Friday, October 22, 2010

For The Indentured Educated Class, Suicidal Thoughts Are Not Merely An Individual Problem

This morning when I got up to read the countless emails I receive every day from indentured educated servants, I read several disturbing ones. One debtor wrote, "I really don't see the purpose of my going on living anymore with the tag of massive Debtor in this crazy USA."

The next message I read was even worse. This one came from a person whom I've developed a strong working relationship with. In it, she told me that a family member of hers, who is drowning in debt and working in a retailer's warehouse, informed his mother (who co-signed on his loans) that if his lender goes after her, he will end his life. As it turns out, his mother is being harassed by their lender. The lender is making threats to take the mother's house away, and she is naturally frantic. 

I have written on the subject of suicide in the past, and that piece sparked a lot of conversation. I am sure those on the Hill and talking heads on the subject of higher education will write these debtors off, claiming that they merely have mental issues and ought to seek care. I don't disagree that these debtors, bless their hearts, need to be in therapy. However, to argue that it's merely on a personal level is missing the point entirely. 

I posted a request for help to get in touch with senators and other state representatives in this mother's home state on my Facebook page, and the first response I received said: "Sadly, I would bet that anonymously, a lot of us have at least taken that horrible option into consideration."

If I take the time to collect more evidence from my readers, I am confident I could assert that suicidal thoughts among debtors are at epidemic levels. That's why we must act now to solve the student lending crisis. If you imagine millions of debtors and co-signers who are contemplating, or have contemplated, suicide, what does that do for the health of a nation?


Unknown said...

Before reaching any conclusion, the basic question remains why someone who was so upbeat when taking loan tends to think about suicide? Is it a mental problem. I would so no, its not. This the trauma a person goes when he fails to pay back his loans, force him to think about this extreme option. Instead of providing mental health check ups better provides to get out the debt trap

Anonymous said...

Hi Cryn:

It makes for an unhealthy nation.

NO I'm not going to do it, but I do think about it.

NO amount of therapy will make the debt go away, as will nothing short of winning the lottery.

Also Gern Blansten is just a borrowed name from an Old Steve Martin comedy routine.

But thanks.

Nando said...

This is why I choose to keep pounding away at the law schools. When I receive emails from people telling me they have $200K in student loans, and they have contemplated suicide, I realize that I need to keep throwing the kitchen sink at these sick administrators and overpaid, under-worked "law professors."

Right now, we are seeing the "personal responsibility" meme inoverdrive. I see it at the state and federal level. Apparently, it is easier for policymakers and legislators to blame the victim than to look at the root causes of the problem - and fix the system. But how can anyone decent person turn a blind eye to those drowning in non-dischargeable debt, especially when they are constantly clouded in dark thoughts?!

Klaire said...

I agree with you Cryn, suicide is not just an individual matter, anybody who has studied the social sciences would know that Durkheim argued the same thing in his study on suicide. In fact,Durkheim's depiction of what he calls anomic suicide.

The following info was taken from

3. Anomic Suicide. Anomie or anomy come from the Greek meaning lawlessness. Nomos means usage, custom, or law and nemein means to distribute. Anomy thus is social instability resulting from breakdown of standards and values. (Webster's Dictionary).

This is a type of suicide related to too low a degree of regulation, or external constraint on people. As with the anomic division of labour, this can occur when the normal form of the division of labour is disrupted, and "the collectivity is temporarily incapable of exercising its authority over individuals." (Ritzer, p. 92). This can occur either during periods associated with economic depression (stock market crash of the 1930s) or over-rapid economic expansion. New situations with few norms, the regulative effect of structures is weakened, and the individual may feel rootless. In this situation, an individual may be subject to anomic social currents. People that are freed from constraints become "slaves to their passions, and as a result, according to Durkheim's view, commit a wide range of destructive acts, including killing themselves in greater numbers than they ordinarily would." (Ritzer, p., 92).

Cryn Johannsen said...

Anonymous or Gern, I'll call you whatever name you give to me. I wrote this, because you are not the only one writing to me and expressing these things.

Anonymous said...

Serious debt is a mental health trap. I'm not currently (haha) thinking about it, but there are probably dozens of times when i step off a curb and think where is the car that is going to finish this?
At least i have very little family left who would even notice. I'm going to have to take a job on Monday (if they offer it to me, they turned me down a month ago b/c of my masters degree and fear that i wouldn't stay 3 f***ing years (for an admin asst job), now the person they hired isn't working out and they've called me back. Only real lead i've had in 23 months. SO i'll have to up my lying skills by Monday, so i can get a job so i can earn the money (about 25K a year) to go back into poverty when they start taking loan money out of my paycheck. Maybe i'll have enough to cover funeral costs (it's just me and my bro now and he won't help).
The last interview i had the guy said: what would your perfect job be? what do you WANT to do? and i looked at him like he was nuts. What i WANT to do has not been a part of my mental makeup since i was 17. Want to do? Leave the country and have a baby? But not going to happen. So lie i will continue to.

Anonymous said...

Wow - you really have no shame, do you?

Cryn Johannsen said...

So, I have 'no shame' because I am actually trying to help people, and not doing this for PERSONAL gain?

Cryn Johannsen said...

Nando - keep fighting the good fight. I'm glad we're on the same team.

Anonymous said...

interesting about "anomic" suicide. When i went back to school, at my mother's desperate urging - i did NOT want to go into debt, on some level i knew that keeping up that "i can overcome anything and be vigilant on a superhuman scale indefintely" was not going to work, or be easy. But, I was making $6 an hour as a nursing assistant (a job i felt good about b/c i was helping people on a very human scale, day to day, exhausting, but i slept the sleep of the just every night) and couldn't even afford to move out of my mother's apt (no neither of my parents has ever owned a house since 1976). So i bought into my own cra* about being able to handle the responsibility of a huge loan, b/c i saw no future beyond $6 an hour without at least a BA. I went to a state school. I took out loans and I worked 3 jobs all but one semester when i was in school. I was so exhausted when i graduated that i didn't care about anything anymore. Now i have felt at times that i'm only here to pay a debt. This is my existence. For periods of time I forget about it, b/c i have to, for my own sanity, but i am not living a full life. I don't have a house, a partner, or kids b/c i feel that that would be unfair. I cannot even pursue what i actually care about b/c that takes capital or a safety net, neither of which i have. I cannot imagine what my brain/person would be like if i was not in debt. I fear I will be too tired when any of this gets even marginally resolved to enjoy any kind of life. Not all days are this bad, but these are the real parameters i live within.

Anonymous said...

Klaire, certain Asian countries have some of the most non-"anomic" societies on earth, and even in economic booms have correspondingly high suicide rates. This is exactly the opposite of Durkheim's hypothesis.

Anonymous said...

I once had a friend that described suicide as a rather good thing.

He was Italian and very Catholic, and had a grasp of the teachings of the Catholic Church with respect to many topics, including suicide.

He understood that in the Catholic view, suicide is a sin because God gave one a life, and that no one but God can take that life away.

But he argued that if he was to take his own life, it would be like giving that gift back to God, and that God would only be grateful.

Sounds crazy but it's just what I heard.
He never did kill himself, but as a student loan debtor I remember that sentiment over and over and over and over......

He is still alive today some 25 years or more later.

Spekkio said...

I agree - the information about anomic suicide is welcome and helpful, and it feeds into something I've been thinking about a lot lately. One of the constant drumbeats in our society is "personal responsibility," the idea being that people should take responsibility for their own lives and deal with the benefits or consequences of their choices.

It sure sounds good, doesn't it? But is it realistic? If there's no safety net, then the consequences of failure hurt more than just one or two people...they hurt us all in any number of ways.

And how much responsibility do you let people take? You cannot be responsible for every single thing that happens in your life. That way leads to madness. Life includes a lot of chance and a lot of things that are out of your control. If something is out of your control, taking responsibility for it is nuts.

The crisis we face now, if not addressed...we will have several generations of people who are lost because of things that were not theirs to control. We didn't cut higher education funding. We didn't underfund research. We didn't underfund infrastructure. We didn't cut funding for libraries. We didn't corrupt higher education by letting Corporate America get into the act. And yet - and yet! - we get stuck with the consequences and the bills.

Anonymous said...

I have contemplated suicide because of my loans. Not to any level where I actually considered or planned it, but the thought of, "if I killed myself, I wouldn't have this stress," or "the loans will be gone if I'm dead." Do I think I have mental problems? None more than my friends who are not in debt. Having thoughts of suicide when under extreme distress, be it physical, mental, or emotional, does not mean you're crazy - it means you're at the end of your rope and can't find a way out.

I agree with what "The Money Paradise" said: "Instead of providing mental health check ups better provides to get out the debt trap." Most of us barely have enough money to eat, and many don't have health insurance - how in the world are we supposed to pay for therapy? If anything, the added financial stress of paying for such therapy would make our REAL problem - drowning in bottomless debt - even worse. If someone has a phobia of hospitals, you don't put them in a hospital to treat their phobia - you find the root of the problem and treat them in an alternative way.

There is an epidemic of suicides among bullied school children. Is the solution to put the bullied children in therapy while letting the bullying continue? No, the solution is stop the damned bullying. Prevention is the best medicine! Instead of treating the symptom, find the cause and END it. For those in student loan debt, contemplating suicide, we need to find ways to help those in debt.

Is it really that difficult? Can't exceptions be made for extreme cases, or are the laws and rules written so deeply in stone that the only way, truly, to escape this debt is death?

Anonymous said...

the student loan debt crisis affects more aspects of just not being able to pay it back. For me it was the end of my engagement. He couldn't handle my the final number of my student loan with the added variable interest which at one point was 13%!!!!!! How the lenders can get away with that is beyond my comprehension. I would be lying if I said it hadn't crossed my mind...It has ruined a huge part of life that I wont ever get back. I take responsibility for the loans I borrowed and am paying them with out default so far, but the fact that there are NO SOLUTIONS makes me cynical about the direction our nation is going, and on a personal level...about if I can be loved at all. Something needs to be done!

Anonymous said...

As an attorney, I have seen people come and go through bankruptcy discharging everything from plasma screen tv's on their credit cards to gambling markers at a casino. Meanwhile - I struggle to pay my student loans and use all of my forebearances. I forego health insurance and a social life because paying for a night out would mean having to deal with more credit card debt. Perhaps it's better to gamble and hope I win and, if I lose, discharge it. I cannot even dream of getting married in my lifetime as I would never want to burden someone else with the debt I am saddled with. Marriage + kids + student loan debt = divorce!

Anonymous said...

My life has been a string of Hardships, but I kept trying hard to be my own hero. I went to school every chance I got, usually at night. I could never go full time, I had to work. I started working at 16, and went to school for years. I finally finished my BA in 2005 at 50 years old. Even tho I paid for everything up to the AA degree, Im still 30,000 in debt. Im tired, I know I wont live ling enough to pay it off. I know now that the hero role I cast for myself was a socially generated falsehood to keep the poor in line (if I only play by the rules, someday I will make it) yeah, right. I tried hard, but the game was never designed to be won. Only to keep us in line. I will hold out for awhile longer, but when I finally get enough and decide to go, I will get as far away from home as I can, hopefully no one will ID me and my family will think I just dissappeared. No stigma for them to carry if I can help it. The USA is just a big lie. None of the BS about "equal opportunity" is true, its only fed to you to make you think theres a chance until they have worked you to death.

Cryn Johannsen said...

@Dec. 4 Taking your life is not the answer. The world would be worse off without you, and your family and friends would be devastated. I know that debt is overwhelming, but suicide is simply not the answer. Please reach out to those you trust and let them know that you are feeling this way. Life is tough. I want, for example, more than anything to be back in my own country. However, that's not a possibility, so I must accept the circumstances at hand. It's not always easy, and I understand your anger. Nevertheless, killing yourself isn't the answer. Please don't give up. We need you here.

Stay safe.

You're in my thoughts.


gail said...

@Dec4-Don't give up! I am 57 and graduated (finally) at age 53. I am over 100K in debt, work at a minimum wage job, part-time, it was all I could get. I understand the way you feel, but I look at it this way. I WILL NOT let the bastards win! I will live my life to the fullest, not an easy task in the US with credit that has been totally destroyed, but I will not let that destroy me, you shouldn't either. The world needs good people ...and we are the good ones! Please don't forget that and DON'T give up!

Anonymous said...

Keep student loan debt in perspective: they can't get blood from a stone. Go to cash, keep your bank accounts small and diverse, its do-able. Just do not allow yourself to capitalize the interest.

Anonymous said...

"My life has been a string of Hardships, but I kept trying hard to be my own hero."

My life too has been a string of hardships, I'm also in my fifties and I too just graduated with this kind of debt and like you I plugged along because I love "me" that much... we need to be our own hero. Often when feeling suicidal you feel alone. You are "not" alone! Turn to your family or friends or a priest or a rabbi – anyone that will listen. Finally, don’t do it because I’m personally asking you not to. Whatever you’re feeling, whatever you’re going through, things can get better – I know because I’ve been there. Maybe I haven’t experienced exactly what you have, but not only have I thought of suicide, I tried it – thankfully I was unsuccessful and I can speak from personal experience when I tell you things can get better. Remember you are not alone... you are now and always will be your hero!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous told us about his or her life. I feel for them because I was there. Eventually you will dig yourself out of the debt. I can't say marriage and children are on your horizon. I finished digging myself out of that hole at 38. It is quite difficult to find THAT PERSON at that age. Turn to your faith. Don't resent your mother. My mother did the same to me. She said not to worry about the debt because we don't have debtors prison. We don't but stud. loan debt can feel like it. My mother is gone now but I thank her for her encouragement. I just wish my family would have had some financial counseling with the whole college tuition situation.

Anonymous said...

Why did this conversation stop 4 years ago? The problem is getting worse. Intractable student loan debt and a guarantee of financial hardship for life has already crushed me in the moral sense as I face giving up my lifelong goals one after the other. Suicidal thoughts in this case are not caused by personal emotional problems but by the reality of the dismal situation which strips meaning from life and work. I have lost faith in my country and in society because I have been trapped in servitude to my creditors, the largest of which is the federal government.