by Ed Harpring
Tragically, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, claiming over 40,000 lives per year. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the number of suicides in the United States is at its highest level in 30 years. Their 2016 report revealed a 24% increase in the number of suicides from 1999–2014. Even more alarming is the stark fact that suicide is now the third leading cause of death among persons aged 10-14, and the second among persons aged 15-34 years.
Ambassadors for Life, a newly formed group of high school students in the Archdiocese of Louisville, focuses on the full spectrum of “Life” issues, and is facilitated by the Pro-Life and Youth Ministries Offices. Because many of these young people know someone personally who has taken their life, they have asked us to focus on suicide prevention as one of our “Life” issues. The Ambassadors are right – suicide and suicide prevention is a Pro-Life issue, and it’s essential that we do more to arm our youths with the resources and formation tools to better understand the warning signs of suicide.
Studies confirm that approximately 90 percent of people who take their own lives have some type of mental disorder, primarily depression. Experts tell us that depression can originate from a variety of factors, making it particularly difficult to successfully treat.
St. John Paul II commented on the increase in suicide and depression in 2003:
The spread of depressive states has become disturbing. They reveal human, psychological and spiritual frailties which, at least in part, are induced by society. It is important to become aware of the effect on people of messages conveyed by the media which exalt consumerism, the immediate satisfaction of desires and the race for ever greater material well-being. It is necessary to propose new ways so that each person may build his or her own personality by cultivating spiritual life, the foundation of a mature existence.
Note the connection between our current cultural focus on consumerism, instant gratification, and the lack of meaning in life, especially for youths. St. John Paul II famously told millions of youths at World Youth Day what the solution is to depression and the lack of meaning in life that inundates our materialistic culture.
It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life.
Finally, St. John Paul II urged compassionate care for those who may show signs of depression:
In his infinite love, God is always close to those who are suffering. Depressive illness can be a way to discover other aspects of oneself and new forms of encounter with God. Christ listens to the cry of those whose boat is rocked by the storm (cf. Mk 4: 35-41). He is present beside them to help them in the crossing and guide them to the harbor of rediscovered peace.
Similarly, the Catholic Church urges hope, not despair, towards those who have lost their lives to suicide.
CCC 2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.
The increase in suicide, especially among adolescents is a major concern to the Church. There are many good resources that are available to better understand ways to prevent suicide. Listed below are resources to help prevent suicide and assist families who have experienced the death of a loved one by suicide: