It seems that whenever voices of influence in the media address America’s most urgent national emergencies, they fall all over themselves discussing symptoms instead of facing root causes.
The American suicide epidemic has accelerated to the point that 123 Americans are killing themselves every day, but all we’re really hearing in the media about this crisis has to do with gun access and mental illness.
We’re told that because 51% of suicides occur with a firearm, one answer to this nationwide despair is a further erosion of our last remaining political rights. I resent this conclusion only because I’ve lost more than my share of friends and colleagues to suicide, and almost none of them used a firearm to do it (and most of them lived in Montana, a state notorious for responsible gun ownership).
I’m not saying that nobody uses firearms to off themselves because statistically about half of them do. Nor do I discount the evidence that access to firearms can overwhelmingly turn an otherwise meandering suicide attempt into a snap decision. But doesn’t the method that people choose to end their own lives seem a petty concern when contrasted with the reasons people have been driven to such despair in the first place? Especially since so many are doing it by other means?
Does this really feel like a firearm issue to you?
If half of the 47,000 Americans who committed suicide in 2017 did so by hanging themselves, we would not consider writing laws to control access to rope, would we? There are already more than 20,000 gun laws on the books, and writing ever more laws doesn’t change the fact that it’s illegal to kill people, and morally wrong to kill one’s self.
So we move to what I consider to be the other Red Herring of this issue: mental health.
Experts will insist that this crisis is due to a lack of mental health care facilities because poor communities cannot afford them, signaling an inability to recognize and diagnose individuals more susceptible to suicide than others, and treat them in kind. What the talking heads of the mental-health care community imply with this mentality is that anyone who kills themselves is mentally ill.
By obfuscating symptoms with problems, the orthodox medical community can employ euphemistic smoke screening that hides the realities of our society’s breakdown.
Yes, PTSD is technically a psychiatric condition.
But PTSD is just a symptom. It’s not the cause of suicide.
When it comes to veteran suicides – which amount to more than 8,000 a year, or 22 a day, or one every 65 minutes – it seems to be perpetual war, state-sanctioned genocide and military imperialism were the initial cause of this massive suicide cluster. A cluster that has snowballed to the point that the military community today has experienced so many suicides overall that voluntary death is now just part of the culture. And each man who enacts this script keeps it potent for the other men around him.
So how about ending those wars that started this crisis? Because unless we stamp those wars out, we’re always going to have more damaged Americans returning home to a country that doesn’t even know it’s at war, unable to cope with the unbelievable crimes they were hypnotized into committing in the name of freedom and democracy while getting screwed out of their VA benefits and pensions on the regular. Unless we address the war industry that caused this systemic breakdown in the first place (exactly as Ike warned would happen in ’61) we’re only further keeping this culturally patterned script of self-destruction potent for all who follow us.
In a similar way, believers in the DSM will attest that depression is a psychiatric condition, which is technically correct, but not the whole truth. I insist depression is a symptom of a culture that is itself utterly self-destructive. Our culture lives in the most suicidal way imaginable, permanently poisoning the biosphere, the watersheds and the soil biodiversity to the point that we’re paving the way for our own destruction collectively.
As above, so below, and the individual recognizes the collective self-destruction at foot; the politically motivated corruption all around; the resource wars overseas; the mass enslavement here at home; the destruction of the environment the world over; the commodification of thought online; the surveillance panopticon that watches every action; the accelerating apocalypse thrust into the retinas of every thinking-feeling person who may eventually be brought about by this cavalcade of continuous devastation to the conclusion that all existence seems utterly futile and not worth enduring for any reason any longer.
In other words, it is no measure of good health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society that always has more money to bomb children in third world countries but can never seem to muster the resources necessary to clothe the naked, feed the hungry or heal the sick.
Depression is not an abnormal reaction to the present circumstances of our world, but reacting to the crisis by prescribing drugs is. Recent enthusiasm from the medical-industrial complex for increased opioid use for pain resulted in the current opioid epidemic that seems indistinguishable from the suicide epidemic in many ways, and probably hides worsening suicide statistics quite effectively as well.
The prescription of Huxley’s Soma approaches as a way of halting rising suicide rates with a New York Times op-ed published last November entitled, “Can We Stop Suicides?” in which the authors offer yet another drug as the solution, this time anesthetic ketamine, to “halt suicidal thoughts almost immediately.” Once again, we should not be interested in the thoughts, but in the causes and conditions that created them. And the desperate circumstances of our age stem as equally from perpetual war and all the inconceivable mental symptoms created by it as they do from a grave economic crisis manifesting in a working class that can no longer make their ends meet.
Our economic despair today stems, more than anything else, from our cultural failure to incarcerate the architects of the 2008 financial crisis who hijacked the world economy and crashed it into the mountain, putting millions of families onto the streets and laying down the tinder for outright civil war as the country experiences the worst income inequality ever witnessed by human eyes. Then it became illegal to be homeless in many cities around America, and an out-of-control police state rages on whether the federal government is shut down or not.
If we have automated and outsourced every bit of our formerly great manufacturing sector out of the country, but are still expected to pay rents on homes priced by ever-increasing market speculation, Americans are wedged into a collective position that lends itself to extreme individual acts made out of desperation.
Just ask American farmers.
A recent study by the CDC found that people working in agriculture specifically, including farmers, farm laborers, ranchers, fishers, and lumber harvesters, take their own lives at a rate higher than any other occupation, as reported by the Guardian.
Newsweek reported that the suicide death rate for farmers was more than double that of military veterans. And this statistic could even be an underestimate, as the data collected skipped several major agricultural states, including Iowa. What’s more, the farmer suicide rate might be even higher than that, because an unknown number of farmers disguise their suicides as farm accidents. A similar phenomenon began taking place in India years ago that eventually led to 291,000 Indian farmers, all ending their own lives to escape debts they knew they would never be able to pay off.
C’est la vie.
Death may be a part of life. We all lose friends and family members along our journey all the time. That’s life. But to die from despair without fully experiencing one’s own life, by one’s own hand, seems especially tragic. And now that suicide is the second leading cause of death for all Americans in the prime of their life, we should react to this national emergency in kind. We can start by rejecting the symptoms as key, as well as those who spin the symptoms to distract away from the gangster imperialism that now threatens not only our very existence, but our very willingness to participate in our existence.