Paul Meloan – Vested Interest

by Paul Meloan

My original lead for this post was, "I have been spending a bit of my time in the last couple of weeks pondering suicide……." Then I decided that was craven and cynical, and not really fair.  What I mean is that I am thinking about it, not thinking of it.  There, just so we are clear.

A point I try to make often with clients is understanding what to fear and when.  By and large, human beings are really, really bad at this.  We tend to overreact to threats which are spectacular yet incredibly rare, the leading example of which is probably a shark attack.  The person clinging to the perceived safety of the beach is many hundreds of times more likely to contract a fatal melanoma, yet few consider sunbathing truly dangerous.   In finance, fear of a temporary market downturn often causes people to avoid the markets for years at a time, while they ignore the fact that leaving money in cash dooms them to an inevitable loss to inflation and escalating cost of living.

By the time an adult man reaches his 40s, chances are reasonably good that he has at least some idea as to the major health risks he faces for the remainder of his life.  Chances are also good he has altered his behavior somewhat from his teens and 20s.  This is probably a very good thing: in his 40s he is less likely to be involved in a fatal auto crash, some other type of accident, or be murdered.  In virtually all respects the 45 year-old man lives a safer life than his 21 year-old counterpart.  He is also 50% more likely than the younger man to kill himself.

The recent suicide of former Baltimore Oriole pitcher Mike Flanagan triggered the usual reactions of disbelief and shock among many.  It certainly did with me.  As a diehard Orioles fan from the mid 1970s to the early 1990s, Flanagan's tenure with the team paralleled my fanhood, and he was the best left-handed pitcher of his era with the Orioles.  The impression he made beyond his play was one of a thoughtful, introspective, and downright funny guy.  Oriole fans now are left to determine why he went from a popular broadcaster and member of the community to another tragic statistic.

We have a very good working understanding of how and why people die from things like auto accidents and heart disease.  For auto accidents it's excessive speed, alcohol, and not wearing a seatbelt.  For heart disease there are genetic markers, dietary, and lifestyle indicators.  With suicide, none of these obvious indicators exist.

One of the few things that is known about suicide is that it disproportionately affects men.  Men are four times more likely to kill themselves than women.  Curiously, suicide is much more prevalent in developed, wealthy economies around the world and relatively rare in impoverished nations.

There are more than twice as many suicides in the U.S. than there are murders every year.  Ironically (in the Flanagan case) Maryland is one of only three jurisdictions in the U.S. (along with D.C. and Louisiana) that have a higher murder rate than suicide rate.

So what do we fear and when?  The issue to fear is our inability as a society to address issues of mental illness.  While I am not a scientist, the evidence does seem plain that Flanagan, along with the 36,000 or so other Americans who chose to kill themselves in the past year, suffered from some mental affliction which made this most irrational act seem like the only rational choice left.

Think about this the next time you contemplate a gun in a stranger's hand: by the numbers, it would appear to be much safer than a gun in your own.

Paul Meloan is the co-founder and co-managing member of Aegis Wealth Management, LLC, in Bethesda, Maryland USA. Before Aegis Paul was a practicing attorney as well as working in the tax practice of Ernst & Young, LLP.

View Comments

There are currently no comments.

Next Post