The Tragedy of Suicide
By NANCY PATRICK
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. As one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world, America should be one of the happiest places to live. Unfortunately, the rise in American suicides implies the opposite.
A couple of years ago, the suicides of 55-year-old fashion designer Kate Spade and internationally popular chef and food techy 61-year-old Anthony Bourdain shocked the world. Every time a famous, rich, successful celebrity commits suicide, the world asks, “Why?”
Celebrities are not unique examples of the tragedy of suicide. Most all of us have known someone who committed suicide. My husband’s uncle, a career military man, committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning after returning from the Viet Nam War as the only survivor of a squad sent on a special mission.
Another man who had gone to college with my husband and me committed suicide by hanging himself. His depression and hopelessness stemmed from financial and legal problems.
Many years ago, a deacon’s wife with whom I had become close friends, shared with me that depression had plagued her for years. She attempted suicide several times before succeeding by shooting herself. The main cause of her depression related to what she considered her failed family. She felt her husband was cold and distant, and all four of their grown children had endured major personal and legal problems.
Young adults often spontaneously react to setbacks and failures in jobs and relationships. If they fail to see any possibilities beyond the immediate circumstances, some of them view suicide as the only escape.
Because of the current COVID pandemic, many people—young and old alike—experience extreme anxiety and worry. Not only have many people lost their sources of income, but also they feel vulnerable to the virus. They live in a quandary among differing opinions about safety and economic concerns. Will they lose their homes? Will their children become sick if they return to school? How long will they have to observe social distancing and quarantine restrictions?
The CDC reports that suicides in the U.S. have risen 25 percent since 2016. A completed suicide occurs approximately every 12 minutes, 24 hours a day, every day of the year in the United States. If wealth, freedom, family, success, and faith (yes, people of faith commit suicide as well) do not adequately compensate people so that they want to live, what can possibly change this alarming and tragic trend?
No one reason can explain why people commit suicide. A friend of Bourdain’s noted that Bourdain had been in a dark place (Eileen Connelly, “Anthony Bourdain was ‘exhausted’ in his final months”), and Bourdain himself told an interviewer that he often felt isolated (“Video: Anthony Bourdain talks depression and isolation in “Parts Unknown”).
Certainly, isolation can contribute to a person’s depression and sense of hopelessness and despair. In addition to the civilian population, an unusually high number of suicides occur among U.S. veterans. According to Anne Schuchat of the CDC, veterans account for 18 percent of adult suicides in the U.S. In addition, suicide numbers have risen among those over 45 years of age (qtd. in Ken Alltucker, “Anthony Bourdain’s death highlights rising suicide rate among middle-aged adults”).
Obviously, many factors can contribute to suicidal thoughts and actions. One of the main factors, mental illness, includes all types of depression as well as other clinical illnesses such as bipolar, personality, and psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia. In addition to mental illness, a prevalent factor is relationship problems, whether romantic, parental, or social. Some of these include poverty, unemployment, disappointment, or overwhelming and burdensome responsibilities.
Addiction, whether to drugs or alcohol, often leads to suicide with the addict never understanding the strong connection between depression and addiction. In addition to these types of suicide, assisted suicide often offers a terminally ill patient an escape from suffering a lingering or painful death. Schuchat uses the term “deaths of despair” to describe those who have lost all hope of overcoming their conditions.
Perhaps the prevalent issue in most of these situations not related to mental health is shame. University of Houston professor Dr. Brené Brown defines shame as a belief that our failures make us unworthy of love or belonging (Daring Greatly 69). Some people use the destructive force of shame in an attempt to motivate people to change, but shaming them does not work. In fact, shame can lead to obesity, indebtedness, and addiction.
Brown also says that shame needs secrecy, silence, and judgment to thrive. Once a person acknowledges his or her shame to an understanding person, the shame cannot survive. Perhaps we can encourage those who are depressed and ashamed to speak of their pain. We must then respond with empathy rather than judgment.
Help is available at the following sources: 1-800-273-TALK, https://www.crisistextline.org/, and https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/. In addition, many churches and local organizations offer counseling. If we notice that friends or relatives seem depressed or desperate, we should speak to them about our concerns. Even if we feel awkward, we offer them an outlet for their feelings.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing