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The Lonely Despair of American Males

The last twenty years has seen a dramatic increase in the suicides of white, middle-aged men in the western half of the United States, primarily in rural areas. Poverty and isolation are key factors, with the quick and easy availability of guns facilitating an irrevocable decision. The Centers for Disease Control recorded 1.4 million total attempts and 47,173 suicides nationally in 2017. White men account for 70 percent of all cases. The highest rates are in Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, New Mexico, Idaho, and Utah.

Dr. Craig Bryan, who studies military and rural suicide at the University of Utah, believes a strong sense of independence and self-reliance is a major cause. “There’s been an increase in the ‘every-man-for-himself mentality.’ There doesn’t seem to be as strong a sense of ‘We’re all in this together.’ It’s much more ‘Hey, don’t infringe upon me. You’re on your own, and let me do my own thing.’”

A major piece on the subject, in a recent issue of Rolling Stone, highlights the rugged individualism of the great author Ernest Hemingway as symbolic of this harmful mind-set. With his romantic accounts of wars, hunting down defenseless elephants, fishing in cold streams, and black coffee and cigarettes consumed around campfires, no writer is more responsible for the adoration of the terse, self-sufficient American man than Hemingway. Then, he hit middle age, when the body tires of sleeping rough. His talents diminished. Hemingway killed himself with a shotgun blast on a July morning in 1961. He was 61. … After his father killed himself in 1928, Hemingway commented, “I’ll probably go the same way.” There were other factors—alcoholism and multiple concussions suffered in various crash landings and mishaps. What really killed Hemingway was one of the things killing American men today: a macho fantasy of a man who needs no one but himself.

Source: Stephen Rodrick, “All-American Despair,” Rolling Stone, (5-30-19)

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