A friend posted this article, The Suicide Epidemic by Tony Dokoupil, to her Facebook profile and strongly encouraged people to read it. I have quoted extensively from this substantive article, but please do not let that inhibit you from reading the entire article. There is so much more that Mr. Dokoupil includes in his article (including stories and info-graphics) that are simply powerful. Here are the quotes that stood out to me. I will have brief thoughts after them.
This spring, suicide news paraded down America’s front pages and social-media feeds, led by a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which called self-harm “an increasing public health concern.” Although the CDC revealed grabby figures—like the fact that there are more deaths by suicide than by road accident—the effort prompted only a tired spasm of talk about aging baby boomers and life in a recession. The CDC itself, in an editorial note, suggested that the party would rock on once the economy rebounded and our Dennis Hopper–cohort rode its hog into the sunset.
But suicide is not an economic problem or a generational tic. It’s not a secondary concern, a sideline that will solve itself with new jobs, less access to guns, or a more tolerant society, although all would be welcome. It’s a problem with a broad base and terrible momentum, a result of seismic changes in the way we live and a corresponding shift in the way we die—not only in America but around the world.
Every year since 1999, more Americans have killed themselves than the year before, making suicide the nation’s greatest untamed cause of death. In much of the world, it’s among the only major threats to get significantly worse in this century than in the last.
The result is an accelerating paradox. Over the last five decades, millions of lives have been remade for the better. Yet within this brighter tomorrow, we suffer unprecedented despair. In a time defined by ever more social progress and astounding innovations, we have never been more burdened by sadness or more consumed by self-harm. And this may be only the beginning. If Joiner and others are right—and a landmark collection of studies suggests they are—we’ve reached the end of one order of human history and are at the beginning of a new order entirely, one beset by a whole lot of self-inflicted bloodshed, and a whole lot more to come.
This year, America is likely to reach a grim milestone: the 40,000th death by suicide, the highest annual total on record, and one reached years ahead of what would be expected by population growth alone. We blew past an even bigger milestone revealed in November, when a study lead by Ian Rockett, an epidemiologist at West Virginia University, showed that suicide had become the leading cause of “injury death” in America. As the CDC noted again this spring, suicide outpaces the rate of death on the road—and for that matter anywhere else people accidentally harm themselves. Somewhere Ralph Nader is smiling, but the takeaway is darkly profound: we’ve become our own greatest danger.
Throughout the developed world, for example, self-harm is now the leading cause of death for people 15 to 49,
With people relinquishing life at its supposed peak, what does that say about the prize itself? What’s gone so rotten in the modern world? In her next bundle of research, Phillips hopes to pinpoint the massive, steam-rolling social change that matters most for self-harm. She has a good list of suspects: the astounding rise in people living alone, or else feeling alone; the rise in the number of people living in sickness and pain; the fact that church involvement no longer increases with age, while bankruptcy rates, health-care costs, and long-term unemployment certainly do.
Sociologists in general believe that when society robs people of self-control, individual dignity, or a connection to something larger than themselves, suicide rates rise.
What’s deadly about all this is the loss of what Joiner calls “reciprocal care.” When people have no shoulder to lean on, they feel more isolated, and that isolation can be lethal.
As we discussed suicide in his office, the Florida sun blazing through a picture window, Joiner gently bounced side to side in a swivel chair. He wore blue jeans and a short-sleeve button-down in the buff color of a cartoon desert. He spoke in careful, complete sentences. But it was hard to concentrate once I noticed the trophy-size silver fish and coiled snake mounted near his computer. “That’s a piranha,” he explained, “and that’s a rattlesnake.” He keeps both as reminders of this principle that killing your own kind, let alone yourself, is hard to do. “The piranha won’t do it. They’ll kill us, but they won’t kill each other,” he says. “Same with rattlesnakes. They have venom and fangs and everything, but they don’t use those. They wrestle. It’s a rule of nature, not a hard fact, but a rule of thumb: you don’t kill your own.”
These days, Joiner’s thoughts have shifted toward prevention. If he’s right about suicide, the ability to foil one of the three variables is the ability to save a life. Smart clinicians can do it, but it’s not easy to get people into treatment. There’s the cost, for one thing, but more than that, there’s the shame and the stigma. Suicide is the rare killer that fails to inspire celebrity PSAs, 5K fun runs, and shiny new university centers for study and treatment. That has to change, says Joiner. “We need to get it in our heads that suicide is not easy, painless, cowardly, selfish, vengeful, self-masterful, or rash,” he says. “And once we get all that in our heads at last, we need to let it lead our hearts.”
Need help? In the U.S. call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
As regular readers of this blog know, Michael (a good long time friend of 23 years of mine) committed suicide last January. Shock and grief still continue, poignantly so last week with the passing of his birthday last Thursday.
In response, I have read many articles and research various resources. I have lamented the lack of resources and attention being given to this issue. We must do better … it is the #1 cause of death for a HUGE segment of our population! Why is the church only mentioned, in passing, as something no one is going to in their old age any more? Because… the church has not addressed this issue in a way that will impart hope to a despairing generation(s). I am not saying that in a shaming way, just in a factual way. Come on my siblings in Christ, let’s be about “belonging” and “reciprocal care” (mentioned in the article) and not fussing with each other, and being distracted by, smaller matters. We have His “L”ife so let’s impart life, faith, hope, and love.
I am praying, and working toward, the church reclaiming our life-giving part in our local community as a place known for “belonging.” That we would inspire life by giving the opportunity to care for others and be cared for by others in myriads of ways. To know and be known is to bear the Image of God relationally. His living water is available to all. Let’s not bottle it for our own consumption, but share Him freely, abundantly, without judgement or conditions.
The above article is eye-opening and extremely important. It’s tough to read. I had to walk away from my computer twice while reading it. That said, it is compelling and very worth the read. Please do.