Lester K. Spence
Earlier this week Kenny McKinley, Denver Broncos wide receiver, committed suicide. Police found him in his home, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. McKinley, a 2009 draft pick, was recovering from knee surgery that had him on injured reserve for the year. Suffering from post-surgery depression, McKinley repeatedly mentioned thoughts of suicide. He also noted that he didn't know what he would do without football.
For understandable reasons we usually think of suicide as a private issue. But I would argue high-profile instances like this should cause us to re-evaluate. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among African American men aged 15 to 24. And although black communities have long labored under the myth that black people don't commit suicide, the black suicide rate has doubled since 1980. Painful occasions like this should cause us to examine suicide as a pressing public health issue as opposed to a tragic private one.
In fact, given the economy, the sooner we can begin to address this the better. Although there is no direct relationship between unemployment and suicide, we know there is a connection between unemployment, and job insecurity in general, and depression. And depression itself increases suicide risk. Spokespersons for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention suggest the suicide rate has gone up since the recession began. The official data on suicides is staggered (we won't know the 2008 rates until 2012).
Media stories examining the effects of the current economic recession on our lives have focused on the material effects of job loss, on the loss of retirement incomes, on the loss of homes and on the loss of the security and sense of safety that comes with both. But relatively unexamined have been the health consequences of the economic recession. Anxiety and stress are direct consequences of job loss and job insecurity.
In light of McKinley's death, the National Football League should work aggressively to create spaces where football players like McKinley can deal with their depression in productive ways. Given that McKinley said repeatedly that he was at least considering suicide, it appears that he could have been given more help, help that could have increased his ability to cope. But we should all take this tragic opportunity to not only reach out to those among us who have suffered economy-related depression, but to push for public solutions to these issues. As someone who has suffered from job-related depression, I can say that this is not something that most of us have the capacity to deal with alone.
Lester K. Spence is an assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. He shares his insight on his blog The Future is Here.