Something is wrong in our country. Very wrong. I think we all feel it and know it.
My thirteen year old daughter noticed something the other day. We were stopped at a traffic light on the way to school and she looked around at the other drivers and to be honest they all looked pretty miserable. One woman was crying. Another man had his head in his hand. The other was just staring ahead rather hopelessly. Maybe we were just seeing them all at a bad moment (it was morning) but I don't know. We live in a country with a quality of life which is the envy of the world in many ways. So many of us have cars, cable, and food in the refrigerator. And yet a report just came out that suicide rates are at the highest level in decades, especially among the middle class and women.
The suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, jumped by 63 percent over the period of the study, while it rose by 43 percent for men in that age range, the sharpest increase for males of any age. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the study on Friday. The increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation’s suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study. In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999.
I think many people reacting to this study are pointing to our dire economy. But I don't think it's that simple. We've had economic downturns before.
I think that in some critical ways we are distant from each other. It's like an epidemic of aloneness. And yes, I think it's contagious. We don't know our neighbors anymore. We just don't connect. Instead, we have television where we have front row seats to our maddening national calamities and controversies. That we share. It used to be that politicians were dirty but they weren't in our lives 24/7. Newscasts make us conscious and even weary of national problems so we end up as a people bonded by what divides us. Our national conversation is an argument.
We ignore our own neighborhoods. We all know what Obama's doing, we all have opinions about Trump, and can talk about the chances of Hillary Clinton being indicted over the email scandal. But we don't know our neighbor's names. That's upside down, isn't it? I believe God has instructed us to love one another. That doesn't mean spouting some general "love humanity" credo or just putting a "co-exist" bumper sticker on our car. It means love actual real live individual people. It's easy to love humanity as a whole. Actual human beings are tougher to love. They're weak. They disappoint. They lie. They eye roll. They gossip. They're petty. Sometimes you have to dig down deep into others to see the miracle in them, their soul. See the saint they can be.
But it's so much easier to think macro about humanity than it is to actually pick up a phone and see how someone is doing or walk down the street and talk to the crabby old couple. It's easier to skip your neighbor's daughter's wedding and just send a gift. It's easier to ignore your neighbor's kid up to no good than it is to scold them yourself. But those are the things which bind us. We no longer have shared memories, we have national debates.
Last year I started walking. First, I did it for exercise. I'd usually do it after I got the youngest ones to bed. I started waving to neighbors as I passed and then after a while we started chatting. Sometimes we talk. But we don't talk about big things. We talk about little things. But you know what, I think those little things are the actual big things. So now when I walk I can sometimes spend more time talking to neighbors than actual walking. So I joined a gym to get a workout in and I take still walk around the neighborhood for my own enjoyment. I don't know what any of them think about Trump or Clinton. I don't know their thoughts about drones. But I know that they're worried about their childrens' schools, they love the neighbor's daughter down the street who baby sits their children sometimes in a pinch, they don't trust their car mechanic, they like to take cruises in the summer, and their daughter wants to play baseball instead of softball. Maybe those are the important things.
I'm wondering if just maybe this high suicide rate is the counter intuitive consequence of the ridiculous self esteem movement. Since the 1960's, we've told kids they're great and all we've gotten are multiple generations of narcissists. Maybe it's time we stopped giving out participation trophies. Maybe it's time we kept score in games. Maybe it's time for teachers to use those psyche shattering red pens to grade tests. Generations of young people have grown up to be shocked that the other little despots they're surrounded by won't bend their knee to them.
We've concentrated on the half of the Jesus' request to "love others as you love yourself." Everyone loves themselves nowadays. But we've forgotten the other part. And the more our society ignores Him, I fear the suicide rate will only climb. Sadly, we'll probably end up praising people's decision to commit suicide as somehow affirming their life choices or some such idiocy. I guess that's easier than reaching out to them to help.