The New York Post reports:
“About 49,500 people took their own lives last year in the U.S., the highest number ever, according to new government data posted Thursday.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which posted the numbers, has not yet calculated a suicide rate for the year, but available data suggests suicides are more common in the U.S. than at any time since the dawn of World War II…
“The largest increases were seen in older adults.
“Deaths rose nearly 7% in people ages 45 to 64, and more than 8% in people 65 and older…
“Suicides in adults ages 25 to 44 grew by about 1%.
“The new data indicates that suicide became the second leading cause of death in that age group in 2022, up from No. 4 in 2021.”
So, of course, the question any American should ask is: Why?
The quoted article cites the following reasons, as given by suicide experts: “higher rates of depression,” “limited availability of mental health services” and “the growing availability of guns.”
While all three may well be factors, I do not believe these are the primary reasons for the increase in suicides.
Let’s take each one:
“Higher rates of depression.”
Since we can assume that happy people do not kill themselves, we all assume that as the number of depressed people increases, so will the number of suicides. Therefore, “higher rates of depression” explains nothing. All it does is kick the can down the road. It would be like saying that more people are being killed by drunk drivers because more people are getting drunk. That’s true, but it doesn’t answer the relevant question: Why are so many more Americans getting drunk? Similarly, “higher rates of depression” only raises the more important question: Why are so many more Americans depressed?
“Limited availability of mental health services.”
This, too, may be true. But, like “higher rates of depression,” this answer avoids the question it raises: Why are so many more Americans in need of mental health services?
“The growing availability of guns.”
Undoubtedly, easy access to a gun makes suicide more probable. Shooting oneself may be the quickest and most likely to be painless way of committing suicide. But, again, this is hardly an explanation. Guns were ubiquitous in American life 10, 25, and 50 years ago. Yet, the suicide rate was always lower.
I would like to offer two other explanations.
No. 1: Loneliness
More Americans are living alone than at any time in American history. And not only older Americans. Twenty-five percent of all Americans aged 40 have never been married, by far the highest percentage of never-married people at age 40 in American history.
In addition, there are fewer associations than ever. Already in the 1990s, Robert Putnam wrote his classic book, “Bowling Alone,” which described the decline of clubs, associations, study groups and even bowling leagues — the decline of what he called “social capital.”
When I was a child, my mother was a member of the synagogue sisterhood; my father was a member of the synagogue brotherhood and of the synagogue’s board of directors. Every other week, my parents met with others, in one another’s homes, in a “study group.” Every Saturday, they attended synagogue, which was as much a social occasion — which was a good thing — as a religious one. And every Saturday afternoon my parents’ friends came to our home for a late-afternoon meal.
Many Christians, of course, had a similarly rich social life rooted in religion.
After the 1960s, almost everything changed. The spoiled and arrogant baby-boomer generation rejected almost everything that made life meaningful.
Many came to hold their parents in contempt. They, after all, went to college, and therefore believed they understood life much better than their less formally educated parents.
Women no longer believed they needed a man. As the infamous feminist saying put it, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” Marriage and family became less and less important. Women were brainwashed into believing they could enjoy sex with no commitment as much as men could. And so began the downward spiral of women’s happiness. Today, more young women are depressed than at any time since such data began to be measured.
Meanwhile about 7 million physically healthy men between the ages of 25 and 54 have opted out of both work and marriage.
In other words, almost every institution that provided companionship — marriage, children, church, service clubs (Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, etc.) — has been in decline.
No. 2: Loss of Meaning
Add to this an ever-increasing loss of meaning.
Aside from food, the greatest human need is for meaning. It is even greater than the need for sex. People who have sex but lack meaning are not happy people, while most people who lack sex but have meaning are happy.
The boomer generation did its damage here, too. It disposed of virtually every institution that gave most Americans meaning — the most important being marriage and the nuclear family, religion and patriotism. Beginning in the 1960s and continuing to this day, all were dispensed with. The very term, “God and Country,” which provided every generation of Americans with deep meaning, came to be regarded as foolish and even quasi-fascistic. God and religion were for simpletons, and how could one be patriotic when one’s country was essentially racist, unequal, chauvinist, imperialist, capitalist and patriarchal?
So long as the ideological heirs of the 1960s conduct these studies, provide the reasons, and offer their solutions — more mental health professionals and fewer guns — things will only get worse. And more Americans will kill themselves.
Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist. His commentary on Deuteronomy, the third volume of “The Rational Bible,” his five-volume commentary on the first five books of the Bible, was published in October. He is the co-founder of Prager University and may be contacted at dennisprager.com.
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