By Hal Lindsey
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more people died last year from suicide than from auto crashes. We most associate killing oneself with the young, but it strikes across the lines of age, race, and culture. It affects society in unexpected ways. Foreign Policy magazine ran an article with the headline, “America's Suicide Epidemic Is a National Security Crisis.”
But it’s not just an American phenomenon. According to the World Health Organization, global suicide rates have risen more than 60% in the last 45 years. Almost a million people a year are known to succeed at taking their own lives. But that number is almost certainly low because of the extreme stigma in many cultures against suicide. People in those places kill themselves in ways that look accidental, or the family covers up afterward.
The epidemic took on a new dimension when we learned about an 8-year-old boy who apparently took his own life in Cincinnati. In a case of extremely violent school bullying, the boy had been beaten unconscious. The school called his mom. She went to pick him up, and both school officials and the boy told her that he had “fainted.”
He seemed okay, so she took him home. When he began vomiting later, she took him to the hospital. Doctors there concluded that he had a stomach virus, and they sent him home. At this point, neither the doctors nor the mother knew that the child had been beaten and lay unconscious on a school floor for more than seven minutes.
He stayed home from school the next day, returned to school the day after that, then came home and hung himself with a necktie. By all accounts, he was a bright and happy boy. His attacker had been picking on other children, and this boy approached him, apparently trying to settle things by shaking hands. That’s when the vicious assault began.
No one knows exactly what was going on in this little fellow’s head. But a link between the bullying and the apparent suicide seems obvious.
If you wonder how it is that bullying can seem cool to anyone, just look at the popular comedians and their jokes at the expense of White House spokesman Sean Spicer. What funnymen are doing to Spicer goes far beyond traditional political humor. They are on a crusade of personal destruction. Like the bullies in school, they seem unable to recognize that this is a human being with a family and with feelings.
Our society has become cruel and coarse. Fun seems only fun if it comes at the expense of another person’s dignity or humanity. There seem to be no limits on viciousness. Consequently, a deep despair has settled over America and much of the world. Kindness and empathy have been largely lost in public discourse, and too often lost in private.
Among children aged ten or less, suicide is extremely rare. The numbers go up dramatically for ages 11 through 14. Statistics make another upward turn during high school years. According to the CDC, 20% of high school students will seriously consider suicide this year. 15% of those will make a plan, and 8.6% will make a serious attempt.
People who closely watch this sort of thing report a surge in just the last few months. Many of them blame the Netflix TV series, “13 Reasons Why.” The show depicts suicide affecting survivors exactly as suicidal youngsters hope. After the suicide, everyone is sorry and everyone expresses love for the lost young person. The people who weren’t nice to the girl in life, regret their mistakes after she’s gone. In other words, it romanticizes suicide.
The program makes suicide seem like a kind of revenge, or a good way to teach others the ultimate lesson. Making things worse, young people who are prone to suicide have a difficult time recognizing the finality of the act — that they won’t be around to enjoy all the attention and remorse.
In a column for The Guardian, Zoe Williams wrote, “If there was a list of ways not to portray suicide, this would tick every box.” She says, “‘13 Reasons Why’… is a revenge fantasy, so it portrays suicide as an act that will achieve something. It’s aimed at a young audience, who are particularly susceptible to contagion, and particularly likely to experience suicidal thoughts. It normalizes and legitimizes the act. It goes into too much and too graphic detail about the suicide itself — which is expressly against Ofcom (the U.K.’s Office of Communications) guidelines because, however horrible it is to watch, this can still be read as a how-to.”
According to mental health advocate and media commentator, Mark Henick, “13 Reasons Why… provides a cognitive pathway, a roadmap of sorts, that tricks the minds of those at risk for suicide into believing the lies that their mental illnesses tell them.”
But this is not just an epidemic among the young. In the U.S., 20 veterans per day die by suicide. That statistic is often recounted in the media as an indictment of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But most of the veterans killing themselves are over the age of 50, and they weren’t anywhere near Iraq or Afghanistan.
Experts give a variety of reasons for this new epidemic, but it really comes down to something quite old — hopelessness. Back in 1976, I wrote a book called The Terminal Generation. It said, “Man can live about 40 days without food, 3 days without water, about 8 minutes without air… but only about a second without hope.”
The best answer to despair is not platitudes, vague spirituality, or even science. It is hope. Real hope with real answers. And that’s what we have in the Person of Jesus — real answers for this generation. Real hope.
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” — Romans 15:13