A report came out recently confirming suicide in America kills more Americans than car crashes or many terminal illnesses. These suicide rates are unprecedented in American history. The largest increase in suicides came in ages between 35-55 and of those, men killed themselves 4 times more often than women. Up until now, most resources were targeted at teen and elderly suicides, but now a whole new approach is necessary.
The United States is the richest nation on earth. Regressive commentators frequently sight how even our poor are better off than the poor in other nations. If you listen to regressive radio, Faux News or most Republican officeholders, America is the greatest nation on earth. American exceptionalism is a cornerstone of their political philosophy. Yet, no other Western nation approaches the number of suicides we face annually. Where is the disconnect? What are we missing? Is there something pathological about American culture? Are middle-aged American men giving up hope? Are they suddenly waking up to a reality they have glossed over in the past?
In the spirit of honest disclosure, I have contemplated suicide. I spent almost 4 years waiting for the federal hammer to come down and crush me. (4 years of unsupervised activities including Internet access and 4 years in which I did not offend despite the government's characterization of me as dangerous or depraved) During these years no one but my family knew what was hanging over my head. I worked each night, engaged with you, entertained, commented and did some great radio knowing it was going to come to an end...knowing my family would be publically embarrassed and humiliated...knowing how much I let them down...knowing I would be on the front page of the paper and the lead of every local newscast...knowing my name would crawl across the bottom of the screens of CNN and MSNBC for the nation to see and knowing what my confreres on the regressive side of the dial would do to me on their shows.
If I had killed myself during that time, no one would have found out why and my thinking was, it would save people I love and people who liked me from disappointment and pain. I was wrong. Eventually, it became an untenable position because it would have been a selfish act which would do great damage to my wife and children...because I am a coward...because something in me (God?) said going through this was necessary to become a better man than I was at the time. Had I not had the family I have, the support I had, the spiritual foundation and my fear, I might have gone through with it. The question which has to be asked here is where is all of this help for the tens of thousands who are killing themselves each year?
There is something toxic in America today. There is something about American culture that is so oppressive; opting out is more appealing than fighting. In a culture where consumption is worshipped as a sacrament and "stuff" is how we measure success...in a culture where families are scattered across the land and loneliness endemic and support systems are diluted...in an America where materialism is held up higher than caring for the least of us...is it any wonder when people fall on hard times, they find it more attractive to just cease to exist than continue to be in pain?
Suicide is a seductive temptress. She promises the pain will end. She assures it will solve the problem. She guarantees we won't let anyone else down again, or lose any more jobs, or be rejected as we try for a year or more to find a new one. She exudes confidence and convinces us those left behind will be fine. Unfortunately, she seems to have the playing field to herself because those voices which might drown her out...call her a liar...reveal her devious and insidious values, are muffled or silent or apathetic.
Someone considering suicide is in a great deal of hurt. Right now, at this moment, where do they go or to whom do they appeal to alleviate and cope with this excruciating pain? Our health system offers virtually no resources for mental health services. A therapist can cost $150 a session. Who has that kind of money? As a society we commit billions to building weapons of mass destruction but piffle to helping people in trouble due to mental or psychic strain. The president's most recent budget included an additional $2 million, (I'm not kidding), for programs on preventing suicide. If an additional 35,000 people were killed in car crashes, the cry for fixes and a commitment of hundreds of millions of dollars would be made to figuring out what is causing this and how to prevent it. Why does the reality of 35,000 people scared, pained, afraid and despondent not evoke a similar response?
Someone contemplating suicide is in a deep dark hole, sinking and perceiving no way out. The first rule when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging. Stop making it worse. Then they need light and above all they need hope they can get out. The love of my children would not let me hurt them any more than I already had. The selfishness which led to stupid choices, and ignoring the collateral damage they would cause, gave way to hoping this could be survived. I was lucky and want others to be lucky and get the assistance they need.
American culture does not encourage perseverance. Our culture employs quick fixes and sloganeering rather than teaching that struggling through adversity can both teach and strengthen. Our children are not taught to be resilient. This has to change. Getting knocked down, feeling alone, making a mistake is going to happen to all of us. How do we cope and what will we as a people provide to those who need help so they too can hold on to hope?
35,000 suicides is a comment on the society we live in. It's time we committed ourselves to reaching out to those in pain...committing resources to help mental illness or instability. Will we ignore this like we ignore so many other problems and hope it just goes away?
Perhaps you are tired of hearing some of the same proscriptions to help with this, but a society committed to clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, visiting prisoners...a society committed to doing this for the least of their brothers and sisters is a society where 35,000 or more souls will be encouraged to hang in there, to get help which is readily available to them resulting in suicide being reduced to a haggard crone with no appeal left to anyone.