Wednesday, June 13, 2018
The recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have us talking about suicide again. It’s not a new epidemic. I reckon it’s been around since the beginning when the first man realized that he was sentenced to a life of working the cursed soil that would only bring forth thistles and thorns. And women would have an even tougher life bearing children, having periods, then menopause and putting up with men. And that’s before they started shaving their legs and wearing high heels.
So people have always had good reasons to seek a way out of the pain and misery of this life. And when celebrities, who seem to have it all, opt for suicide; two questions come to mind. The obvious first question everyone ask is why, why did these people do this? The second question is out there but seldom asked: why more of us don’t punch our own tickets?
The truth is that a lot of us do punch that ticket. Around the world there are over 800,000 suicides each year (World Health Organization). And even though women have it tougher, they commit suicides at less than half the rate of men. That fact seems to hold true everywhere on earth except in Southeast Asia where the women are apparently as miserable as the men and just as inclined to put an end to it on their own. Southeast Asia and Europe (especially eastern Europe) have the highest suicide rates. The United States isn’t the most suicidal nation on earth, ranking 48th out of 183 nations but we’re moving up the charts.
So, back to the questions, why some do and why more people don’t? The underlying reasons are complicated and specific to each individual. But that said, depression seems to be the common denominator when it comes to suicide. Why most depressed people do NOT commit suicide is the real question. Depression may take a person to the threshold of suicide, but what makes them take that final, fatal step or, perhaps more importantly, keeps them from taking it?
For some people it’s religious belief. All of the world’s great religions oppose suicide. Some oppose it more than others. Even within religions some groups oppose it more than others, i.e. Catholics more so than Protestants. Buddhism seems to have a more tolerant view of suicide and perhaps that contributes to the higher suicide rate in Southeast Asia. And, in heavily Catholic Italy, the suicide rate is one of the lowest. So, what one believes about the eternal consequences of suicide is a factor.
Some people stop short of taking that final step because they know it will hurt others, those left behind. Some suicidal people have even credited pets with keeping them from going all the way.
But, the number one reason for not going through with it has to be fear. Fear is part of the religious barrier to suicide. What happens to my soul if I do this? And even for non-religious people there is the uncertainty of what lies beyond. But the hereafter can also be a motivator toward suicide. Whatever is out there is likely to be better, so let’s get on with it. Still fear is a deterrent. Fear of the pain. Fear of the experience of death. Even people who have faith and are not afraid of leaving this world usually have a fear of the process. How much does dying really hurt when you’re dying?
People take their own lives because it seems to be the best option at the moment. They are not happy in this life. Success that didn’t satisfy or failure that seems final. Hopes that are gone or a hopeless future. Lost loves or lost fortunes. The end of the beginning or the beginning of the end or just the end period, depending on your eternal perspective.
My own mother committed suicide late in life. Shot herself. She was depressed off and on and severely for most of her life. She attempted suicide when I was a child. Tried to hang herself, but somehow failed. At age 70, loaded up on anti-depressants and assorted drugs prescribed by different doctors; she sat down on her back porch, put a .38 to her chest, pulled the trigger and with a shot through the heart was gone. I can only guess that, in the final moment of decision, she could find no good reason not to.
Why should those who suffer ever be born?
Why should life be given to those whose spirits are bitter?
Why is life given to those who long for death that doesn’t come?
Why is it given to those who would rather search for death than for hidden treasure?
Why is life given to those who are actually happy and glad when they reach the grave?
The Book of Job 3: 20-22