The Red Herring in the Red

A recent study came out that suggested that raising the minimum wage even one dollar would result in a 3.5 percent decrease in suicide. And while that number might sound small, it comes out to 27,550 suicides prevented in the 25-year period examined by the study. The research went on to suggest that a two-dollar increase would have saved 57,000 lives. It is interesting research to be sure, but I am also concerned that focusing too much on the results would create a false narrative surrounding depression and suicide, a red herring that it only impacts people in the red financially.

I am not an economist, nor do I want this blog bogged down by the policy debates that surround the minimum wage. There are arguments for and against it, and obviously, this new study would be one of the arguments in favor of it. And while it might very well be true that increasing the minimum wage would decrease rates of depression and suicide, it is only one small piece of the puzzle.

Yes, suicide is on the rise, as are rates of depression and anxiety among the young. We should obviously explore every possible factor that might reduce those troubling statistics. Yet suicide, like the darkness of depression that causes it, is often multi-faceted. All we need to do is remember the likes of Robin Williams, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain, to remember that death by suicide is a tragedy that can befall anyone, regardless of economic status.

In short, what I am saying is one study about one factor that might reduce suicide is not nearly enough. It is not nearly enough to talk about something that might merely reduce suicide by 3.5 percent. Rather, this study needs to be part of a much larger conversation about mental health concerns in this country. We need to be honest about the impacts of society, as well as the darkness of a disease that causes so many to suffer in silence.

Unfortunately, that is not what I have seen. I have seen advocates in favor of a minimum wage hike take this study and run with it, pushing their political agenda and only mentioning those thousands of lives lost to suicide as a footnote. The conversation about suicide should not be a conversation about any one factor, but about all the factors. Because what good is it if minimum wage earners have more money in their pocket, but still can’t access mental health care? What good will it be if we continue to have a society that treats mental health as something to be whispered about, ashamed about, something to be suffered through in silence? What good will it be?

Raising the minimum wage might save some lives, but raising our voices might save even more.


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