The recent suicides of fashion entrepreneur Kate Spade and chef-turned-TV-star Anthony Bourdain have sparked a culture-wide discussion, as often happens when a celebrity dies in a horrible fashion. But unlike previous celebrity suicides, the anxieties prompted by these deaths took on a different coloration when it became clear in their wake that their deaths are part of a larger and disturbing public-health crisis we’ve failed to acknowledge.
According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., killing twice as many people (45,000) as homicide does each year. In more than 25 states across the country, the suicide rate has increased by more than 30 percent since 1999.
Most of the deaths are people (like Spade and Bourdain) at an age once considered the prime of life, which suggests a kind of epic, deadly new form of the midlife crisis: The largest number of suicides are happening among white men and white women between the ages of 45 and 65 (although rates are rising steadily for nearly all racial and ethnic groups). The news is grimmest for men, who account for three-quarters of all suicides. The CDC’s principal deputy director, Anne Schuchat, told Business Insider that the new data are “disturbing.”
Disturbing and confusing. Suicide has often increased during times of economic hardship; in 1932, during the height of the Great Depression, for example, the rate was 22 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the New York Times. But in the U.S. today, during an economic recovery under way for nearly a decade, the rate is 15.4 per 100,000. And the number of deaths has stubbornly increased despite much better screening and mental-health diagnosis. As the CDC researchers who worked on the recent report noted, “More than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death.” Rather, the researchers listed substance abuse, job loss, relationship problems, and financial woes as some of the many factors potentially implicated in rising suicide rates.
How did suicide, a disease of despair, a last resort, become a solution to the challenges of everyday life for so many people?
"We live in an empty culture. We have fled from God, from meaning, from purpose, and the suicide epidemic is a direct result. People are wallowing in a sea of despair, believing that there is no transcendent truth or beauty to be found in life.
– Alexander Solzhenitsyn pic.twitter.com/qhr1kwlwuE
— Dr James Kent 🎩 (@DrJamesKent3) July 17, 2018