Suicide: America’s hidden epidemic
Suicides of famous, successful people are always “transfixing,” said Andrew Solomon in NewYorker.com. When world-beaters like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain take their own lives, “it assures the rest of us that a life of accolades is not all that it’s cracked up to be,” but also forces us to wonder, “How can our more ordinary lives hold up?” The despair and hopelessness that afflicted Spade and Bourdain are far too common: We are currently living through a “catastrophic escalation” in suicide rates that afflicts every level of U.S. society. In a grim coincidence, the Centers for Disease Control chose last week to release a sobering new study on suicide, said The Washington Post in an editorial. Since 1999, suicide rates in the U.S. have risen by 28 percent. Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for young people, and the 10th-leading cause of death overall, with nearly 45,000 Americans dying by their own hand in 2016. This heartbreaking week should serve as a “wake-up call” about what has become a national epidemic; we must start to treat suicide “like the public health crisis it is.”
These figures are “a profound indictment of the country’s mental health system,” said Benedict Carey in NYTimes.com. “Treatment for chronic depression and anxiety—often the precursors to suicide—has never been more available and more widespread,” yet somehow help isn’t reaching the people who need it in time. There often isn’t much time, said The Sacramento Bee in an editorial. Research on people who survive suicide attempts indicates that in 70 percent of cases, less than an hour passes between the idea of killing oneself and the attempt. In 25 percent, it’s less than five minutes. Most survivors said they deeply regret their attempts, and 90 percent were alive more than 25 years later. More of these “impulsive acts” would be survived if guns—the most effective means of self-execution—weren’t so freely available.
The real question, said Kirsten Powers in USA Today, is “why are so many more Americans getting to this level of emotional despair than in the past?” Clearly, “something is wrong with our culture.” Community and family bonds have broken down, as people work endless hours in pursuit of material success and numb their loneliness with drugs, alcohol, TV, and the internet. The “shallow interactions of social media” do not fulfill our yearning for connection. The “elephant in the room” is the breakdown of American family life, said Suzanne Venker in WashingtonExaminer.com. Spade was reportedly having marital difficulties; Bourdain had written of being “regularly suicidal” after his first divorce, and traveled so often he rarely saw his daughter, or his current girlfriend. It’s “the state of our relationships, not the state of the individuals themselves, that’s broken.”
Social media only makes the discontent worse, said Ana Marie Cox in WashingtonPost.com. Look at Bourdain and Spade: Their livelihoods depended on projecting a certain image to the world, leaving them to wrestle their demons in anguished solitude. Today, thanks to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the rest, “you don’t have to be famous to keep a dark abyss between the narrative for the world and the stories you tell yourself on the inside.” As a grieving fan of both Bourdain and Spade who has also struggled with deep depression, I wish they had known what I learned before it was too late: “We deserve to be helped. In fact, we can all be helped—if we let people know we need it.” ■