Suicide: A public health epidemic.
Updated: Feb 10, 2022
The Surgeon General recently reported that our teenagers are more at risk of suicide since the pandemic than ever before in our nation's history. Their feelings of isolation, uncertainties about the future, substance abuse, and other problems occurring in the home have triggered soaring rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts nationwide. Young people across every socio-economic class, race, and ethnicity are affected, with 6,600 teenagers committing suicide in 2020 alone. Our children are dealing with more uncertainty than any other generation in history. The average American youth will have seen close to 200,000 violent acts on some form of media by the time they turn eighteen, and most no longer live in two-parent households that provide emotional support. Consequently, many have an over-dependence on their peers, which ends up creating greater emotional instability.
During a recent podcast episode, my husband I were surprised to learn how many people in the church were affected by the horrible tragedy of suicide. Out of a dozen live listeners, five of them had an immediate family member who either attempted or committed suicide – including myself. My husband shared how in his early twenties, he placed a loaded gun inside his mouth, having lost the will to live. Interestingly, a commercial on TV about starving kids in Africa ultimately shocked him back into the reality that his life was worth living. For another, her son's girlfriend committed suicide right before Christmas while pregnant with his child. It shook the family to their core, but their faith in God is helping them heal.
For myself, I deal with the powerlessness that comes from being the parent of a child who struggles with mental illness and thoughts of suicide. My faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and knowing my daughter has also accepted Christ comforts me and allows me to surrender the burden to Him. Yet, I can't help but face the very real notion that God is ultimately in control and none of us know what life may have in store. Kay Warren, whose son took his own life in 2013, eloquently expressed the paradox in this way:
“My hope was pretty much centered around what could happen here. Rather than taking the longer view, sometimes things don't happen the way we want them to here on Earth…Yet I can be safe and secure and even joyful with that confidence of what God is doing, ultimately.”
When anxiety about ourselves or our loved ones builds up inside, the real danger is turning away from the Lord and towards ourselves. Whether it's money, social distancing, escapism in substance abuse, anger, or resentment against the "other," none of these offer a real solution to the problem. In the midst of being threatened, we must realize God is our refuge. The pressure should lead us to run towards God for rest and peace rather than running away.
The threats we all face are real. People are losing their jobs, loved ones are dying, and our country is deeply divided along political lines. Suicide is now a public health epidemic, not a personal problem. We cannot treat it like something that just happens and cannot be prevented. Whether we're health care providers, teachers, friends, or family members, we need to change our attitude towards the issue if we hope to reverse this alarming trend.
In fact, the existence of a national mental health crisis is the one issue that receives overwhelming bipartisan support. Instead of capitalizing on it, this Administration again misses the mark and decides to tackle suicide in a deeply contentious approach. Rather than creating programs to address the root causes of suicide, like improving access to mental health services or eliminating the erratic COVID restrictions, the White House strategy focuses on reducing suicide through better gun control. It is as if our government is tone-deaf, ignoring the disturbing trends in self-harm, feelings of hopelessness, and trauma from the COVID hysteria happening in cities across America. One expert refers to it as "Mask induced psychosis." No one disputes the statistics that guns are the most common method of suicide, but shouldn't our focus be on reducing the stressors that lead people to choose a weapon in the first place?
The past couple of years of lockdowns, financial chaos, martial pressure, and trauma for our children has taken a toll on all of us. Regardless of what the government may or may not do, the church should be a place of hope and acceptance. Survivors can be overwhelmed by feelings of anger and guilt because everyone seems to think they could've prevented it somehow. Yet, the reality is suicide is impossible to predict.
Having faith in the Lord does not mean we can always handle life's unpredictability. Let us reduce the stigma of needing help for ourselves and our loved ones so we can pray and support one another. We need to provide resources for those struggling with mental illness so they do not face their demons alone.
"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:22-23).