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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,980
August 1, 2019
The Horror of Soaring Suicides
By Mike McManus

The American suicide rate is at its highest level in a half century. The number of Americans who committed suicide soared 33% from 1999 to 2017. Some 67,000 Americans took their own lives in 2017, making it the nation's 10th largest killer. About 130 Americans kill themselves every day. Suicide claims almost twice as many lives as auto accidents.

Suicide is the #2 killer of young people aged 10 to 24 - those in junior and senior high school and college. More young people die of suicide than die from cancer, AIDS, heart disease, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease - COMBINED!

More than 100 young people kill themselves every week. In fact, one of every 12 young people have attempted suicide. Many are depressed underachievers.

However, some are genuine stars. Kelly Catlin, 23, was one of triplets born to Carolyn and Mark Catlin. She built herself into an Olympian and a three-time world champion in the four-bike rider group race known as the team pursuit. She was fluent in Chinese and had been first chair violist in her high school orchestra. She had a perfect score on the SAT, had enrolled last fall in the computational mathematics program at Stanford's graduate school.

Clearly, she had a very promising future. Yet she committed suicide last month. Her sad story was recounted in a front page Washington Post article July 30.

A more typical case was that of Graham Burton who was flunking three of four classes at Hamilton College. Three professors at the upstate New York college had expressed concern about Burton to college administrators. One professor wrote the academic dean, "Obviously, what is happening here is a complete crash and burn." He added, "I don't know what the procedure is for contacting the student's parents, but if this was my kid, I'd want to know."

Clearly, Hamilton should have called the parents.

However, the law views students as adults, and colleges are constrained by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which Hamilton interpreted to mean they could not call the parents. As the New York Times put it, "Colleges use the law not only to protect students' privacy but also to shield the college from conflict with parents."


Sadly, there is no interest in doing so according to the American Council on Education, the largest national organization in high education.

Many of those committing suicide are veterans of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In a recent year, 18 a day killed themselves - 7,000 in a year. That's more than have been lost on battlefields in a decade of war. Some of the 2 million Americans who have served, come home suffering from "post-traumatic stress."

What's particularly shocking is that for every veteran who kills himself, 30 more have attempted suicide! In fact, a million Americans have tried to kill themselves.

White men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women. However, women attempt suicide three times as often as men, but are less successful.

The major killer is guns. I have never had a gun in my house, because I remember my father getting drunk and waving a pistol at my mother. Why have a deadly weapon in the house? If you have guns in your home, I suggest that you sell them or give them away. The Northeast, which has tougher gun laws - have the lowest suicide rates.

People who are particularly vulnerable, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), are those who once attempted suicide or those in families where a person has committed suicide or attempted to do so, or is depressed.

AFSP has created an innovative anonymous interactive screening program for college students which has been effective in getting depressed students into treatment at scores of colleges. It has also created an innovative "Out of the Darkness Community Walk" campaign that had 100,000 walkers at 50 campuses.

Unfortunately, there is a counter campaign called "Assisted Suicide," in which some physicians are prescribing fatal drugs to patients who want to die! Washington D.C. City Council voted 11-2 to allow physicians to kill their patients. It has also been approved by nine states: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Maine, New Jersey (starting in August, 2019), Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Oddly, each of the laws state that the act is not considered suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing or homicide. Rather, it is called "medical aid in dying."

How wonderful.

However, if you or someone you know is considering suicide, have them call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 800 273-TALK (8255).

You can be a life-saver.


Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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