“Survival of the fittest. Adios. Unfit.” — excerpts from a very interesting article on the rise of suicide

In the land that commercialized positive thinking and put pill bottles in every drawer, depression has emerged as the most debilitating condition we face.

Came across a very interesting article this evening in Newsweek titled “The Suicide Epidemic” by Tony Dokoupil (May 22, 2013):


I read the following excerpts aloud in a video uploaded on YT:

Suicide — a very important, albeit under-appreciated, topic. I’m running out of steam and time this evening, so I’ll save all my thoughts for another day and post up excerpts from it instead.

Every year since 1999, more Americans have killed themselves than the year before, making suicide the nation’s greatest untamed cause of death. In much of the world, it’s among the only major threats to get significantly worse in this century than in the last.

The result is an accelerating paradox. Over the last five decades, millions of lives have been remade for the better. Yet within this brighter tomorrow, we suffer unprecedented despair. In a time defined by ever more social progress and astounding innovations, we have never been more burdened by sadness or more consumed by self-harm. And this may be only the beginning. If Joiner and others are right—and a landmark collection of studies suggests they are—we’ve reached the end of one order of human history and are at the beginning of a new order entirely, one beset by a whole lot of self-inflicted bloodshed, and a whole lot more to come.

Damn. That’s what I’ve been suspecting in my own little way also. Hence why I keep fretting about us driving one another crazy and stepping all up on each other’s necks so much, being rude and cruel and outright dismissive and inhumanely intolerant, especially online. And this ties into why I also freak out a bit over prescribed psychotropics intended to treat “mental disorders,” seeing as how they too can add “suicidal ideations,” as their small print states and as evidenced in news stories that tell of those medicated or getting off of these drugs doing harm to themselves and/or others.

This is also why I keep yammering on about us creating hell on earth. This hits at the core of that concern and aids me in pointing at where we appear to be headed and why.

This year, America is likely to reach a grim milestone: the 40,000th death by suicide, the highest annual total on record, and one reached years ahead of what would be expected by population growth alone. We blew past an even bigger milestone revealed in November, when a study lead by Ian Rockett, an epidemiologist at West Virginia University, showed that suicide had become the leading cause of “injury death” in America. As the CDC noted again this spring, suicide outpaces the rate of death on the road—and for that matter anywhere else people accidentally harm themselves.

If the CDC is to be believed, that data is shocking.

(Not sure why he chose to crack on Ralph Nader in the article though. Cheap shot and completely irrelevant.)

This development evades simple explanation. The shift in suicides began long before the recession, for example, and although the changes accelerated after 2007, when the unemployment rate began to rise, no more than a quarter of those new suicides have been tied to joblessness, according to researchers. Guns aren’t all to blame either, since the suicide rate has grown even as the portion of suicides by firearm has remained stable.

Throughout the developed world, for example, self-harm is now the leading cause of death for people 15 to 49, surpassing all cancers and heart disease. That’s a dizzying change, a milestone that shows just how effective we are at fighting disease, and just how haunted we remain at the same time. Around the world, in 2010 self-harm took more lives than war, murder, and natural disasters combined, stealing more than 36 million years of healthy life across all ages. In more advanced countries, only three diseases on the planet do more harm.


Last fall the World Health Organization estimated that “global rates” of suicide are up 60 percent since World War II. And none of this includes the pestilence of suicidal behavior, the thoughts and plans that slowly eat away at people, the corrosive social cost of 25 attempts for every one official death.


That’s scary in a world of constant (and welcome) improvement, but there’s an even bigger reason to fear the burden of suicide in the new millennium: it’s a charge being led by people in middle age. In America in the last decade, the suicide rate has declined among teens and people in their early 20s, and it’s also down or stable for the elderly.

The suicide rate for Americans 45 to 64 has jumped more than 30 percent in the last decade, according to the new CDC report, and it’s possible to slice the data even more finely than they did. Among white, middle-aged men, the rate has jumped by more than 50 percent, according to a Newsweek analysis of the public data. […] In wealthy countries, suicide is the leading cause of death for men in their 40s, a top-five killer of men in their 50s, and the burden of suicide has increased by double digits in both groups since 1990.

The situation is even more dramatic for white, middle-aged women, who experienced a 60 percent rise in suicide in that same period, a shift accompanied by a comparable increase in emergency-room visits for drug-related (usually prescription-drug-related) attempts to die. […] And the picture is equally grim for women in high-income countries, where self-harm trails only breast cancer as a killer of women in their early 40s—and has become the leading killer of women in their 30s.


She sifted through eight decades of U.S. suicide data, wrenching it to separate the influence of absolute age, peer effects, and the events of the moment, and she found something shocking: the boomers have the highest suicide rate right now, but everyone born after 1945 shows a higher suicide risk than expected—and everyone is on pace for a higher rate than the boomers.

That means that the last decade isn’t just a statistical blip, a function of a bad recession, unlocked gun cases, or an aging counterculture. It’s much darker, and deeper than all that. This is the “new epidemiology of suicide,” as Phillips puts it, one where the tectonic changes of the last decade—socially, culturally, economically—have created a heavy burden of suicide, growing heavier by the year. “The baby-boomer generation,” Phillips writes in her new paper on boomers, “may be the tip of the iceberg.”


With people relinquishing life at its supposed peak, what does that say about the prize itself? What’s gone so rotten in the modern world?


People tell surveyors that the world has become less helpful, trustworthy, and fair. It’s a place where you work longer at more deadening jobs for less pay, your life pulsing away with each new email, or worse, each additional hour on your feet. What’s deadly about all this is the loss of what Joiner calls “reciprocal care.” When people have no shoulder to lean on, they feel more isolated, and that isolation can be lethal.


The life-saving power of belonging may help explain why, in America, blacks and Hispanics have long had much lower suicide rates than white people.


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.


Has there ever been a society that does more than our own to make people feel like ineffective animals? Whole neighborhoods are caught in federal catch nets, incarcerated or snared in a cycle of government benefits. Millions more are poor or near poor, most likely stuck that way. And never have Americans been heavier, or sicker. One in five people in middle age suffers multiple chronic diseases, double the rate of a decade earlier. If Joiner is right, all these developments are as hard on the mind as on the body. As one of the suicide notes Joiner quotes puts it: “Survival of the fittest. Adios. Unfit.”

Very sad last message, that was. But I get it all the same.

I’ll stop there. The article is pretty long and these excerpts don’t do it justice, so please check it out for yourselves.

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