Depression, and particularly suicide, has been a trending topic this month in light of two recent tragedies, the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. One was an extremely accomplished and wealthy designer who co-founded a company with her own name, and the other was a celebrity chef and world traveler who seemed as eccentric as one could be. Both committed suicide, and in both cases, we were all shocked. They had it all… What could’ve possibly made them so depressed that they chose to take their own lives?
According to the Washington Post, recent studies have shown that suicide rates have risen dramatically in 49 out of 50 U.S. states within the past two decades. The only state that showed a decrease in their suicide rate was Nevada, which shrunk by a mere 1%. In the U.S., on average, 13 out of every 100,000 people will commit suicide. Among people ages 15 to 34, suicide is the second-leading cause of death. This is strange, isn’t it? Haven’t we been talking about mental health and suicide more often? Haven’t we been starting new prevention efforts? Why aren’t they working? Is this a public health crisis?
I think in order to truly address the recent rise of the suicide rate, the first step is to analyze the climate that has been fostered within the United States within the past two decades. Divorce rates are skyrocketing, families are being torn apart by various systems, we went through a rocky recession, we hit a job crisis, drugs are running rampant in the streets and social media is growing to be larger and more influential each and every day.
I know what you’re thinking. Okay, but… What does that have to do with the national suicide rate? Let’s break this down.
A high divorce rate tends to correlate with a high rate of suicide. I think it goes without saying that breaking up is hard to do. Divorce is even harder. Once you bring financial ties, children, and the government into a situation… things get messy. Divorcees often struggle with depression within the first couple of years, as do the children and other members of the family. Breaking up a family voluntarily may be the hardest thing one can ever cope with.
Another thing that could be contributing, and is breaking up families daily, is the prison industrial complex. If you haven’t before, you should look up the rates of suicide in jails and prisons. It is truly astounding. Being in prison comes with hard working conditions, rough treatment and punishment, loneliness, an onset of new mental health issues. All of these things cause low self esteem, a huge contributor to depression. Working in prison also causes many similar issues, especially those concerning mental health. Sending people to prison breaks up families, causing the people left behind to be left in shambles of the life they used to have. The government itself breaking them up on at the border does the same thing, because mental health and the human struggle go far beyond the status of citizenship. Read this story here about a man who took his own life after having his child taken away from him at the border.
Now, we have to look at the recession and the collapse of major industries (for example, coal) that happened in the 2000s in this country. Poverty or losing a job causes a lot of strife in ones life, often lowering their self esteem and self worth, and bringing an onset of depression along with it. Not only that, but counseling and therapy aren’t cheap or accessible to everyone, and neither are the meds that are often required to treat symptoms of mental illnesses like depression.
Next, we have to look at drugs and the unfathomable rate of overdoses that happen each year in this country. Many of them purposeful, many accidental, all cases of suicide. As rates of drugs increase, so do rates of suicide. Just from 2015 to 2016, drug overdoses increased by over 21%. According to the CDC, the rate of overdose was three times as high in 2016 as it was in 1999 (side note: If you haven’t caught on by now, this is some pretty solid proof that the War on Drugs didn’t work… and actually made things significantly worse).
And last, but not least, social media. Back in the good old days of baby boomers and rotary phones, you only got bullied on the bus to school, at school, and on the bus back. Now, once you get home and open up your laptop or your phone, there’s a whole different world filled with ample opportunity for kids (and grown adults) to tear each other down and make one another feel worthless. The rise of cyberbullying brought with it the rise of the rate of suicide. According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, social media is associated with mental health problems, which includes depression, sleep disturbances, and eating concerns, among young adults.
I’ve just listed for you several cultural, political, and social aspects that have changed in the last two decades that could have contributed to the rise of the suicide rate. With all of those factors working together, it’s no wonder that the rate has risen. But at the end of the day, we have to realize how each and every one of us contributes to this climate that has fostered such a toxicity, people would rather end their lives than to be apart of it. We also have to realize that depression is a mental illness, and while many things can cause or contribute to it, sometimes it seems that you will never be able to find a reason as to why someone took their life. You can have it all, but depression will still find a way to convince you that you have, and are, nothing. We, as a society, must try to make amends for those that we have broken or neglected to help by working each day to create a new environment. One that we all feel welcome to be a part of and to live in. Because at the end of the day, this isn’t just a public health crisis, it’s a public humanitarian crisis. We must look at ourselves and our own behavior, watch what we say before we say it, reach out to one another, and spread love and compassion. Ask your friends if they’re okay. Ask yourself if you’re okay. And if you’re not, please let someone know, because we want you to stay. Please, just stay.
If you or someone you love needs help, please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-888-273-8255
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