Marking the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Blessed Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical upholding the…
Editorial: Don’t be removed
The shocking deaths of fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain within days of each other in early June shone a renewed light on the issue of suicide. And new statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, released that same week, brought into alarming focus how serious the problem is in the United States.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with some 44,965 a year, an average of 123 per day. That’s 13.42 for every 100,000 individuals. We have more suicides than homicides, and in 2016, firearms were used in 50 percent of all suicides. Men die by suicide 3.53 times more often than women. The rate of suicide is highest in middle age, particularly for white men. And for every suicide that occurs, 25 other people attempt suicide.
Risk factors for suicide include mental illness, substance abuse, incarceration, poor job security, a history of abuse and a family history of suicide. Each of these speaks in its own way to the burden this issue should place on our conscience. People committing suicide in such numbers does not speak well of a society’s widespread respect for human life. Rather, it speaks to a sense of despair that stems, at least in part, from the erosion of family life, from the loss of opportunity and inclusion in society and from how, with the rise of digital technology, we are more interconnected yet more isolated than ever before.
Catholic author Walker Percy, who struggled with the suicide of his father and credited his not ultimately following suit to his conversion to Catholicism, captured the malaise of postmodern life well: “You live in a deranged age — more deranged than usual, because despite great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.”
Here we can and should speak of the deeper meaning, grounding, community and hope that should be found in the embrace of faith, prayer and religious practice, something else that has precipitously eroded in recent decades, especially among younger people. There is something more to this life. God has a plan. We have tremendous worth and dignity. We are created to be cooperators with God’s saving grace in the world. And in the words of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 encyclical, Spe Salvi, “The one who has hope lives differently” (no. 2).
The deaths of Spade and Bourdain saw an outpouring of social media messages, many urging those struggling to get the help they need and posting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). Still others noted that often those struggling the most find it hardest to reach out for help and that the responsibility falls to those who see someone struggling to reach out and see if there is a way to help. The human connection alone can make a great difference.
Pope Francis spoke of how human closeness can counteract a culture of isolation and alienation in his 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium:
“Sometimes we are tempted to be that kind of Christian who keeps the Lord’s wounds at arm’s length. Yet Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others. He hopes that we will stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune and instead enter into the reality of other people’s lives and know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated and we experience intensely what it is to be a people, to be part of a people” (no. 270).
Our responsibility to those who struggle flows straight out of our Gospel call.
OSV Editorial Board: Don Clemmer, Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott Richert, York Young