Saturday, June 8, 2013

Why Are So Many Choosing Death?

A lot of people argue that modern technological society is making us psychotic. I can think no better evidence for this than the epidemic of suicide that is now sweeping the globe, especially in the United States. It seems everywhere I look this week there are more stories of suicide. It seems to cut across all classes:

Bollywood actress Jiah Khan hung herself this week.
Michael Jackson’s daughter attempted suicide this week.
Stephen Fry has discussed his suicide attempt in 2012.
A couple that hosted a motivational and self-help radio show in New York City committed suicide together.
There was an attempted suicide attempt outside the Today Show

Where modern society goes, suicide follows. I wonder how much of it there is among "primitive" societies. Someone call Jared Diamond.

And just think, that’s over and above all of our mass shootings, the latest of which occurred this week in Santa Monica. In America, we're doubling-down on killing ourselves and/or each other.

But seriously, it is worth noting that this is at the same time as antidepressant use in the U.S. has skyrocketed. Imagine how much there would be even if those didn't exist. In fact, according to some sources, antidepressants are the most prescribed medication in the United States, ahead of even antibiotics and blood pressure medication.
The use of antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs -- those that affect brain chemistry -- has skyrocketed over the last decade.

Adult use of antidepressants almost tripled between the periods 1988-1994 and 1999-2000.

Between 1995 and 2002, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the use of these drugs rose 48 percent, the CDC reported.
CDC: Antidepressants most prescribed drugs in U.S. (CNN)
According to a report released yesterday by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the rate of antidepressant use in this country among teens and adults (people ages 12 and older) increased by almost 400% between 1988–1994 and 2005–2008.

The federal government’s health statisticians figure that about one in every 10 Americans takes an antidepressant. And by their reckoning, antidepressants were the third most common prescription medication taken by Americans in 2005–2008, the latest period during which the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collected data on prescription drug use.
Astounding increase in antidepressant use by Americans (Harvard Medical School)

My question is, if modern life, with all our interactive screens and creature comforts, is supposedly so great, why are people ending their own lives in such great numbers? And the numbers are truly staggering, as this article points out:
Forget the days of whispering about suicide—it’s become a national epidemic, and is only likely to get worse over the years unless the country starts addressing the problem, writes Tony Dokoupil in this week’s Newsweek. Self-harm is likely to take 40,000 American lives this year; in 2010 suicide took more lives than war, murder, and natural disasters combined. It’s not the depressed teen who is taking his or her own life, but rather it’s the baby boomers, who currently have the highest suicide rate in the world. According to data exclusively obtained by Newsweek, there has been a 37 percent increase in the years of life lost to clinical depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, and other mental disorders. 
Suicide Likely to Take 40,000 American Lives (Daily Beast)
Newly released and striking figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that from 1999 to 2010 the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent, up from 13.7 to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people. In 2010 more people in the U.S. died from suicide than from car crashes—a statistic that alone seems to stand as troubling testament to desperate times. As the New York Times notes, the CDC and other experts believe the suicide figures to be on the low side.

Another striking symptom is high levels of stress that lead to drug use, abuse and addiction. Research  concludes that stress can render people susceptible to serious illness, and that chronic stress can play a role in the progression of cancer. It is hard to believe, but 11 percent of all Americans aged 12 and older, which is well over 30 million people, are currently taking antidepressants despite the danger of suicide for some users.

And a stunning 23 percent of women in their 40s and 50s are now taking antidepressants according to a major study by the CDC.
The 4 Plagues: Getting a Handle on the Coming Apocalypse (Alternet)

It's not just the United States: UK Suicide rate rises 'significantly' in 2011 (BBC) and 'Suicidal' man causes Chinese bus fire (BBC) and Hidden Cost of Greece, Euro Crisis: Suicides (Naked Capitalism)

Here are some thoughtful articles on the subject: Why Suicide Has become Epidemic and What We Can Do To Help (Daily Beast) and  Baby boomers are killing themselves at an alarming rate, raising question: Why? (Washington Post)

I would argue that if you were to devise a system intentionally designed to drive a primate to psychosis, you would come up with essentially the system we have today. You would downgrade and de-emphasize human social relationships. You would pit people against each other. You would institutionalize children from birth. You would make people live with pervasive fear and uncertainty. You would force them to work at cruel, demeaning jobs with little time off to relax. You would show them unrealistic and unattainable images of physical perfection to make them ashamed of their own bodies. You would constantly show goals that are unattainable for the vast majority of people. You would encourage dissatisfaction with one’s life.

No doubt the technophilia crowd believes that more technology will somehow solve all these problems. When we upload our brains into computers all our depression will disappear. That, or we can all medicate it out of us even more than we do already. Forgive me if my eyes are rolling at this.

I am at a high risk myself. I don't know what will happen. All I know is that we're going to lose a lot of good people, and if anything good comes out of something so awful, maybe we'll start to question the kind of society we've made for ourselves.


  1. This is a very insightful and compassionate commentary. Thank you for writing it. When you say you're at a high risk yourself, what do you mean?

    1. Male, late thirties, single, no wife or girlfriend and not much hope of finding either, no children, no pets, no family (just an aging parent), broken home, no close friends, frustrated career ambitions. In the Midwest, if you are not part of a nuclear family raising children, you are totally alone, especially men. It’s amazing I’ve lasted this long.

    2. Here's a hug. Please stay... the grim reaper comes soon enough... Besides, you are part of something important brewing... this blog makes it clear.

  2. @Escape:
    Please don't depart the planet by your own hand anytime soon.
    Consider how much more connected you could be if you transitioned to a real community. I have a family, and I want more connection, not less. I want to be involved in a real, meaningful way with a tight-knit community of people who care about each other, and do things for each other not for money, but for love and compassion.

    I believe such communities could survive and thrive while opting out of the brutal, techno-dystopian system that we are living in. Barter, gifting, local agriculture. My main goal is to get there.
    You are welcome to cooperate directly with me.

  3. Thanks all. If anyone's ever in Milwaukee, stop in for a beer. This place is bangin' in the summer.

  4. Nice article man.

    However, I think that medicalizing hopeless and sadness should not be the primary form of aid. Our society demands that we maintain a stellar social life, along with a useful career and still find time for a lover, children and sleep. We use caffeine to work the long shifts, sleeping pills to catch a few ZzZz, alcohol to lubricate the tongue so we can speak to people we have nothing in common with because we sit behind screens, finding the niche topics that suit our own uniqueness. Depression has fallen into that category and must be managed to maximize productivity; pills are quick to take.

    With everybody moving at top-speed, we have no time to reflect; with the time we do have, we ironically reflect on the perceived bleakness of our modern world; ironic because bleakness relates to the word 'dull', which is not a reflective quality. Time has to be made or attitudes need to change.

    Hang in there, man. The value of depression is in the insightful people like you who bring these points closer to the surface of public thought. We need to deal with it, not medicate it. You asked why so many choose suicide but answering the question isn't enough. We need to address these societal and global problems. The internet brings home plenty of reasons to feel like shit but it also allows us to read articles by people like you.



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    1. Let me give you an example of how isolated we've become in this techno world that we live in.

      Two young men, buddies, entered a restaurant where I was eating and sat down at a table. As soon as they finished ordering, they each whipped out their iPhones and starting texting while completely ignoring one another.

      True story.

      And we can't understand in this society why people aren't making meaningful connections anymore. :P

    2. I've been reading 'Why America Failed' this week and this really struck home. A society of alienated individuals, indeed.

  7. 40.000 suicides a year is nothing if society would be at fault or civilization there should be millions . But there aren`t . There ` even as much as traffic fatalities . And being married with children in the Midwest should be the reason to be driven to suicide . This is just a mental dysfunction like all the other like schizophrenia etc . Just another aspect of life . there was always suicide . So what ?!

  8. 40.000 suicides a year is nothing if society would be at fault or civilization there should be millions . But there aren`t . There ` even as much as traffic fatalities . And being married with children in the Midwest should be the reason to be driven to suicide . This is just a mental dysfunction like all the other like schizophrenia etc . Just another aspect of life . there was always suicide . So what ?!


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