December 16, 2012

A culture of young depression

Sam Smith, "Why Bother?" (2001) - Suicide rates among the young have risen for four decades. Between 1980 and 1996, the suicide rate for young black men increased 105% and there has been a similar leap in suicides by all children between 10 and 14. According to one calculation, more than 1.5 million young people under 15 are seriously depressed. There has been a 40% increase in prescriptions for anti-depressants in recent years.

Kay Redfield Jamison, a leading researcher on suicide, tells of a 1997 study that found fully one in five high school students considering killing themselves in the past year, School slayings – though peaking in 1992-93 and but a fraction of youths murdered by members of their own families -- reflect a change as well. In earlier years, reported the New York Times, most of these deaths were gang related, or were stabbings, or involved money or a fight over a girlfriend. Towards the end of the decade, the motive changed. According to Dr. Bill Reisman, who profiles youth behavior for law enforcement officials, the most common factor was deep depression: "They'll all have depression in the state in which they do these things. When they're cornered, the first thing they say is, 'Kill me.' It's suicide by cop."

A study of 2,000 young men and women found 43% saying that they sometimes are pushed too far and feel like they might explode. And 58% of this group said they would use a gun "if they had to." The authors of the study, Liz Nickles and Laurie Ashcraft, observed that most people assume that "violent tendencies are the result of hands-off parenting." Said Nickles to the New York Times, "In the population we studied the opposite is the case. And Ashcraft added, "Over-scheduled, pressured children are an emotional powder keg."
Evidence of changes in the life of even younger children was found in a University of Michigan study that examined how time was spent by those aged 3-12 in 1981 and 1997, based on diaries kept by the youngsters or their parents. Among the changes:
Time spent playing: down 25%
Time spent in school, organized post-school programs and child care: up 8 hours a week
Time playing organized team sports: almost doubled
Time spent eating meals: down an hour a week
Time spend sitting and talking to someone at home: down 50% to one-half hour a week.
When the worst happens, the "adult" reaction is typically to expand our automated distrust of the young. Politicians and the media often deal with public tragedies of the young as though they were endemic rather than exceptions. Instead of reconciliation and comprehension, we demand still more control. But it never works quite the way we think it will, in part because the solutions are aimed at specific acts rather than the culture and problems that bred them. Thus we add surveillance cameras and guards at schools, and in so doing increase the sense of repression, distrust, and disconnection from the adult world that helped create the problem in the first place.

Corey Lyons, writing in the youth on-line zine, Brat, described it this way:
So here's what we have: kids who are constantly feeling repressed. They feel like the world is out to get them. Everything from school to television to church tells them they aren't good enough, that they are the problem. Then at school they face the same accusations of inadequacy by the self-righteous cliques that revel in our culture's mundane standards. The world suppresses their feelings until they feel they have no choice but to explode.
Even if you achieve a reputation for individuality, it becomes quickly stereotyped and you are expected to manifest your eccentricities in comfortably familiar and predictable ways. Composer John Cage once said that whenever he did anything new, people just wanted him to keep doing it over and over again. And Cage, unlike famous rock musicians, didn't even have to contend with tens of thousands of fans in a stadium, an omnipresent media, and a cornucopia of temptations making choice as difficult as scarcity does.

Kurt Cobain sang, "I feel stupid and contagious . . . Here we are now entertain us." When he was 12, "I wanted to be a rock and roll star, and I thought that would be my pay-back to all of the jocks who got girlfriends all of the time. But I realized way before I became a rock star that was stupid." Years later Cobain saw the pay-back as even less appealing:
I think of myself as a success because I still haven't compromised my music, but that's just speaking on an artistic level. Obviously, all the other parts that belong with success are just driving me insane. What I really can't stand about being successful is when people confront me and say, 'Oh, you should just mellow out and enjoy it'. I don't know how many times I have to fucking say this. I never wanted it in the first place.
And in his suicide note, he wrote
Sometimes I feel as if I should have a punch-in time clock before I walk out on stage
Cobain was far from alone. Here are some other musicians, many compiled by Michael Woodall, who killed themselves or died of drug-induced causes. Not included are those who died in airplane crashes or under disputed circumstances, who were murdered, or as in the case of Keith Relf, lead singer for the Yardbirds, were electrocuted while playing an electric guitar through a 220-watt Marshall amp while taking a bubble bath:

Johnny Ace, Chris Acland, John Belushi, Mike Bloomfield, Tommy Bolin, Graham Bond, John Bonham, Adrian Borland, Roy Buchannan, Tim Buckley, Paul Butterfield, Glen Buxton, David Byron, Steve Clarke, Kurt Cobain, Ian Curtis, Nick Drake, Tom Evans, Peter Farndon, Bobby Fuller, Danny Gatton, Lowell George, Ric Grech, Pete Ham, Donny Hathaway, Bob "The Bear" Hite, James Honeyman-Scott, Shannon Hoon, Douglas Hopkins, Randy Jo Hobbs, Michael Hutchence, Robert Johnson, Billy Jones, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Paul Kossoff, Frankie Lymon, Richard Manuel, Robbie McIntosh, Joe Meek, Jonathan Melvoin, Keith Moon, Billy Murcia, Brent Mydland, Bradley Nowell, Phil Ochs, Brian O’Hara, Gram Parsons, Kristen Pfaff, Danny Rapp, Bon Scott, Del Shannon, Mel Street, Screaming Lord Sutch, Gary Thain, Johnny Thunders, E. William Tucker, Sid Vicious, Paul Williams, Rozz Williams, Wendy O Williams, Kevin Wilkinson, Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson.

These were voices with whom contemporary youth on both sides of the Atlantic grew up. Their average age at time of self-inflicted death: 34.1 years.

Cobain sang, "Gonna do it gonna die/Slowly, lonely, holy, lonely."

Somebody quoted Nine Inch Nails on a Nirvana web bulletin board, "I hurt myself today to see if I still feel. I focus on the pain, the only thing that's real"

And Marilyn Manson told a Milwaukee newspaper, "I try to show people that everything is a lie -- pick the lie you like best -- and I hope mine is the best."

1 comment:

mike flugennock said...

Minor nit: You left out Jimi Hendrix.

Some would say Jerry Garcia belongs on this list; though he managed to survive until the age of 53, he basically committed suicide the same way Janis Joplin did, only in extreme slow motion.