Last week fashion designer Kate Spade and TV food and travel celebrity Anthony Bourdain took their lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported suicide rates increased in all but one state from 1999 to 2016. Now the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, suicide is the second cause of death among 15 to 34-years old. In North Dakota the suicide rate increased 57%. Here in Missouri it increased 36.4 percent. Montana has the highest rate. Nevada did not show an increase but is above the national average. “The widespread nature of the increase, in every state but one, really suggests that this is a national problem hitting most communities,” said Anne Schuchat of the CDC.
This is a grievous problem with no simple solution. A person’s decision to end life reflects the harsh realities of life today. One report identifies a 1200 percent increase in anxiety disorders since 1980. In the last 20 years the number of people reporting symptoms of depression has risen from 1.5 to about 50 percent.
A concept going back to Augustine gives insight, “man turned in on himself.” The nature of sin is to turn in on ourselves rather than toward God and others. American life today is highly individualistic, what the Barna organization calls “me-centered morality.” The end result is captured in the liturgy for confession. “When we examine our hearts and consciences, we find nothing in us but sin and death, from which we are incapable of delivering ourselves.” This is the Law, the crushing realization that finally I cannot meet expectations.
“Therefore our Lord Jesus has had mercy upon us. For our benefit He became man so that He might fulfill for us the whole will and law of God and, to deliver us, took upon Himself our sin and the punishment we deserve.” This is Gospel, help from outside ourselves. While the increase in suicide has no simple solution, the ministry of individuals and congregations is one starting point: Turning people from themselves to the God of hope. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). Anxiety, depression, suicide, and all the other problems in society today… Congregational mission is as important as ever!
(Sources: New York Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Man Turned in on Himself” by Heather Choate-Davis)