The suicide levels in America have now reached crisis levels. If suicide were a communicable disease, it would be discussed in social media, the news and around water coolers all across the nation.
People would be in a panic, wondering how to counteract the “disease” and escape the clutches of it. Doctors would appear on talk shows and the news educating the public on what they can do to prevent “suicide” from affecting their own lives. It would be labeled the epidemic, taking out even the strongest among us in our modern generation.
But suicide isn’t a disease – it’s a symptom. It in and of itself is only the embodiment and sometimes end-result of the despair and hopelessness that many people in America live with on a daily basis. Perhaps, if it was treated like a contagious, preventable disease, and not something to be ashamed of, fewer Americans would be meeting their end via suicide and instead seek the help they need to get better.
Traditionally, religious authorities have considered suicide to be sinful – but this approach has obviously not done much to deter this trend in a secular world. But are there more compassionate means by which faith can remedy this condition?
What The Experts Say About Suicide in America
Aaron Kheriaty, director of the Medical Ethics Program at Cal-Irvine, wrote in his article First Things, that the “suicide crisis in America has reached epidemic proportions.” Suicide rates have continued to grow coast-to-coast in both urban and rural areas, and have affected the old and young alike. Amazingly, suicide rates have climbed so high that for the first time since the 1930s, the life expectancy of Americans has declined.
When one considers all the medical advancements that have led to a more and more people beating diseases that used to take lives, the fact that suicide numbers alone are making this life expectancy number go down is almost unbelievable.
Kheriaty explains that there is a perfect storm of factors behind the current suicide epidemic facing American families. A few of those mentioned include utilitarianism, a decrease in religious involvement, and the increase and acceptance of assisted suicide laws. He eventually summarizes the cause behind the epidemic in one word: despair. The word despair can also be described as an utter lack of hope, or hopelessness.
How Long Has This Problem Been Developing?
Author Robert Putnam, author of “Bowling Alone” sounded the alarm of the coming trouble back in 1995. He noted that although more Americans than ever were enjoying the game of bowling, participation in bowling leagues was on the decline. People simply bowled on their own, not in a community setting like a bowling league.
In addition, it was noted that fewer and fewer Americans were taking the time to volunteer in their communities or to attend town or school board meetings. Furthermore, spending time with neighbors became something of a forgotten pastime. In other words, the trend of isolation was on the upswing.
It’s important to keep in mind that this book was written before the effects of social media and smartphones. A glance around a restaurant at dinnertime in today’s modern era will show many tables of people staring at their own phones, not talking to each other. In other words, even when people are together today, they are still isolated. Isolation then causes loneliness, which in turn is a big factor for depression. Of course, depression, when untreated, can become severe enough to lead someone to contemplate suicide.
How to Change Things for the Better
As Christians, the best way to help those who are living in hopelessness and isolation is to offer them fellowship. Kheriaty stated in his article that “we now have a sizeable body of medical research that suggests that prayer, religious faith, participation in religious community and practices like cultivating gratitude, forgiveness, and other virtues can reduce the risk of depression and lower the risk of suicide.”
There it is, a simple way to combat a complex problem: believers should invite others to church, or at least go visit individuals they feel are living an isolated life, along with offering more opportunities for church participation.
Chuck Colson once said “Christianity offers the world a great proposal, a better way to live and flourish.” This is exactly the proposal all Christians should offer up to those around them.
~ 1776 Christian