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The troubling rise in suicides

Anthony Bourdain got paid, very well, to travel the world eating unusual food. He re-defined the chef culture and was judged to be a very hip 61-year-old, amazingly fit from martial arts.

Kate Spade, 55, was described in her New York Times obituary as having an “accessory empire.” Empire is a strong word but even people who couldn’t recognize her handbags, might know her name as someone famous.

Both were rich. Bourdain’s mother said in his obituary, “Success beyond his wildest dreams. Money beyond his wildest dreams.”

Both had children: Bourdain’s was 11 years old; Spade’s was 13.

Yet, both hung themselves last week – ending lives that most would trade for in a split second. What dude wouldn’t want to be paid to eat and travel and how many girls dream of fashion jobs?

The tortured artist is a stereotype for a reason. As early as 1897, poet Edwin Arlington Robinson penned a verse about super-rich-man-about-town Richard Cory who “went home and put a bullet through his head.”

Not making People magazine, however, is the fact us commoners have been killing ourselves in growing numbers since the 2000s rolled in.

According to figures at both the CDC and World Health Organization websites, Americans have been killing themselves more and more often. Forty-five thousand Americans took their own lives in 2016. The suicide rate has increased more than 30 percent in half of the states since 1999.

While the United States is often found among the worst for social problem statistics, with suicide that is not the case. The countries where it is most common are generally the poorer countries. Sri Lanka and Guyana both top the list. The most common way to kill yourself worldwide is poisoning with agricultural pesticide if that gives some insight into the demographics.

In the United States men with guns are by far the most common scenario for self-inflicted deaths. Men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women here and guns account for about half of all suicides. Hanging and poison are the next two leading causes. 

Suicide has become the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to a New York Times article on the rising number. It included experts who expressed dismay that the rise has occurred despite years of research and preventative programs. 

The Centers for Disease Control reports that suicide is rarely caused by any one thing and many of the people who die by suicide are not known to have a mental problem at that time. Bourdain apparently shocked friends by killing himself, but Spade’s relatives said for years she had battled depression issues.

The CDC found causes of suicide are  linked to relationships 42 percent of the time; problematic substance abuse 28 percent; “general crisis” 29 percent; job/financial 16 percent and physical health 22 percent. But these often overlap and include a mixture plus other specific issues.

There is clearly something wrong in a world where killing one’s self is in the top 10 of ways to die. It’s hard to know what can be done to improve these statistics. On a larger scale, two areas of modern life need to improve their efforts: the church and psychiatric medicine. At the bottom of the issue is a spiritual problem. People are hopeless. Whether from internal factors or what they see around them, people feel alone and miserable. More emphasis on the community and specifically the church family is needed to address this rot in the modern psyche.

Secondly, as the results in the New York Times story indicated, the rise in suicides is despite the fact that more Americans than ever take antidepressants, with the 15 million Americans taking the drugs -- tripling the number of taking them on a regular prescription since 2000. Clearly the modern approach to mental health on a national scale is a failure. 

On a personal level, there are plenty of websites with tips for spotting symptoms in loved ones – generally beginning with talk of suicide – don’t ignore it if you hear someone speak of it. Googling suicide prevention returns a bountiful number of resources.