Recent high-profile celebrity suicides have combined with alarming new reports of rising U.S. suicide rates to unleash a virtual tsunami of concern. In the past three days, I’ve read at least a half-dozen heartfelt pleas for anyone with suicidal urges to seek professional help, and another half-dozen calls to “end the stigma” associated with getting help for mental illness, most notably depression.
All well and good. But matching mental health intervention to mental distress, with or without stigma, is at most only half the story surrounding suicide. The other half is the reasons suicide is on the rise in the first place. Americans are already the most medicated people on the planet, and still psychic misery, despair and depression keep climbing. Why? Might it be that the spiritual emptiness of the “freest, wealthiest and most powerful” nation on earth – a nation in thrall to a bankrupt market orthodoxy and increasingly characterized by gross income and wealth inequality, shredded social safety nets, corrupted politics and corroded communal bonds, violence in myriad forms, and a general disregard for public welfare and the common world – is just becoming too evident to too many, and just too painful for too many to bear?
Unless we address the core sickness – a myopically stubborn failure to acknowledge our deep need for solidarity and the irreducible sacredness of our shared world – even veritable legions of mental health professionals will remain powerless to save us.