The suicide rate in America is so alarming that it often makes the headlines. We all need to be concerned about stopping this self-destructive trend. How? ‘Or’ What? By using the preventive tools available to us as Catholics living the faith.
A discussion about suicide should include both risk factors and protective factors. Risk factors include hopelessness, stress, depression, mental illness and others. A complete list can be found on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website at https://afsp.org/
These risk factors are common to all humans, so suicide can occur in any family, regardless of class, race, age, or any other division. There is no discrimination, but some groups are more at risk than others.
who and how many
When discussing suicide, it is important to note the number differences between actual suicides and attempted suicides. Among adults, women attempt suicide almost twice as often as men, but men succeed at suicide three times or more often than women.
The main reason for this difference is that men tend to use guns and other violent weapons which are safer and deadlier than the pills that women usually use. You can pump a stomach and administer over-the-counter drugs for an overdose, but you can’t fix a bullet in the brain.
By all means suicide is currently on the 12thand leading cause of death in the United States (compared to 10and just two years ago). In 2020, this translated to 45,979 deaths from 1.2 million suicide attempts. That’s a lot of people in distress who need good news.
The most affected age groups were young adults and the elderly. In fact, the highest suicide rate occurred among people age 85 and older. (In a previous blog, I discussed the need for palliative care to reduce the pressures on older people to die.) https://www.patheos.com/blogs/musingsfromthepew/2022/02/palliative-care- the-way -die/
Caring makes a difference
It was feared that the pandemic could cause a sharp increase in suicides due to financial constraints, health problems and isolation and separation from loved ones. Instead, the suicide rate in the United States has fallen by 3% in each of the past two years.
Dare we conclude that this decrease, despite the heightened risk factors brought about by the pandemic, was the result of heightened vigilance with regard to the mental health of the other in a time of great tension? Was there really a greater effort to take care of each other?
Protective factors must have been brought into play more than the average year. These factors are support systems such as good health care, social networks, loving families, good coping skills and Faith.
Catholics practicing protective factors
Two years ago Laura Lewis wrote an article on Catholics and suicide for Catholic collection. She explains how spirituality and religion can be major deterrents to suicide:
“Research has shown that people with a religious affiliation report higher levels of social support, religious well-being and reasons for living. Engaging in spiritual beliefs and practices provides connection, meaning, and purpose, all of which contribute to greater hope and a more satisfying life.
“When we believe that we can cope, that people really care about us, and that we have important reasons for being alive, we can more easily choose life. It turns out that knowing Christ is important, which reminds us that we need to share the love of Christ with everyone, especially those at risk of ending their own lives. -response-to-suicide/
So, “It turns out that knowing Christ is important.” What a call to evangelization! Not the kind that means becoming a missionary, but the kind that simply means lovingly exemplifying faith and offering it as a lifeline to others.
Evangelism is therefore not an imposition of your faith but a way of sharing good news that shows you care and offers support. As Lewis concluded:
“By all means, let us bring the love of Christ to the desperate. . . As Catholics who believe in the power of community, prayer, and the working of grace, we are uniquely positioned to reach out to anyone sitting next to us in the pew.
Or anyone in our circle of contacts. If we know that faith gives us strength and hope, are we not, as Catholics, as Christians, obliged to offer it also to others, especially if it means saving a life?