For the past 30 years, my workplace has mandated annual training for its employees on a variety of issues. This year, suicide prevention was added to the list. I wondered why it was added now.
A google search gave me a clue. According to such entities as the New York Times, CNN, and National Public Radio, suicide rates, after having declined beginning in 1986, have been rising in our country since 1999. Some headlines say that the rates are rising “sharply”. US News and World Reports quantifies “sharply” as a increase of 24%. One headline claims that suicide rates are “soaring” worldwide.
The question is “why?”
There are many tentative answers, but no firm conclusions. A study of Swedish suicide found that homosexual married men are three times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual married men. (Married men are less likely to commit suicide overall.) The researchers concluded this was because of the stigma attached to homosexuality. This conclusion surprised me. While it might have been true 70 years ago that there was a stigma on homosexuality, that doesn’t seem to be the case now. Judging from the depictions of of homosexuality in movies, TV, and print in this country, I would have expected any stigma to be greatly reduced, and we would see a corresponding reduction in suicide among gay men and women. In a liberal, socialist paradise like Sweden, I would have expected censure to be non-existent. Perhaps my picture of Sweden is inaccurate.
The researchers provide us statistics that, taken together, seem to make no sense. Women are 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide then men (except in China), but men are 4 times more likely to “complete” the attempt. Given the growing equality of women in the workplace and the greater self-worth they are expected to gain as a result, I would have expected female suicide statistics to equalize with male statistics. I certainly wouldn’t have expected it to soar as the news articles declare. Caucasians are more likely to commit suicide than African Americans, despite the decades of prejudice African Americans endured. In fact, the more educated you are, the more likely you are to commit suicide. Would you have expected that? I didn’t. Suicide is more likely in rich countries than poor countries, another inexplicable statistic. I would have expected the exact opposite.
One statistic made sense, though. Men above 75 are more likely to commit suicide, presumably because their health is failing and they don’t want to live in their aging bodies.
But another question is “why now?” Why is the rate of suicide increasing now?
Perhaps the answer can be found be examining the reason for suicide. A man or woman contemplates suicide when they look at their emotional or physical pain and see no help from God or man. They look into the future and see a bleak life in which the pain never ends, and they don’t see how they can endure it. Sadly, our society looks at the elderly and calls their suicides “death with dignity”, and then it wonders why our young people choose to “tragically” commit suicide. Perhaps our teenagers are simply looking for a little dignity, too. After all, except for the difference in their ages, who is to say their pain is any less?
When my oldest son was a preschool child, I discovered him sitting on the steps in our house, behavior that was unusual enough that I decided to sit with him and ask what he was doing.
“Dad, have you ever noticed that when something good happens, something bad happens, too?” Well, I hadn’t, but then he added, “I’m thinking of committing suicide.” To my shock, I realized that he was serious. Whether he could actually attempted it at his age is a valid question, but also a question that didn’t matter. His emotional state, whether he could have committed the act or not, was suicidal.
As best I can remember, I replied, “I think the devil has recognized in you someone who can grow up to harm his kingdom. He is trying to make sure you don’t live to be old enough to serve God. Don’t let that happen. God has a plan for you, even if it’s only to grow up, marry, and have children.” As an adult teenager, my son packed his bags and went to live with his grandparents when my mother was dying. He did it to help her and his grandfather, who only had one leg and, until recently, had been cared for by my mother. After her death, he went back to live with his grandfather when the doctors removed my step-father’s second leg. My son now shows all the signs of maturity and steadfastness than a father could hope to see. He is a far better man at 24 than I was at the same age.
A more secular person might have said it differently, of course, but I have found that my faith in God has seen me through my own years of disappointment and depression. I have had Him interrupt my life unexpectedly and supernaturally so often that I no longer doubt that He exists or that He cares for me. Given my many failings, I often wonder why He tolerates me, and yet I know he does. And now, when I find myself wishing to depart this life, I remind myself the lesson I have learned, “With God, there is always hope.”
It seems to me that if there is any cure for the desire to commit suicide, it is this one.