‘What if people found out?’ On the White Male Suicide Epidemic

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At Rolling Stone, Stephen Rodrick reports on the “middle-aged white-male suicide epidemic” in America. He blames a lack of mental health facilities, easy access to guns, and jobs like truck driving that take men away from their families, fueling a sense of isolation. Then there’s the “cowboy complex” that prevents men from not only from seeking help but acknowledging that their pain even exists.

It’s easy to bash white middled-aged men in America. As a member of that privileged group, I’ll admit that much of the bashing has been warranted: No group in the history of the world has been given and squandered more than the white man. Yet the American white man is responsible for enough suicides annually that Madison Square Garden could not hold all the victims. And no matter how privileged, that’s somebody’s dad, someone’s friend, someone’s brother and someone’s husband.

Back in Cheyenne, Brand was still talking gun locks when a man took a seat in the corner. He looked 50, was slender, and wore studious glasses, running shoes and a hoodie. He sat quietly for a while as Brand talked about the dearth of mental-health facilities in Wyoming. The most comprehensive mental-health hospital is on the far edge of the giant state, in Evanston, five hours from Cheyenne, Laramie and Casper. A 2018 study revealed that 65 percent of non-metropolitan counties in America have no psychiatrists. (Wyoming veterans in need of help Skype with a revolving door of therapists in Salt Lake City.)

For the first time, the man in the corner spoke up. “I can tell you about that place,” said the man. “I spent 72 hours there, then they called my sister, gave me no referrals.” (The Cheyenne Regional Medical Center responded: “All inpatients from our behavioral-health unit are scheduled at the time of discharge to see a psychiatrist within two business days of being discharged.” The CRMC also said patients are referred to a community mental-health center that operates on a sliding-fee scale.) He took off his glasses and wiped them carefully. “I got home and went back to the fetal position for a week.”

The room went quiet. Another man began talking in a fast, clipped pace. He began spilling out that he often felt the same way, but didn’t dare share it with others for fear of being put in the broken-toys basket for the rest of his life. His blue eyes filled with tears. He wiped them away, put on his tattered field coat and said goodbye.

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