Suicide has reached epidemic levels. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the US. In 2014, approximately 42,773 died of suicide and 25 times as many attempt suicide. That means approximately 100,000,000 Americans! They add:
· In 2014, the highest suicide rate (19.3 out of 100,000 yearly) was among people 85 years or older. The second highest rate (19.2) occurred in those between 45 and 64 years of age. Younger groups have had consistently lower suicide rates than middle-aged and older adults. In 2014, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 11.6.
These rates have been rising steadily since 2000, especially among Whites (14.7 per 100,000, vs. Blacks – 5.5 in 2014).
What accounts for rise? Kelly Crace, VP of Health and Wellness at the College of William and Mary, offered a surprising assessment:
· Suicides on college campuses move us toward myopic criticisms of stress and academic pressure. We want to blame the suicide on how stressed out or pressured a student was made to feel. But stress and academic pressure are not strong predictors of completed suicide attempts. What is a strong predictor is a complex mental health state that goes untreated. Stress and pressure can deteriorate someone’s well-being and can compound a complex mental health state but they in themselves are not the indications that someone will commit suicide. (Catherine Cook, Christian Research Journal, Vol. 39/Number 04, 60)
If stress is not the culprit, what is? It seems obvious that the problem is hopelessness. Victor Frankl, the late holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, perceptively wrote about the decline of his fellow inmates:
· The prisoner who had lost faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and become subject to mental and physical decay.
When we despair of ourselves and our predicaments, we decline and sometimes decide to check-out.
What will make the difference? There are probably a lot of things that will address the despair: friends, social connections, confidants, and even our responsibility for others.
The late American novelist Norman Mailer also understood the need for our lives to have meaning and purpose:
· “We are healthier if we think there is some importance in what we’re doing…When it seems like my life is meaningless, I feel closer to despair.”
It seems that Mailer realized that he could not merely create his own meaning. Instead, it has to be discovered within the fabric of objective reality.
Even worse, secularism slams the door on meaning, according to sociologist David Karp:
· “Cosmopolitan medicine banishes that knowledge [of the necessary purpose for suffering] by insisting that suffering is without meaning and unnecessary… [Suffering is] secularized as mechanical mishaps, and so stripped of their stories, the spiritual ramifications and missing pieces of history that make meaning." (Speaking of Sadness, pg. 191)
In contrast to the secular sterility, the late Zen Buddhist, psychiatrist and author of The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck, introduced his readers to Zen spirituality. However, fifteen years later, he wrote Further along the Road Less Traveled to bring us up to date with his spiritual pilgrimage:
· The quickest way for you to change your attitude toward pain is to accept the fact that everything that happens to us has been designed for our spiritual growth.
The best medicine for despair is the knowledge that there is a good purpose for our pain and that, in the end, everything will work out for the best:
· Now what better news can there be than we cannot lose, we are bound to win? We are guaranteed winners once we realize that everything that happens to us has been designed to teach us what we need to know on our journey.
How did Peck learn this lesson? He had observed his Christian patients, who had this confidence, consistently improve. Peck realized that a trust in a loving God had been the missing critical element. Consequently, he became a Christian.
When we understand that we belong to Christ (Galatians 2:20) and that He has such a love for us that He is working everything out for the good (Romans 8:28), we can rest back and leave the driving to Him.