Monday, May 27, 2013

"If one person smiles at me...."

An article in The Daily Beast/Newsweek, "The Suicide Epidemic" by Tony Dokoupil, centers on the research of Thomas Joiner. Suicide is increasing, now accounting for greater mortality than war, murder, and "the forces of nature" combined. The Church needs to face up to this not least because it can do something about the isolation and despair that are major factors in determining who will try to kill themselves. We can offer hope—which is the opposite of despair—and affirm the importance of each person in the eyes of God and to each other (1 John 3:11-18).  From the article:
.... Why do people die by suicide? Because they want to. Because they can. Dozens of risk factors banged down to a formula he shared with me in his office: “People will die by suicide when they have both the desire to die and the ability to die.
....a set of three overlapping conditions that combine to create a dark alley of the soul. ...[W]hat’s alarming is that each condition itself isn’t extreme or unusual, and the combined suicidal state of mind is not unfathomably psychotic. On the contrary, suicide’s Venn diagram is composed of circles we all routinely step in, or near, never realizing we are in the deadly center until it’s too late. Joiner’s conditions of suicide are the conditions of everyday life.

He calls the first “low belonging,” and it’s the most intuitive idea in his formula. Joiner argues that “the desire to die” begins with loneliness, a thwarted need for inclusion and connection. That explains why suicide rates rise by a third on the continuum from married to never been married. It also accords with the fact that divorced people suffer the greatest suicide risk, while twins have reduced risk and mothers of small children have close to the lowest risk. A mother of six has six times the protection of her childless counterpart, according to one study. She may die of work and worry, but not of self-harm.

The need to belong is so strong, Joiner says, that it sometimes expresses itself even in death. “I’m walking to the bridge,” begins a Golden Gate Bridge suicide note he cites. “If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.” The writer jumped. He was alone, and so are more of the rest of us. Unattached is the new fancy-free, a strategy for success that translates to later marriages, easier divorces, fewer kids, and a tendency to keep running toward the next horizon, skipping family dinner in the process. ....

Joiner calls his second condition “burdensomeness,” and it may be as emotionally intuitive as loneliness. When people see themselves as effective—as providers for their families, resources for their friends, contributors to the world—they maintain the will to live. When they lose that view of themselves, when it curdles into a feeling of liability, the desire to die takes root. We need each other, but if we feel we are failing those we need, the choice is clear. We’d rather be dead.

This explains why suicides rise with unemployment, and also with the number of days a person has been on bed rest. Just the experience of needing and receiving help from friends—rather than doing for oneself and others—can make a person pine for death. .... [more]