Jake DiMare takes a look at the male dominated epidemic of suicide through the lens of AMC’s Mad Men.
I felt nearly breathless after last night’s hauntingly beautiful episode of Mad Men. Perhaps you may feel this is a strange choice of words to describe an episode including a morbid scene where Don, Roger, and Pete wind up cutting their partner Lane’s dusky, rigid corpse down from the ceiling in his office, where it had dangled for the weekend after he had hanged himself.
The truth is I believe lots of things can be done with beauty. One may sing beautifully, field a grounder beautifully, or write beautifully. One may also produce television shows beautifully, addressing terrible topics such as divorce, addiction, and suicide. Nobody does this better than the team of writers on Mad Men.
Like many subjects confronted in AMC’s premier series, suicide is quite an important topic for men to consider. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, suicide is the seventh leading cause of death among men in the United States. Men are four times more likely to commit suicide then women. As demonstrated in the death of Lane Pryce, financial security and career issues are stress factors known to play a significant role, but mental illness, including addiction and/or depression, are also present in the overwhelming majority (90%) of cases.
I think what struck me most about the story leading up to Lane’s death is how easily his situation might have been avoided if he had only been able to ask for help. The narrative, which unfolded over many episodes, featured Lane’s compounding money problems. Out of pride and resentment, he tried to resolve his issues by embezzling from the agency, instead of asking his partners (and friends…and wife) for help. Eventually he got caught and the resulting guilt, shame and sense of hopelessness he experienced lead him to decide suicide was his best option.
Ironically, Lane was one of the more lovable and seemingly stable characters on the show. A smart, sensitive, hard-working professional, and devoted husband and father…He cut a stark contrast against the hard-drinking, insensitive, mischief of some of his fellow partners. It’s not hard to imagine, had he brought his problems to any of the people he cared about…Had he asked almost anyone for help, they would have been enthusiastic to come to his aid.
My own experiences with suicide include a close male relative, and a long-time, family friend (also male) hanging themselves to death (separately), and a personal friend, who has made multiple, legitimate attempts to kill himself. Regardless of what other factors may be at work, it seems to me the victim’s perception of being hopeless is the real killer.
Though difficult to admit publicly, my experiences also include a brush with feelings of hopelessness and suicidal ideation, during a set of concurrently occurring personal and family crises I weathered in my early 30′s. At the time, the thought of asking for help simply never crossed my mind. It’s not like I resisted the notion…It just didn’t occur to me. Thankfully, in my case fate intervened before I was ever given the opportunity to do something rash. Few people in my situation are so lucky.
One of the biggest obstacles to healthy coping skills is pride, which may have something to do with why men are so much more likely to kill themselves then women are. Pride was certainly a factor in my own case and I had to completely dismantle my ego before I was able to begin healing.
But where does this pride come from? Are men born this way? Personally, I do not think so. Society, parents and culture teach men it is not OK to have feelings. It’s not OK to ask for help. It’s important to be proud. I definitely think this education starts young. I often wonder if parents understand and consider the potential damage they are doing to their little boys (and girls) when they teach them to stuff their negative feelings in otherwise benign scenes such as a grocery store temper-tantrum.
I honestly don’t ever consider suicide as an option anymore. While it’s true my life is infinitely less stressful today then it was back then, I have fought through years of therapy and training to learn coping mechanisms for dealing with problems, big and small. Although I have dealt with some truly horrific circumstances, the truth is before I knew how to ask for help, I was barely equipped to deal with the anxiety of a broken shoe lace.
I am feeling gratitude to the writers of Mad Men for illustrating the point that Lane’s troubles might have been avoided. If the thought of suicide has crossed your mind as a potential solution to your problems, ask for help. Particularly men…Don’t let pride stand in your way. Whether you realize it or not, there are people who want to help you. All you have to do is ask.
Call 1-800-273-TALK or visit http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
For more on men and depression, read Jed Diamond’s The Masculine Mystique and Male Depression.