Flat White

Flattening the curve of the suicide pandemic

7 May 2020

4:00 AM

7 May 2020

4:00 AM

With much of the world in semi or complete lockdown due to coronavirus, the effects on mental health and suicide rates are of great concern. In recent years we have been under the assumption that greater personal adversity equals a greater risk of suicide.

However, like most truths, the facts may be counter-intuitive to our reasoning. As the father of modern sociology, Emile Durkheim’s classic On Suicide is worth a detailed examination by anyone concerned with halting our skyrocketing rates of suicide. On Suicide takes a statistical look at the suicide rates of his day and demonstrates just how counter-intuitive the evidence is.

Written in 1897, some have dismissed the evidence as out of date. However, Newton’s ‘law of gravity’ is somewhat older, and I don’t think jumping off a cliff is any wiser than out of hand dismissing Durkheim’s findings. Truth told, many adopting the ‘risk of suicide to avoid confrontation’ argument are more interested in promoting untested political ideologies without the proper scrutiny provided by public debate. Suicide, and those at increased risk, is merely a political tool.

Are minority groups at a higher risk of suicide? Durkheim compared three religious groups in Europe: Protestants, Catholics and Jews. Guess who had the lowest rate of suicide? Jews. Traditionally Jews had faced persecution throughout Europe for centuries, which, according to Durkheim, had an immunising effect on the Jewish community. Perhaps the higher rates of suicide among the LGBTIQ community’ are suggestive of its lack of genuine community. As many have found out — Germaine Greer, Martina Navratilova, J K Rowling and other lesser rights — there’s no support from that community for anyone who doesn’t’ parrot their lines.

Is isolating ourselves from adversity in ‘safe spaces’ the best way to reduce suicide? We are familiar with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, but who’s heard of Post Traumatic Growth? Professor and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt summarises the effects of trauma in The Happiness Hypothesis as somewhat dependent on your outlook on life: what makes one person wilt makes another grow. Psychoanalysis Victor Frankl writes as much in his seminal work Man’s search for meaning.

No one is more qualified to speak from experience, Frankl spent time in four Nazi death camps.  His findings on trauma are enlightening: our current mix of psychology, namely Freudian, with the ego at the centre, will be of no help in a time of crisis.  People who understand that life is bigger than the individual, and holds transcendent meaning, can, as he did, pull through insurmountable odds and be the stronger for it.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with self-actualisation at the top, has become our mantra. Life used to hold transcendent values and meaning with self-sacrifice and service to a higher cause topping the list. Yet as we followed Kierkegaard in taking a leap of faith into the water’s of Existentialism, we’ve re-surfaced to face a horizon of Nihilism.

A world devoid of any meaning, other than that we invent, has proven insufficient to carry us through the deep waters of trauma we all encounter in this world. “Do what you wanna do, be what you wanna be”; “Be true to yourself”; and a host of other modern dogmas have been of no help whatsoever.

Durkheim’s writings on Anomie demonstrated that rapid social progression, and the subsequent destruction of cultural norms, equalled a parallel rise in suicide. A note to those demolishing our past with a Rousseauian wrecking ball to make way for utopia: this is the cost!

Ironically, in attempting to protect our vulnerable youth, programs such as The Safe School Coalition, which attack accepted notions of gender, sexuality and family roles, are throwing fuel on the fire of youth suicide.  Such well-intentioned programs are paving the way to hell for our kids.

Past wisdom may be the best antidote for our current horrendous suicide epidemic, such as G K Chesterton’s “Before you remove any fence, always ask first why it was put there in the first place”.

If you or anyone you know needs help please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments