Man does not live by bread alone. As bread was being earned at a record clip, and more people got off the dole, more people in their prime years cut their own lives short. Reflecting back on the U.S. military’s Herculean effort to end suicide in the service, an unwon battle, I am painfully aware there is no clear solution, no magic pill or words. And. I wonder if our changing societal habits and beliefs make vulnerable people more vulnerable.
2017 brought unbroken good economic news, and not just for stockholders. President Trump repeated at every occasion the good news for everyone, including demographic groups who had been lagging in employment. Wages started to rise. And in the midst of all this, the suicide rate increased to a 50-year peak.
[I]t’s deaths in younger age groups — particularly middle-aged people — that have had the largest impact on calculations of life expectancy, experts said.
The suicide death rate last year was the highest it’s been in at least 50 years, according to U.S. government records. There were more than 47,000 suicides, up from a little under 45,000 the year before.
The alarm was sounded by the CDC Director.
For Immediate Release: Thursday, November 29, 2018
Contact: Media Relations,
“The latest CDC data show that the U.S. life expectancy has declined over the past few years. Tragically, this troubling trend is largely driven by deaths from drug overdose and suicide. Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable. CDC is committed to putting science into action to protect U.S. health, but we must all work together to reverse this trend and help ensure that all Americans live longer and healthier lives.”
— Robert R. Redfield, M.D., CDC Director
Consider this from Mayo Clinic’s advice on suicide and suicidal thoughts:
Suicidal thoughts have many causes. Most often, suicidal thoughts are the result of feeling like you can’t cope when you’re faced with what seems to be an overwhelming life situation. If you don’t have hope for the future, you may mistakenly think suicide is a solution. You may experience a sort of tunnel vision, where in the middle of a crisis you believe suicide is the only way out.
There also may be a genetic link to suicide. People who complete suicide or who have suicidal thoughts or behavior are more likely to have a family history of suicide.
Genetics are a baseline, not a reasonable explanation for annual changes in suicide numbers. Something has yielded more hopelessness, in the midst of increasing material opportunity for all demographic groups. So, how might we decrease hopelessness, or increase hopefulness?
Might part of the problem, and so part of the solution, be changing societal habits and beliefs? Might we be seeing part of the outworking of an increasingly hedonistic culture, rejecting the restraints of higher callings and purposes? I do not mean to pitch religious service attendance, per se, as an answer—not when I have already raised the issue of “religious” leaders who invite our veneration of nothing above them, or our own egos.
If we are invited by every arm of society to do our own thing, to set our own standards (so long as we conform to the latest politically correct rules), why would we ever develop “respect or awe” for anyone beyond the image captured in our selfies? And if we are vulnerable and cannot see a basis in ourselves for hope, where are we inclined to turn? What if we have made a habit of contemplating an exemplary person, until we develop “respect or awe, inspired by [their] dignity, wisdom, dedication, or talent?”
Might we have more hope, inspired by our understanding of the object of our veneration? Might we see a path through life’s storms, already weathered by another? Would it help to have a point of reference, a measure of worth, beyond ourselves? This is in no way to discount medical treatment, nor to suggest we can just pray it away. Instead, as the Puritans recognized, the whole person must be considered in depression: spirit, mind, and body.
Though the disease begin in the mind and spirits, and the body be yet sound, yet physic [medication], even purging, often cureth it, though the patient say that drugs cannot cure souls, for the soul and body are wonderfully co-partners in their diseases and cure; and if we know not how it doth it, yet when experience telleth us that it doth it, we have reason to use such means.
Mind you, this wisdom was written in a day before any modern scientific understanding of the body and brain chemistry. Yet, it was sound, based on long, practical observation. With our modern understanding of medicine and the mind, we should appropriately address depression or other mental disorders that increase vulnerability to suicide, and challenge the record of elevating self and tearing down anything that would inspire us to look up beyond ourselves.
The economic picture continued to brighten through 2018, with rising employment and wages. How tragic it will be if 2018 suicides equal or surpass the 50-year high toll of 2017. What if there were more public and private encouragement, from however many sources, to lift our eyes up from ourselves, fixing them more on someone worthy of respect and awe, perhaps having overcome great adversity and suffering?