Why the Rise in Suicide?
WHY? WHY? WHY?—That is what the young widow had asked herself a thousand times since her husband had hanged himself. He seemed to have so much for which to live—a new baby, a gracious wife, many fine friends, a good job. Everyone knew that he could charm an audience with his musical ability and, though relatively young, he was greatly respected in the community.
There was not the slightest hint that he planned to take his own life. But he did. And now the living, particularly his wife, must bear a tremendous burden, not just the loss of her husband, but also the social stigma often attached to the word—suicide.
Perhaps the grief that claws at this young woman has never come upon you. But the subject of suicide still deserves your attention, for it is on the rise. The World Health Organization reports that 1,000 persons commit suicide every day world wide; that is one every 86 seconds. There were almost 25,000 “official” suicides in the U.S. in 1973. Yet these figures only begin to tell the story.
It is estimated that only one American in ten who attempts to take his life is successful; in other words, in 1973 there may have been 250,000 attempts. Suicide figures are low. Because of religious or other feelings, or to preserve life-insurance benefits, “heart attack”—not suicide—is often shown on death certificates. Evidently many drownings and automobile “accidents” are really suicides.
Where Is the Rise? Why There?
Suicide is nothing new. But in certain groups it is now particularly frequent. Why?
The elderly, for instance, often extremely lonely, are said to be turning more often to suicide. Among black men between the ages of 20 and 35 it is twice as frequent as among whites of the same group. Dr. H. Hendin, author of Black Suicide, says that this is due to “the frustration and anger of the black ghetto.” Frustration, too, is blamed for the rise of the problem among professional women. Suicide has reached ‘epidemic proportions’ among youths. Experts blame worry over grades, parents and the opposite sex as the causes.
But are these the real or sole reasons? True, many elderly people are lonely, but that is not entirely new. Multitudes of women are torn between career and home; but only a relatively few kill themselves. Have not youngsters always had school, parent and boy-girl problems? Each of these factors, while contributing something to the current suicide problem, also leaves much unsaid. There must be other factors.
There are. Cities have alienated old people as never before. Contemporary social movements urge women and blacks to “achieve” at any cost or be cast aside. Youths, with little disciplining nowadays, turn to alcohol and drugs. Additionally, modern movies and television glorify violence and make life appear cheap. The pall of nuclear holocaust dangles over the globe. On every front the world now seems to be in desperate trouble. And, most of all, people feel that there is no one to whom they can turn for aid.
The churches are no longer trusted; they have told the people for too long that the Bible is a book of myths. Most religion is rapidly losing what influence it ever had. It has not been able to build into the lives of individuals the qualities needed to withstand modern pressures.
When personal crises pile on top of one another and are viewed against the backdrop of the larger ones facing the whole human race, many people come to feel hopeless. They have no refuge.
Of course, each individual case is different. Experts do not agree as to what the peculiar blend of circumstances actually is that ultimately moves a person to die at his own hand. Is there some clue that suicide is imminent? Doctors look for a pattern, but it is hard to find. Some people carefully plan to take their own lives, but others act impulsively. Some become erratic before killing themselves, but a sudden calm settles over others.
However, most suicides do not have a history of mental disorder. Like the case of the young man mentioned at the start of this article, their death comes as a jolting surprise to everyone.
Coping with Suicide
The bereaved may be particularly set, reasoning that the person “knew better.” True, he probably did; but-many “normal” persons have somewhat irrational moments. Says an article in the National Observer: “Suicidal crisis is not a lifetime characteristic. It is often a matter only of minutes or of hours.” Unfortunately, when the inclination strikes some people, the opportunity to carry it out is also conveniently at hand.
Family members and friends often feel that they are in some way responsible for what happened. “I should have been more caring, more loving,” they may say. Of course, such thinking cannot bring back the dead. Nevertheless, hindsight does impress one thing on all of us: The need to be more attuned to the often-unspoken emotional needs of others.
Of course, in the last analysis, the suicide must accept responsibility for his act before the Giver of life. Even if those observing do not understand the reasons, what the suicide did was wrong. Some people have a hard time grasping this fact. Yet Jehovah will stand behind the rightness of His law regarding the sanctity of life.—Ex. 20:13; Rom. 13:9.
But the living may be absolutely confident that He is also merciful and understanding. He alone knows all the complex personal and social factors that can torment an otherwise healthy person into believing he must kill himself. The Bible shows that ‘the Judge of all the earth is going to do what is right.’—Gen. 18:25.
The living do well to strengthen themselves not to make the mistake of thinking that suicide is the best way out of life’s problems. Develop a real love for God, a respect for life. Learn his his Holy Word; it will show you that you can withstand the pressures peculiar to our times. (Matt. 7:24-27) Do not add to the burdens of those left behind by a suicide’s act. Make it your determination to help them too to put faith in the One who knows fully the thoughts and intentions of the heart.