The Paradox of the Growing Suicide Epidemic

According to the newest statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “throughout the developed world … self-harm is now the leading cause of death for people 15 to 49, surpassing all cancers and heart disease.” From the Newsweek story:

“Every year since 1999, more Americans have killed themselves than the year before, making suicide the nation’s greatest untamed cause of death. In much of the world, it’s among the only major threats to get significantly worse in this century than in the last.

“The result is an accelerating paradox. Over the last five decades, millions of lives have been remade for the better. Yet within this brighter tomorrow, we suffer unprecedented despair. In a time defined by ever more social progress and astounding innovations, we have never been more burdened by sadness or more consumed by self-harm. And this may be only the beginning.”

Above all, these circumstances call for a deep reflection on the suffering that may be antagonizing any number of our friends, family, or colleagues and make us realize that despite having our necessities–and even our desires–fulfilled, anyone of us may be suffering from a hidden despair.

The data also invites reflection on what is different today than last year or ten years ago or 50 years ago. David Zahl reflects on the numbers:

“I know what you’re thinking: perhaps he is overstating things a little–the world is no more or less rotten today than it has ever been. While that’s certainly true as far as the human condition itself is concerned, there’s a big difference between being stuck in webs of our own making (in the same way we always have been) and being filled with such despair that we want to end things. After all, we are usually pretty enraptured by whatever’s keeping us captive. So what is it about current iterations of human dysfunction, especially in educated circles–e.g. narcissism, materialism, careerism, techno-solutionism, internet-never-forgets-ism, hyper-litigiousness, etc–that have pushed so many over the brink? I’m not entirely sure. And I’m not entirely sure that understanding the precise reasons for it is all that important, as knowledge only goes so far when it comes to addressing real mental anguish. But I can recognize an opening for an honest discussion about the nature of sin and redemption, law and grace, death and resurrection, when I see one. Indeed, the church has more to contribute here than just community (though embodied grace does go a long way). We can talk about hope that is rooted outside of us and our instincts, beyond prizes and striving and all that–hope that acknowledges the depth of human suffering, self-inflicted and otherwise, yet doesn’t end there. Then again, it feels pretty callous to use these numbers to prove some theological point. Perhaps it is enough simply to ruminate on the clear-as-day reality that what we think brings us happiness and what actually brings us happiness are two very separate things.”

Newsweek story: The Suicide Epidemic

David Zahl’s Reflections on the Suicide Epidemic

Other articles

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