Newly obsessed with a spike in suicide, Leftists argue that Americans are mean. I contend that the suicide spike is because Leftists have denied us hope.
The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have brought suicide into the American spotlight. Although an “N” of two is not a trend, the CDC says that there is, in fact, an unpleasant suicide trend in America. According to the CDC, since 1999, America’s suicide rate has increased on average by 30%, with the steepest climbs in the upper Midwest, where suicide has increased by as much as 57%.
Strikingly, the CDC also asserts that more than half of these suicides did not have known mental health risks. All of which forces one to ask “Why are Americans killing themselves in greater numbers?”
As someone who has suffered in the past from serious depression, I suspect hopelessness is a significant factor. When you’re deeply depressed, not only are things bad, they are hopeless.
Moreover, from the depressed person’s point of view, they will never get better. Nothing will change. The depressed person knows deep inside that grim, dark, and awful is a permanent, unchanging condition.
That’s why it doesn’t help if friends say things such as “You just have to get through this bad patch,” or “If you would (get a new job, get out of a bad relationship, etc.), you’d feel better.” Anything that friends tell the depressed person in an effort to steer them away from that blackness is premised on hope. Part of depression, though, is that hope is a delusion. The reality is that it is absolutely inconceivable that things will get better.
I’m fortunate in that I was never depressed to the point of feeling suicidal. Instead, I was a slogger. I slogged through may day, doing what needed to be done, but was deeply unhappy. Moreover, I was unable to make changes that would have increased my happiness because the depression told me (quite falsely) that change was useless. Nothing would improve . . . ever.
Fortunately, the three times that I found myself in one of those dead-end funks, external events happened that forced changes on me. I graduated from the school in which I was unhappy, I recovered from a serious illness that made me unhappy, and a different serious illness allowed me to step back from a job that made me unhappy. In other words, I was always the lucky recipient of a deus ex machina event that broke the depression cycle.
I’ve sometimes wondered how things would have ended up if I hadn’t had an external force to save me from Churchill’s “black dog.” I’d like to think that, like Churchill, I might never have quite abandoned that little spark of hope that keeps one going, no matter how bad things get. In that regard, one of my favorite Churchill quotations comes from a time when he was struggling with depression. As I heard it, he was at a dinner party and, instead of talking to the young woman seated next to him, spent most of the dinner staring unhappily at his plate. Suddenly, he turned to her and said, “We are all worms, but I do believe that I am a glow-worm.” No matter his mood, he never lost faith that he had something to offer.
Others, however, lack that little spark, whether because of nature, nurture, or whatever else combines to make each individual’s psyche. For those people, the thinking is brutally clear: if nothing will ever get better, if life will always be, not just hedged about with failure and isolation, but also drab, pointless, and meaningless, why live?
All of the above describes individual hopelessness. This essay asks whether there be societal hopelessness too?
I think there can be. Of course, we know that, no matter the circumstances, there are people whose will to live always burns, offsetting situational despair. That’s why people survive concentration camps and gulags. That’s why they survive poverty and totalitarianism. That’s why they survive pain and fear. We are hardwired, for the most part, to survive. That hard-wiring can break down, though, and that’s where I want to go with the rest of this post — I want to discuss a society in which the hard wiring has broken down or, more accurately, a society in which the dominant culture has deliberately broken the hard-wiring. [Read more…]