Two stories emerged simultaneously in the news, seemingly contradictory.
One story is on new numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showing a big increase in the suicide rate in the United States, in data covering the years 1999 through 2010. Suicide now claims more lives than automobile-related accidents in America; 38,364 suicides in 2010 versus 33,687 from car crashes and the like. Among Americans between the ages of 35 and 64, the suicide rate increased by almost 30%. And the experts say that these numbers are actually lower than the real ones; suicide is considered to be “vastly underreported.” The article to which I linked cites factors including the economic downturn and wider availability in recent years of opioid drugs which can be used to commit suicide, as well as social pressures special to this era.
Then there’s the other story: Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have concluded that most people who are treated for depression in the United States have not actually met the criteria for the condition (which include a “debilitating loss of interest in daily life and a depressed mood lasting at least two weeks”). Nevertheless, most people who are treated for depression—whether they’ve met the criteria or not—are treated with antidepressant medications. Even if you’ve never encountered these medications personally and read the enclosed side-effects, the odds are that you’ve seen the commercials and heard the warnings about how they might cause “suicidal-thoughts,” amongst other lesser horrors, while the images of smiling, happy people gamboling in the sun continue to run on the screen.
Without discounting other factors, it seems fair to wonder whether the over-prescription of such medications to people who are not truly suffering from clinical depression—but are instead simply unhappy with themselves or their lives for any of multiple reasons—may be figuring into this dramatic increase in the rate of suicide in America. Perhaps these medications might seem to help in disconnecting the individual from whatever may be the source of their spiritual pain, and yet at the same time also weaken that human being’s inherent resistance to what should be the very painful notion of suicide (the pain that will be inflicted not merely on oneself but on one’s family and friends). I have no qualifications to make such a diagnosis, if you will, of the American suicidal condition, but the appearance of these two stories in the news simultaneously seemed to beg for the connection to be made.
There’s no question that there are people who desperately require medication just in order to survive and function at all. It’s a blessing for such people that antidepressant medications exist. But, short of that, there are many reasons why people can feel sad, frustrated, unfulfilled and blue. The consequences of this modern attempt to medicate-away issues that once were addressed through things like reflection, meditation, therapy and even—God forbid!—prayer, are yet to be established, but one wonders if the data may finally be coming in.