I recently read a disturbing news article about a social phenomenon that is tragic beyond words.
The article stated that more people were losing their lives by committing suicide than by car crashes. This conclusion was based on a recent study by the American Journal of Public Health based on data compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics from the years 2000-2009.
The study found that vehicular fatalities during this period had declined by 25%, but deaths from suicides rose 15%. Experts, however, believe that the number is actually closer to 20%, and that many deaths listed as accidental were not. There is a cultural and religious stigma in regards to killing oneself, so some suicides were orchestrated to look unintentional.
Conversely, despite it seeming as if there are more drivers on the road – we are all to often frustrated by traffic congestion that turns highways into parking lots – and the increase in distracted drivers, the decrease in car accidents was attributed to various safety features like front and side air bags, seat belts and stricter penalties for speeding and drinking.
So why are so many people killing themselves, or attempting to, since some try but fail? I can only imagine that they are looking for a way out of lives saturated with abject misery; they feel trapped in a cage of never-ending unhappiness.
Many wake up wishing they hadn’t. Each day is emotionally traumatic and they do not even entertain the possibility of their lives getting better; they have no iota of hope that the situation they find themselves in will ever improve.
In trying to understand the mindset of a suicidal person, I imagine that it is like having your finger stuck in a flame. No matter how hard you try to pull the finger out of the fire, you cannot. You are in such torturous pain, and so desperate for the agony to stop, that you want to kill yourself to get blessed relief. You see no other option.
But their excruciating pain is not physical – it is emotional.
They are enveloped in the flames of relentless despair and hopelessness; some try to dull the pain through alcohol, drugs or unsavory distractions and behaviors. But all they manage to achieve is a temporary respite. Their finger is still in the fire and they face endless years of torment. I believe the fuel feeding this flame is a deep sense of worthlessness, an overwhelming belief that they are perpetual losers; thus they see no point in even trying to strive for success, be it socially, financially or spiritually.
They have given up, believing they have failed and will continue to do so. They feel like caged gerbils on an exercise wheel, running and running and running to no avail – as hard as they try, they get nowhere.
Sadly, the “oxygen” that feeds this extreme sense of inadequacy is often supplied by those who should have been building their egos and fortifying their sense of self, planting and nurturing the seeds of confidence and self-like that would bloom into a happy, optimistic, and emotionally healthy human being. These include mothers and fathers, siblings, spouses, teachers, neighbors, friends, colleagues, employers – even strangers.
Constant, unrelenting criticism, denigration, and belittling – whether unintentional (in a misguided attempt to motivate you to do better academically, improve your job performance, or your looks,) or deliberate – bullies trying to shore up their own low self-esteem by mocking, teasing, and even physically hurting someone they perceive to be a bigger “loser” than themselves – whittles away a person’s belief that he is worthful (as opposed to worthless) and deserving of respect.
Individually, every put down or jab is just a single straw, but thousands of these straws piling up over the years can crush the strongest back and break the sturdiest spirit.
(I remember when I was little and would walk down the street, an elderly neighbor who often sat on his porch, would call out to me, “Hey fatty!” I was a bit chubby, but what did he gain by denigrating me? I was too much of a tomboy to care how I looked, but it was a negative straw nonetheless.)