Understanding how rates of suicide are related to social conditions is a foundational theme in sociology dating back to the work of Emile Durkheim. Investigating how people’s mental health is shaped by the broader economy, social networks, culture, and identity continues to be an area for social research.
A recent article in The Dallas Morning News reports on research that shows a link between a weak economy and higher rates of suicide, particularly amongst men and in the recent Great Recession. University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse Sociology Assistant Professor Dawn Norris explains that for men in particular, losing a job is not just about the money but about losing one’s identity and sense of masculinity.
“Our societal definition of masculinity is being employed, being the provider, being the breadwinner.”
Norris explains that masculinity is linked to work, and without work, even wealthy men describe themselves as “impotent, deficient, worthless.”
“Work at the moment isn’t as central to who women are in society,” says Norris. In one study, Norris found that women who lost their jobs during the economic crisis could shift from the role of breadwinner to another identity such as mother and better cope with unemployment.
Losing a job can deprive people of social support networks and other mechanisms for coping with stress, depression and mental health conditions. Men are especially at risk because they are less likely to seek support and medical care because of stigmas around mental health illness.
Norris says that potential solutions include better work-life balance, along with job creation, which can help de-emphasize work as the most central aspect of people’s identities and lives.
Read Erin Hoekstra’s article about flexible work policies shown to help men and women improve their work-life balance here.