inflation and gas prices continue to rise. Most likely, what drives him back to his job or to seek another job in the same field again and again is not any kind of love or investment in what he does, nor a sense of its value, but simply fear of the alternative; the endless bills to be paid without a reliable paycheck.

That is, of course, not even considering the fact that he is very likely already operating under crushing debt for a completely useless piece of paper that he was pressured into buying as a young man by people who were supposed to be giving him good advice.

The loss of purpose and identity, the sense of helplessness and hopelessness, the omnipresent fear, all bundled up in the patently meaningless and empty nature of so much corporate work, that, it seems to me would be more than enough to drive an ordinary man to question his own existence, especially if he has no faith to sustain him.

Factor in the prevalence of divorce and the tendency of courts to favor the woman at all costs in the proceedings, and of course the omnipresent message of how white men are the scum of the earth, and there’s even less wonder in the matter. Particularly when most of what is listed above is presented with a proud smile and the label “freedom” and “progress”.

Because nothing makes an already-miserable situation worse quite like being told how happy you should be about it by people who have the power to punish you for expressing otherwise.

(Of course, one of the problems with bringing all this up about the corporate world is that people are so liable to jump to the conclusion that the alternative is some form of Marxism. Because as you know, if corporate entities have too much power and are miserable places to work, the solution is to consolidate everything under a single corporate entity, give it as much power as possible, and call it ‘the state’. That’ll fix everything. But the binary thinking of the American mind is a subject unto itself.)

If I could offer a solution (as far as the corporate aspect is concerned), it would be to bring back a situation where small and individually-run enterprises were more the norm, thereby restoring a greater sense of autonomy, purpose, and identity. Though that itself requires a host of legal and societal changes to be practical. We’ve woven ourselves into a Gordian knot of a web, one that benefits all or most of our decision makers, and there are not going to be any quick or easy solutions (Well, actually there may be one simple, relatively easy solution, which wouldn’t fix everything but would certainly help, but I’ll deal with that in another post).

The AFSP had (what seemed to me) a rather quaintly naïve (or desperately helpless) plan to reduce suicide 20% by 2025, which, like most such plans, seems to amount mostly to “do what we’re doing, but more of it,” all couched in typical buzzword language full of ‘targeted initiatives’ and so forth. Starting out with, “Increase public and private investment in promising research that will have the most positive impact”. Science and money will save us! Of course, you can’t know what research will have the most positive impact until after it’s funded, but, you know.

(Also, what the hell do they plan to do if the research comes up with something along the lines of “stop flaunting the reality of human sexuality”? Not that I for a moment expect that any research organization would dare say such a thing, whatever their findings. The point is, simply knowing what the problem is may not make much of a practical difference).

Not that I mean to disparage their efforts: it’s good that they’re trying and I wish them every success. But I’m as skeptical of their efforts as I am of most such efforts to try to keep one particular building from burning down while everyone is eagerly hurling incendiary bombs into the street. Frankly, reading between the lines, it seems clear to me that they have no idea what to do and just hope that more and better people and more and better research will somehow give them a lead. But as I say, I think the problem is fundamentally societal, a matter of our civilization’s structure and worldview.

In the meantime, all we can do is our best to be kind to the people in our lives who may be suffering from all of this. In particular, for God’s sakes, don’t go telling them how horrible and privileged they are while their souls are being crushed by meaningless drudgery day after day. Try to make them feel like they’re appreciated, and more than that, that there may be hope of something better in the future.

There are, of course, other options, but I don’t feel like I should recommend them until or unless I can make up my mind to them myself.

I honestly felt a little uncertain about posting this, because it felt a little like I was piling up reasons for hopelessness. But then, not being able to express pain and frustration is yet another dangerous trend; being forbidden by convention from saying what you really think because ‘you’re being negative’ or ‘just complaining’. So, I decided to let it rip in the hopes that it would be cathartic for others as well as myself.

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