In just a few hours, Donald Trump will sit with Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Singapore. I realize that as a former somebody in the U.S. foreign policy organs I am supposed to be wringing my hands and furling my brow. I should be churning out words about the more-or-less Leader of the Free World giving legitimacy to a punk despot who says he may have a nuke.
I should be challenging those who try to legitimize his disastrous G-7 meeting, and his attempts, intentional or not, to destroy the alliance that has kept us out of another World War for over seventy years. He’s a train wreck of a President, incompetent, arrogant, ill-educated and lacking every tool one needs to be a world leader.
I will leave him for today since all that will happen in Singapore is a sick joke on freedom. We have a more serious problem affecting our nation, and it came to light last week.
America, we need to talk. What we need to talk about is us and our ability to cope with being human, with foibles, failures, shortcomings, and despair. We need to talk about it because suicide is becoming a national epidemic.
Before we go further, for this article, the word suicide will mean the willful taking of one’s own life. Some folks online try to argue the accidental death by one’s hand, such as driving a car off a cliff is suicide and should not be part of the discussion. If the accident was willful, then we must include it.
Last week, the suicides of designer Kate Spade and Author Anthony Bourdain brought the issue to our national attention. Suicide needs to be in sharp focus. It is more prevalent in America than homicides. Murders get banner headlines. Unless done publicly, or a celebrity takes their own life, the public mostly ignores death by one's hand.
A chilling report from the Centers for Disease Control shows, from 1999 until 2016, suicide in people under 75 years of age has gone up 30%, and now is the tenth leading cause of death. Middle age white males and veterans are at particular risk, but the increases cut across ethnic and racial lines.
Suicide struck close to me. A cousin just a year older than me took his life in the early 1990s. Almost in his mid-forties at the time, he had so much living he could have done. His death was a crushing blow to those of us who love him.
How many people are there among us who walk around lost in space, fading in and fading out, never feeling whole? We must see them, and not recognize their anguish. In the early 1970s, Gilbert O’Sullivan recorded a song rose to the top of the charts, “Alone Again (Naturally).” You can listen to the song, and read the lyrics here.
It resonated with my generation. It was about a young man who contemplates the death of his parents, loneliness, and thinks about suicide as a viable option. If suicide is an epidemic, then loneliness must be a pandemic.
I had my own dark moments of the soul. Married for twenty-three years, after the breakup of my family I became a familiar companion with that empty, detached feeling of sometimes feeling alone in a crowded room. I watched the hustle and bustle of life continuing around me, and feeling like I was not part of it.
Relegated to being an observer of other’s happiness, seeing Dad’s with their kids, or couples holding hands became a pain that cuts to my soul. After living in a busy house, suddenly being alone in a small apartment with silence, and my thoughts on my personal failures as a father and a husband as my constant companions took my mind to dark places.
The ten-box alarm should arrive when thoughts of ending your own life seem rational, and a viable solution. It is a growing trend that rather than get help, many are embracing the ideas as the best solution.
I got through my dark hours, but there are others bereft of hope, who more and more are taking the final step. Many people scorn those who have killed themselves. It shows an insensitivity to mental health issues.
When the news about Anthony Bourdain broke late last week, a person on a friend’s Facebook Timeline wrote about his 11-year-old daughter and mused if she was saying, "thanks a lot dad for killing yourself." The man showed his unbridled contempt for Bourdain, and it was ugly to read.
I asked him if he would have made the same statement if Bourdain had died of cancer? He made some nonsensical reply as those cornered on social media often do and disappeared.
Can you imagine telling someone with cancer, “Buck up buddy, and act like a man. Shake it off; winners never quit, and quitters never win.” Many are treating the disease of depression in just that manner. Harsh words are not what those who are depressed need any more than blaming those with cancer or heart disease for their illness.
That is not a pitch for psychiatry. In our pill-oriented society, many psychiatrists behave in the same manner as the local street-pusher. They dispense medication that turns people into robots void of emotion. The patient leaves the doctor only to sit in the same situation that put them in the Doctor’s care. Now they are numb to their feelings, but still in the same desperate circumstances.
Just taking a pill will not fix it.
We often think those who are famous, or wealthy have everything to live for, and we wonder why they took their own lives? At some time in our lives, we all will meet demons who torment us. It appears those who can overcome the feeling that they do not fit in the world do better than those who try to face the ogres alone.
We need to reach out to others facing a crisis. Let them know they have an empathetic friend. It is not enough to say it; you must be that person. Whether we realize it or not, we may be someone else’s lifeline.
This growing problem with suicide is more important than all the news events or personalities of the day. We are turning our backs on our fellow Americans by allowing the issue to fade away in the next news cycle. We need to stop and come together on a solution to our mental health problem. It is a giant problem in our nation, that shows itself in more ways than celebrity suicides.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources. Here’s what you can do when a loved one is severely depressed. My thanks to Mitch Smith in the New York Times for the resources in this paragraph.
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