Kaveh Korki will never be a world-famous person in the world of cutting-edge technology. His name will not be mentioned amongst the pantheon of great innovators such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Jeff Bezos. Academically, he was always highly talented, with a Master’s in computer science from North Eastern University in Boston. His specialty? Pattern recognition.
Amongst his peers and family, however, he was always the man with a great sense of humor and the strong ability to have compassion for people. He was one of those men who would leave a strong impression with those that he touched. People even felt that they knew him.
However, no one ever suspected the darkness underneath the man. No one suspected that, behind closed doors, Kaveh was battling powerful inner demons. No one, except his immediate family, knew that Kaveh Korki was battling bipolar depression. He could be that loving man towards his family, but then, with one little incident, he could explode and cause such immense fear.
It was because of this bipolar depression and rapidly de-escalating mental state that, on September 3, 2004, his body was discovered in the basement level of his home. He was declared dead at the scene, the victim of what was determined to be an apparent suicide.
As I said, Kaveh Korki will never be famous in his field. However, his case is beyond famous for me. The reason is straightforward.
Kaveh Korki may not have been a celebrity. Still, he was someone even more significant in my eyes: Kaveh Korki was my father.
At the tender age of six, I was introduced head-on to the world of mental illness and suicide. As I got older, and I got to understand different opinions on the topic of mental health and suicide, I realized how taboo it was back then and even still is to not only end your life by your hand but also be openly out about suffering from mental illness.
But why? Suicide is neither a recent development, nor is it something that should be said with such intense disgust or ire. Mental health is also a massively significant component for a person’s well-being, on par with numerous physical factors.
Suicide is something that happens more commonly than you think. It happens every 11 minutes on average.
Every day, 132 people die by their own hand. That’s over 48,000 deaths every single year, the tenth-highest cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
However, even more disturbing than the number of suicides in this country are the amounts of people who have had suicidal thoughts in their lifetimes.
How many people have seriously considered it? Maybe one million? No. That’s a little bit under how many people actually attempted suicide (1.4 million). Three million? Nope. Only that many have made a plan (3.3 million). Try almost eleven million. That’s right. 10.7 million people have, according to a CDC study, seriously thought about ending their lives. That’s about three percent of the entire United States population.
Now, I’m not going to lie, suicide awareness, as well as mental health awareness, has increased significantly since 2004. However, most of this has come at a cost. The first real push for mental health awareness publicly came almost ten years after my father passed away, with the suicide of comedic legend Robin Williams.
Williams had been a comedic idol of mine, and I had been a massive fan of his work. When my mother and I discussed his passing, we both noted the numerous glaring similarities between him and my father. Both of them were beloved by the public and considered clowns in terms of their sense of humor. However, they both battled severe mental illnesses and decided not to get help. The result? Both of them ended up leaving those touched by them in massive pain.
It was after the death of Williams that suicide awareness became a priority. All of a sudden, the Suicide Prevention Hotline number would pop up everywhere, and I mean, everywhere. If you even typed the word “suicide” onto Google, that would become the first result. But, after a while, people forgot about it.
Rightfully so, since it was only an important issue to discuss when someone beloved lost their lives to the invisible killer. Then came the death of Kate Spade and a few days later, and more notably, that of Anthony Bourdain.
For weeks, tear-filled pleas from celebrities asking why Bourdain had done it littered the news cycle. After all, this man was on our television screens night in and night out for over two decades. His journalism style was one of pure honesty and no deception. What you saw was what you got. There had been no apparent signs, no indication that he would ever take his own life. He had seemed untouchable. But, in the blink of an eye, he was gone.
It’s been a few years now, and it feels like we are back to where we started. Suicide is no longer a talking point. Many people have forgotten how massive of an issue this is. However, a pandemic, one that has already killed millions, could kill millions more without even infecting them. And, the sad part is, it can even go hand-in-hand with this.
Remember when I mentioned that, in 2018, there were over 48,000 suicides? Well, almost half of them, 22,348 of them to be exact, were in people between the ages of 10 and 44, making it the second-leading cause of death of the largest age demographic in this country. Every year since 2009, the average suicide rate per 100,000 individuals has gone up, from 11.75 to 14.21 in 2018.
So, yeah, suicide is a massive deal and a massive issue. Despite this severity, however, there are two immediate reactions: either immense disgust and distaste due to suicide and even general mental illness still being so taboo, or the automatic labeling of whether or not we are living in the time of a “suicide epidemic.”
To these two sides, I bring up these points: first and foremost, not talking about an issue doesn’t simply make it go away. Suicide is not like Beetlejuice, where you call his name three times and he appears to wreak havoc on the world of the living. Second, to those who call suicide an “epidemic,” as much as I want to agree with you, calling this an epidemic is hyperbolic to the point where it is actually counterproductive.
So, let’s talk about suicide.
Suicide has been a touchy subject for so many people to the point where it is often difficult to determine what is real and false about those who choose to take their lives.
There are numerous perspectives on suicide. Some have bases in reality and genuinely help us understand why suicide happens, while others are not only plain wrong and hurtful but only trivialize the issue.
In a 1987 edition of the “English Journal,” one teacher had suggested that the teaching of plays such as “Romeo and Juliet” could encourage young people in love to off themselves.
But, think about it, there are plenty of students from middle school to college who read not only “Romeo and Juliet,” but also “Macbeth,” “The Great Gatsby,” and “Maus,” all of which have graphic depictions of violence towards the protagonists.
Most students, including myself, have ended up not committing suicide.
How fitting that, a couple of days after reading that article, I ran across a statement made by a Marilyn Manson protestor after the rocker returned to Denver two years after the Columbine massacre, for which he was essentially blamed due to the killers listening to his music.
The same scenario described as before: reading or listening to these materials caused people to either kill themselves or, in the case of the Columbine shooters, use a handful of automatic and semi-automatic weapons to kill 12 students and a teacher before turning the guns on themselves.
“Some will be so brash to ask if we believe that all who’ll hear Marilyn Manson tomorrow night will go out and commit violent acts. The answer is no. But does everybody who watches a Lexus ad go and buy a Lexus? No, but a few do!”
Clearly, there are many, many things wrong with that argument. However, I must digress and open that can of worms up down the road.
Others believe that suicide the most suicides happen during the holidays when people gather, and loneliness is at an all-time high. That simply isn’t true. Suicides happen every day, and there is just a concentrated amount just because of certain occasions of temporary loneliness.
But, of course, there is a scenario of suicide that I have heard so often because it is an accurate summary of all the perceptions of suicide, all wrapped up into one “neat” little bow that is anything otherwise.
That being suicide as a sign of weakness when a person is mentally ill and just want to die.
They will always find a way and, heaven forbid, we ask them how they’re doing and whether or not they are suicidal since it is so dangerous to find out something that needs to be talked through in order to tackle it head-on. So, we say nothing.
The person then hits rock bottom in their lives and then makes a recovery, or even better, they have their life back in order and back together. People would then assume that everything is all right, so the eye is then taken off the person at the most vulnerable time. So, when the suicide does end up happening, it comes completely out of the blue.
Worst of all, we believe that a suicide hotline number will be enough, especially in the days where we want a quick and easy solution to a problem that will never have a quick and easy solution.
Everything just described are the myths that we accept as truth, simply because we don’t find mental health to be as big of a priority as we do physical. There is no predictable behavior pattern that we can spot and say a person is suicidal because it manifests itself differently in people. Only they can speak as to what is going on in their minds.
If you pulled the curtain back on people, it is clear that what we see as “out of the blue” is actually something a long time coming. It isn’t an explosion, but rather a slow burn.
Despite everything we do know about suicidal behavior, there is still a lot that we don’t know. Just ask Drs. Hal Arkowitz and Scott Lilienfeld.
The two conducted a study in Scientific American back in 2014, discussing how antidepressants can be effective with those with depression, often attributed to a chemical imbalance within the brain. You would assume that these medications would help correct that chemical imbalance, and frankly, I thought so as well.
However, they surprisingly stated, “If antidepressants correct a chemical imbalance that underlies depression, all or most depressed people should get better after taking them. That they do not suggests that we have only barely begun to understand the disorder at a molecular level.”
Even something we all thought we know is turning out to be more complicated than we thought it was going to be.
So, what exactly is the “truth” about suicide, if there even is such a thing?
Well, first of all, and surprisingly so, suicide was not always taboo. In the days of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, suicide was highly tolerated and was not something that was generally offensive or stigmatized. In fact, it was often encouraged during extreme situations, when the gods gave signs for the departure of a person.
A great example of this is that of the infamous Emperor Nero of Ancient Rome. After the Roman Senate declared Nero an enemy of the state and an almost inevitable execution, it could have been argued that the gods were saying that Nero’s time was up. Therefore, Nero sped up the process and executed himself.
And not only has suicide not always been taboo, but they are anything but recent. In the United States, the number of suicides were still constant, but they were never discussed. Decade by decade, there were reasons. In the 1950s, during the quiet, suburban lifestyle that has been immortalized in programs such as “Leave It To Beaver,” suicides were still common, a controversial topic in an era where day-to-day ordinary living was not controversial.
Or how about in the 1960s, during the age of affluence and activism?
Or in the 1970s, with heavy drug use at the beginning of the decade and economic problems at the end?
Both of these issues have been heavily attributed as potential causes of depression and suicide.
There is no one single cause of suicide. To say there is one is beyond untrue, just ask the World Health Organization, who, in 2014, stated, “there is no single explanation of why people die from suicide.” However, there have been several common factors that have been identified, many of which do result in suicides.
Some of these are pretty obvious, such as difficulty in gaining access to health care, common stressors such as disaster, war, trauma, and isolation, which can result in psychological disorders such as PTSD, general mental illness, previous attempts, major life losses, the list is endless.
The more factors present, the higher the risk of suicide, and therefore, the more you would need to be careful and ensure that it doesn’t get to that point.
But all of these are merely factors. There are people in this world who experience all of these and end up not taking their own lives. So, what exactly is the missing ingredient as to why suicide happens?
“Because they want to. Because they can.”
That is the infamous answer of Dr. Thomas E. Joiner, Jr., one of the world’s premier suicidologists. At the age of 25, Joiner’s father committed suicide, pushing the younger Joiner to make the study of suicide his life’s work. To give some perspective, Joiner has dedicated thirty years of his life to studying this psychological phenomenon. The result? Joiner’s Venn Diagram of Suicide.
The Venn Diagram focuses on three specific factors of suicide: Feelings of Isolation and Loneliness, the Belief That One Is A Burden To Others, and Capability for Suicide. Now, each one of these factors alone would not necessarily drive a person to suicide. However, the desire for suicide would fall between the feelings of isolation and loneliness and the belief of one being a burden.
Once you add the capability to the equation, then it is merely a matter of time.
Knowing the causes of why suicide happens will do nobody any good if we do not address one crucial question: if this is such an important issue and one that is ending so many lives, then why aren’t more people being open about it or, at the very least, talking about it?
Is it because it’s a sensitive medical issue? Well, if that was the case, then we couldn’t be open to diseases and conditions such as obesity-related heart attacks and lung cancer.
After all, they are both conditions that are the results, for the most part, of people causing damage to themselves by their own hands.
The government has devoted much time and effort towards both causes and have already made enormous progress.
Is it taboo because we would be talking about the taking of human lives? If so, then why do we talk about wars where the object of the conflict was to kill as much of the enemy as possible?
And wait a minute, don’t Buddhist monks immolate to protest the Chinese annexation of Tibet? We learned all of this in history class, last time I checked. So, no, I guess it can’t be it either.
So, what gives? Why is it that suicide is so taboo? The answer lies in two areas of our lives: the political and the social. Both of which, by the way, are interconnected to the point where one ties itself beautifully to the other.
Politically, suicide has historically been a talking point in one and only one conversation: gun violence. But, if we are all to be perfectly honest, mental health and suicide is not the point of why the topic is brought up. It is merely, in the eyes of a government, a scapegoat around the actual issue.
It has, as far as the United States government has been concerned, a low-priority issue. One that plays, almost on repeat, when they want to claim they get policy done on gun control, but, because the NRA is paying, nothing will happen. And, if you look at the social side, there are ample reasons for why.
It says it in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
But who are we kidding? The United States has always been a country that is theist. This can be found not only in the foundations of the government but that of its people.
When we grow up in school, we must give a Pledge of Allegiance to the United States flag for “one nation, under God.” When you give sworn testimony in court or even inaugurated for a public office, you must place your hand on a holy book and swear, “so help you, God.” The national motto of the United States even refers to God, proclaiming, “In God We Trust.” If that isn’t an establishment of religion, I do not know what is.
This perfectly matches the general demographic of the United States, over four-fifths of whom are religiously affiliated.
Now, before I continue, I will say that correlation does not equal causation. In other words, I do not believe it is fair to say that religious beliefs cause a lack of suicide awareness or prevention. However, it is important to note how the major religions treat suicides because that does have an impact on how people act.
Let’s start with the most prominent player: Christianity. The vast majority of Americans, over 70 percent of them, to be exact, are members of the Christian faith. Now, while there is no particular passage of the Bible that does outrightly condemns suicide, there are a few passages that push it in that direction.
One of these, of course, is the Fifth Commandment, infamously stating that “thou shalt not kill.” Others can be found throughout both the Old and New Testaments, such as the case of Psalm 139:8, which states, “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.”
Matthew 5:21 adds more to the case against suicide, stating, “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill: and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.”
And then, of course, in Genesis 9:5, you have, “And surely your blood of your lives, will I require.”
Finally, the Catechism, arguably the greatest teaching tool of the Church, states the following about suicide: “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”
Now, as I stated previously, there is no one passage of the Bible that outright says that suicide is a sin. However, Biblical scholars have taken these three passages and interpreted that suicide is the ultimate sin due to it being a case of self-murder. The suicide of Judas Iscariot, in particular, paints a picture of suicide being an act of cowardice and weakness, as Judas hanged himself due to the guilt of betraying Jesus.
This is especially true in the case of conservative and Evangelical Protestantism, which makes up the majority of Christians in this country. In Protestantism, suicide is simply not tolerated.
However, in Catholicism, the largest and oldest denomination of Christianity, tolerance towards suicide is a little less strict, although not by much. You can thank Pope Saint John Paul II for that.
In 1992, the then-Pope amended the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in particular, to discuss the rising issue of suicide. Paragraphs 2280 to 2283 read as follows:
“Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of. Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God. If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law. Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”
While that is a lot to take in, in summary, Pope Saint John Paul II asserted that those who committed suicide due to mental illness did not commit a sin and that it would not necessarily affect their Judgement in the eyes of God.
In effect, John Paul II addressed 90 percent of all suicide cases. However, the other 10 percent, those who commit suicide without any indication of mental illness, would be committing the ultimate sin against God, and therefore, would end up in Hell.
While Pope Saint John Paul II provided a solution that would bring comfort to the majority, he did not create a solution that could bring comfort to all.
Christianity, of course, is not the only religion that condemns suicide.
In Buddhism, which, unlike Christianity, does not believe in a God-type figure, there is no absolute on the topic. However, suicide is seen as a negative act due to the destruction of a life. Like Catholicism, they do not condemn suicide for all motives; however, the majority of motives for suicide, in their eyes, are considered contrary to self-enlightenment, the ultimate goal of any Buddhist.
And then, we have the Hindus and the Muslims.
The oldest and youngest widely religions practiced religions in the world share one thing in common: they both not only outright condemn suicide; they even say that committing suicide will bar you from Heaven. In fact, suicide is directly mentioned not only in the Koran but by the prophet Muhammad himself.
That should give some level of indication as to how serious suicide is or even acknowledgment of these thoughts are in the community.
And then, of course, comes the Jewish community. Now, this community may make up only two percent of the population. Still, Jewish views on suicide only serve to facilitate a general lack of awareness and understanding.
Like Christianity, Judaism looks to the Fifth Commandment as well as Genesis 9:5. In fact, it was interpreted by notable Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus in the Talmud, the primary source of Jewish religious law and theology, that the passage means God would hold those who take their lives accountable for their final actions.
In Judaism, suicide is the ultimate sin, an indication of wickedness, as suicide violates God’s sole right to take life away by ending their own lives. As murder is forbidden, so too is suicide. Maimonides, one of the eminent Jewish philosophers, was even quoted as saying, “One who commits suicide has by definition committed a sin without any option for repentance.”
It doesn’t even matter if you have a mental illness. Suicide is not tolerated, period. The consequences, again, according to Maimonides and the Talmud, would be not only withholding a traditional Jewish funeral but even burying those who commit suicide in a separate area of the cemetery. However, this is purely on the theoretical side as the Jewish community does nevertheless ensure that even suicide victims receive burials.
Nevertheless, throughout all religious upbringings, it is almost impossible to come out and talk about the issue. Any discussion would be an admission that you are sinning against God, and who would want to do that?
The problem is, however, that it is OK to have these thoughts. It is not shameful, nor is it wrong. It is something that, as established previously, happens to millions upon millions of people. Worrying about a religious doctrine should not have to be prioritized over the health and well-being of a person.
Suicide awareness is highly counterproductive to many lives, religiously. However, some people find a balance between the two. Simply denying being suicidal, having urges to end your life, and not speaking out because you are afraid you will be shunned and shamed by your family, friends, or faith is no way to live your life truthfully.
To live honestly, to stand up for what you believe in, to be a good person and the best version of yourself possible, that is, in the end, what every major religion preaches, regardless of what you may think in one particular moment.
Despite all the taboos, all the reasons why suicide is rarely spoken about, and all the awareness campaigns that have now been popularized in the last half-decade, there is one aspect that, while well-intentioned, has hurt the suicide cause more than it has helped it: the constant reference to what is now dubbed, “the suicide epidemic.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand why this is called an epidemic. I understand that it purely intends to put as much focus on this issue as we do cases of obesity or even COVID-19. They absolutely should; there is zero dispute on that. However, there are a few things that we need to consider before calling it an epidemic.
First, an epidemic implies a disease, which are not what suicide and its causes can be accurately described. Second, it implies a cure, and while there are preventative actions that can be taken, there is no such thing as a cure for suicide. But third, and most important, an epidemic implies that this is a recent phenomenon that has had a short lifespan.
And, as mentioned earlier, it has been around for quite a long time. It is our awareness and ability to discuss and broach the issue that has changed.
So, what exactly constitutes an epidemic? Well, the CDC describes it as, “An increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area,” which occurs “when an agent and susceptible hosts are present in adequate numbers.”
Now, yes, there has been a steady increase, year after year, in suicide cases. When analyzed between 2009 and 2018, the age groups between the ages of 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 have both been above the national average for every one of those years.
More recently, and perhaps, horrifyingly, before 2017, cases between 15-24 were below the national average. Now, that is no longer the case. Between 2016 and 2017, there was a massive jump in the average, from a 13.15 to 14.46 suicide rate for every 100,000 people.
So, yes, it can qualify in that category. Yes, there are agents and susceptible hosts in adequate numbers in the forms of stress, exhaustion, and general behavioral masking that comes about in public spheres such as social media.
We rarely post about negative things, thus giving an inaccurate picture to the world as to how our lives are. If you look on social media, most people look like they have the “perfect” life. However, there is no such thing, and in fact, it adds fuel to the fire. It also doesn’t help that, between those two years, America became more politically active, with more and more people between the ages of 15 to 24 becoming more aware of how hostile the world could be. Extra stress, extra pressures financially, more bullying being witness, etc.
So, why do I say it’s not an epidemic when the CDC’s definition seems to fit like a glove? It all comes down to a well-known health authority called the World Health Organization (WHO), who actually set a time limit for what can be considered an epidemic.
According to the WHO, an epidemic is a “non-pandemic disease attacking many individuals in a same community during short terms (days, weeks, months maximum), such as cholera, typhoid, bubonic plague, etc.”
The WHO has stated an epidemic should last for months and be a non-pandemic disease. However, suicides are a problem in every country worldwide, and even in the United States, it has been a problem for a few decades.
Calling what is going on an epidemic is highly irresponsible. Yes, it may put more attention on the issue, but it is a highly inaccurate term for what is a full-blown crisis. A suicide crisis, if you will.
At the center of this crisis lies, arguably, one of the most vulnerable segments of the population. Not just in the United States, but around the globe.
It has always been evident that it’s tough being a kid. Movies that we saw growing up such as “The Breakfast Club,” “Juno,” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” are ultimate proofs of that. But, most of all, we’ve all experienced it.
The pimples, the zits, the wanting, scratch that, the need to be popular; that is omnipresent.
However, up until recently, the average rate of suicides amongst teenagers was below the national average. It wasn’t until 2017 that the demographic between the ages of 15 to 24 took an uptick.
So, what changed? There was one significant change in the United States that could easily have affected teenagers, but that is another rabbit hole to go down. Next to the change in government, the most significant change was an increasing reliance on social media.
Not only now do we have general teenage problems, we now have a tool that could make this generation probably the worst to grow up in. More people are using social media than ever before.
Now, I know I could easily go down the path of “The Social Dilemma” and say, straight out, that social media is the worst thing to happen to society and that we should leave.
But, no. I’m not going to do that. Because the truth is, we don’t intend for social media to corrupt us. We want to keep in touch with people. In the age where a message across the world can be sent instantly, social media and messenger services are outstanding. It is something meant to be on the side of the angels.
However, there is one problem that many people seem to forget: social media only reflects one side of the world. And that side is the one that we want to show.
Because of the general selectivity we have, the need to show the world all the good things that are happening and erase all the negatives is pretty strong. As a result, this constant striving for perfection only shows a side that can make others who view social media, especially those who are lonely or just suffering from a severe mood disorder, could become a trigger to suicide.
It is also that perfection that forces us to hide that we have problems. Besides, if we come out and show that we are imperfect, it’s clear what happens: we get bullied—a lot. A bully loves to prey on what they believe to be the weak and vulnerable. However, this type of bullying can easily go too far.
This lack of one-on-one time is being replaced by social media, which creates the absence of one of the most essential senses for humans: a sense of touch.
Throughout our evolution, it has been shown that our brains react to touch, often in a positive way, releasing oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin throughout the body. These are considered the pleasure hormones. A lack of touch equates to a lack of pleasure, leading to higher amounts of depression, and subsequently, suicide.
It may sound far-fetched and overly simplistic, but it makes complete sense when you look back at the bigger picture. A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania even confirmed that this is only a recent phenomenon. Still, a later study in Japan proved a correlation between increased internet usage and a higher amount of suicides.
Suppose isolation and social media increase the severity of the suicide crisis towards the Millennial generation and older. In that case, it is safe to say that the coronavirus pandemic, a news fixture from the moment the ball dropped in Times Square, will cause suicide rates to skyrocket by the time 2021 rolls around.
The common triggers of isolation, loneliness, and generalized stress, often present in suicide cases, are now factors no longer foreign to anyone during this pandemic, as social distancing of at least six feet apart, zero physical contact, and general minimal social contact become a part of everyday life. With coverage occurring around the clock, it is impossible to escape the firestorm of stress and exhaustion from the COVID outbreak.
Everyday activities, such as going to a place of worship, taking a stroll, going to the office, all things we often take for granted, are now slowly becoming activities of the past. These essential activities that give us some sense of community and mental clarity are now being removed. In its place, it is creating greater mental fogginess and an increasing chance for a higher number of suicides.
Even Dr. Thomas E. Joiner, remember the Venn diagram and the man who stated that suicide happens because it can, wrote in a recent study with Dr. Mark A. Reger and Ian H. Stanley, “Secondary consequences of social distancing may increase the risk of suicide.”
However, it is necessary to note that isolation and loneliness are not the only factors in suicide that have been omnipresent during COVID. As businesses have closed and more people have been either working from home or even been laid off or fired, there has been massive economic stress. Having children in school during the pandemic only worsens, as some parents have chosen to take time off work due to children being sent home.
Even simple measures, such as COVID-19 screening and the prioritization of COVID patients over those suffering from mental health issues, which is fair considering the pandemic’s seriousness, is making the problem worse.
As someone who recently went to the hospital, granted for a checkup, I can say that the process of even making an appointment was tedious and time-consuming. Even surveys and screening procedures before entering the hospital gave me enough time to think, in my mind, as to whether or not I wanted to continue or go home.
Often, patients would want their support system with them, such as their children or families. However, since they are not screened, they are not allowed into the building with the patients, causing higher anxiety and less effective treatment.
In fact, because of hospital overcrowding and the unspoken recommendation and actions to put off necessary procedures and treatments to give the medical professionals on the frontlines time to help save COVID patients, creating immense barriers, making it even more challenging to treat the problem.
The timing of the pandemic, too, could not have come at a worse time. Often, a misconception of suicide is that it most often occurs during late December, during the holidays where families get together and celebrate love. In fact, in the northern hemisphere, suicide rates peak in the late spring and early summer. Sadly, this is also the same time where COVID-19 prevention efforts peaked.
It doesn’t get any more unfortunate than that.
Everything, from the misconceptions about mental illness and suicide, to the fact that the public is so silent about a cause that requires communication and openness to fight, makes the number of suicides throughout the United States and the world so unfortunate.
Many suicide cases are preventable; however, it is clear that the only way things will change is if our attitude towards the problem changes. And absolutely, we need to make a lot of changes on so many different levels.
First and foremost, the way we label this issue needs to change immediately. While I understand that calling the issue an "epidemic" is meant to kowtow the most influential people, such as government and health officials, into action, it is causing more harm than it does good.
It's not an epidemic. It's been going on for decades upon decades, and only now are we aware of it.
Calling it an epidemic is highly hyperbolic.
If we want to address how important it is, we need to call it like it is: a problem and a crisis.
Next, amongst the numerous institutions that shape our upbringings and our lives, there needs to be massive reform. In schools, counseling services need to be made more readily available, especially amongst high schoolers and college students, who experience severe stress in the forms of exams and general everyday life, and not to mention, the constant bullying and hazing that is almost a fixture in the daily lives of these students.
And speaking of bullying and hazing, the general zero-tolerance policy of bullying needs to be even tougher, and anyone who sees bullying should be better encouraged to bring it to the attention of teachers and faculty.
Finally, at least, on the educational level, bring back physical education with a vengeance and discuss mental health to the point where health class should be about mental health awareness and sex.
The No Child Left Behind Policy is a massive reason why these two topics, in particular, have gone down the toilet. Still, it is essential to bring both subjects back for the points of awareness and prevention.
Exercise releases dopamine and endorphins, the body's pleasure chemicals, and research has consistently proven that a non-medicinal form of therapy for depression and other mental illnesses is physical exercise. In a vulnerable population for the suicide crisis, any prevention is progress. All of what has just been described could end up saving lives.
Next, towards religious institutions, I understand that keeping to traditions are incredibly important. However, what is also important is to make sure that these traditions can keep going. Last I checked, death tends to stop tradition from continuance.
So, it is vital to increase the tolerance and acceptance of suicide and even provide spiritual counseling towards those struggling, even if they have help. Since the United States is such a religious country, with community religious leaders having massive influence, why not use that influence to help save the lives of almost half of the population?
Speaking of influence, what can be more influential on public policy, legislation, and research than that of the government? It is unlikely that the current administration will bring the issue up. Still, there needs to be a high priority of effort and resource allocation towards research and prevention in future administrations.
This is not without precedent, as the United States has taken this exact procedure to tackle two major health problems: cigarettes and obesity. Look at the aftermath of the 1964 Surgeon General's Report and the FDA's 1998 crackdown disallowing cartoon characters for advertising cigarettes, or even targeting youth.
Because of the government's focus and legislation, the number of smokers in the United States fell from 20.9 percent in 2005 to 15.5 percent in 2016. Big Tobacco is now, pretty much, a thing of the past because of this legislation.
How about obesity? It got direct attention from Dr. David Satcher in 2000, the then-Surgeon General of the United States under former President George W. Bush. He had obesity declared a "national epidemic," and the amount of reform in the last twenty years to ensure fast food companies stay accountable has been quite astounding.
Now, at every Chipotle and McDonald's, you have the nutritional information right on the menu so that you can make informed choices about what you eat. That would've been unthinkable 15 years ago.
So, you see, the government has the power to tackle major health issues in the United States. Mental health and suicide need to be the next in line. I don't know about you, but the second-highest cause of death amongst 46 percent of the population should set alarm bells ringing in Washington.
Nothing is setting more alarm bells ringing in Washington than COVID-19, which has had a massive effect on the suicide rate in more ways than one. We have already seen a connection between social media and increased suicide rates, an inability to get proper help due to screening, general isolation, loneliness, the list can go on.
We are already seeing solutions to all of these problems, with the rise of teletherapy and distance-based suicide prevention. However, the one place where it is becoming increasingly clear that a solution is needed is on social media.
The general attitude, at least, from what I have noticed, is "If [you] can't handle what [I] post on social media, you shouldn't be on social media." Simply not true. You need to be aware that what you post can hurt people, even if it is positive. Every once in awhile, instead of just saying how good life is, make it clear to others that they are not alone and that life is difficult for all of us.
We can also make sure the world is more interconnected through phone calls, Zoom calls, any communication, even if it is for a few seconds, to make sure that the person is doing fine.
This can be all part of a "pulling-together effect," common after national disasters and, in the past, decreased the amounts of suicide.
Most importantly, however, the one thing we can all do that is so simple is to ask for help. I was once quoted saying, "There is absolutely no shame in admitting that you have suicidal thoughts. The shameful part is knowing you have these thoughts and not asking for help." I stand by that statement because, well, it's true.
The only way we can get through this issue is not by separating ourselves, but standing together, being open about how we feel, and keeping ourselves healthy.
So, let's talk about suicide.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or has suicidal thoughts, please, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.