According to the latest, best available statistics, since 2000 the suicide rate in the United States has increased by 18% while it is down a whopping 29% globally [The Economist, 24-30 Nov 18].
In the United States, suicide rates have increased most among Native Americans and white men while the rates for Hispanic-Americans, black-Americans, and Asian-Americans have changed little.
Globally, more older people are likely to kill themselves than younger people, more rural people are likely to kill themselves than urban people, and more men are likely to kill themselves than women.
The Explanation for Suicide
What’s the explanation?
In general, the answer must have something to do with a failure to accept reality. In other words, there’s a separation between the way the world is thought to be and the way someone wants the world to be.
People are confused about their own nature. They are therefore automatically confused about the purpose of their lives. Indeed, the meaning of life is a philosophical issue.
It seems obvious to me that acceptance of reality would lower the suicide rate. It’s unlikely to eliminate it because of miserable life cases such as a terminal illness with chronic, intense pain.
Acceptance of reality means accepting one’s own nature. Yes, human beings have a true nature, which I’ve written about (see, e.g., my Are You Living Without Purpose?).
What obstructs reality is attachment to thoughts. Since mastering a meditative practice dissolves attachment to thoughts, it permits awareness of reality. Since the reality is that everyone is infinitely valuable, removing what obstructs apprehension of reality dissolves suicidal impulses.
This is just an example of what the Buddha said, “Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance” [THE DHAMMAPADA, Easwaran, tr.].
An Ethical Takeaway
There is an ethical takeaway, namely, postponing a suicide is likely to mean preventing a suicide.
Suicidal cases are typically episodic. Simply getting through them is often critical.
What should you do if you encounter someone who is suicidal?
My answer: help them get past it. Just listen deeply and be supportive. If possible, remove the means of suicide (e.g., get a gun away from a suicidal person if possible) as well as immediate causes (e.g., alcohol or psychoactive, nonprescription drugs).
This is contrary to the popular belief that, when people are going to commit suicide, simply stopping them in the moment will only cause them to do it at another time. No! The suicidal impulse is often a fleeting impulse.
There was a study of 515 people who had tried to commit suicide by leaping off the Golden Gate Bridge between 1937 and 1971. At the time of the study, 94% of them were still alive! Obviously, they didn’t simply wait a while and try again.
The best long-term solution is mastering some meditative practice. The best way to teach it is to master it yourself (rather than simply telling someone about it).
One of its benefits? Loss of suicidal impulses.