Thursday, December 8, 2016

The false link between suicide and mental illness

One characteristic of human society is the tendency to keep doing something over and over again despite it not working. One example would be our approach to incarcerating criminals to punish them instead of rehabilitating them, compounding their trauma and making it harder for them to live productive law-abiding lives when they get out. But this is the "common-sense" approach, the intuitive human response to the failings of others, punish them and they wont dare do it again. It has never worked, ever, but let's keep doing it. Secular society is screwed because it cannot comprehend that its vision is blurred by sin and therefore knee-jerk, common sense solutions are usually destructive and counter-productive.

So it is with our response to suicide. To kill yourself must be the response of the weak minded and sick - so the thinking goes - so to combat rising suicide we treat individuals medically. Yet suicide is a perfectly rational response to a world as broken as ours and the hopelessness engendered by the dominant forces of our society that push us to live meaningless lives as consumers and victims without transcendent meaning or purpose.

Professor Said Shahtahmasebi, Director of the Good Life Research Trust Centre and editor of Dynamics of Human Health, writes:

Over the last 20 years, I have repeatedly challenged the conventional wisdom about suicide, emphasizing that suicide rates follow a cyclical pattern (the sequence of downward and upward movements of suicide rates). Instead of concentrating efforts on breaking the cycle, decision makers, mental health services, and researchers claim credit for lowering suicide rates when the cycle is on the downturn, then demand more funding to continue with the same services. But when the cycle is on the upturn, they claim suicide is a very complex issue with many socio-economic and environmental risk factors and that they, again, require more funding to extend the same service to more people.

Instead Shahtahmasebi relates how projects where community relationships and family support is increased show that suicide rates can be substantially reduced. Why should this be? It seems obvious to me, instead of being considered as individual consumers with a medical condition to treat, they are having their social bonds and meaningful relationships reinforced and being supported in the existential crisis of life. In meaningful human relationships they find purpose and support for living life.

Suicide is a rational response to hopelessness: why suffer longer if things will not get better? Drugs to ease the pain cannot change the cause of that pain or the futility of a life without hope. Here is one of the greatest gifts Christianity has to offer our world, the hope, the faith, that this world is not all there is, but that there is so much more to being human than what our consumerist individualist materialist society has to offer us.

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