It’s Not the Economy, Stupid


Many years ago a little boy whom I was teaching was found hanged in his attic. They said it was an accident while playing. I’ve always wondered if maybe Marco, 12 years of age, had taken his own life.

I’ve thought of him often during the years, but never more than now, with the recent news that suicide among girls 10 to 14 years old has tripled.

The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, and was particularly steep for women, according to a report released last week by the National Center for Health Statistics. 

What I find most dispiriting are the attempts of experts to explain what’s behind the startling statistics. They are secularists seeking a secular answer to a transcendent matter.

Dr. Alex Crosby, for example, is with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. His studies of suicide go back to the 1920s and show that suicide is highest when the economy is weak. One of the highest rates in the country’s modern history, he said, was in 1932, during the Great Depression.

Katherine Hempstead of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in a PBS interview, agreed. But, she noted, suicide among young males is often impulsive—the result of a recent event, like a fight with a parent. She hinted that sometimes teens consider suicide cool.

Dr. Raj Raghunathan, at the University of Texas, says his research shows that supposedly successful people don’t make life choices that lead to happiness.

In an article in The Guardian, he said that after a reunion with his Ph. D. classmates, he noticed that the more visible their achievements—work promotions, pay raises, fancy vacations and big houses—the more unfulfilled and distracted they seemed overall.

Maybe we should look at some social trends of the past 15 years or so—the period matching the increased rate of suicide by adolescent girls:

  • Rap music and pornography that frame females as bitches, sluts and whores
  • Pressure on young girls to be thin, pretty and sexually available—so boys will “like” them
  • Widespread acceptance of casual sex with little mention of its emotional ramifications for girls

The results? Low self-esteem and self-hatred, because little girls can’t live up to these expectations—magnified by bullying, which has careened out of control with the anonymity of online social media.

What else? States are hell-bent on adopting assisted-suicide legislation, and suicide is being suggested to adolescent girls in a way that had not before.

We adults should be ashamed that we allow if not enable all this. Because our job is to give adolescents the moral, spiritual and philosophical grounding for answers to the age-old questions of “Who am I, Why am I here, Where am I going.”

As one of my favorite poets, John Donne, wrote way back in 1624:

Any man's death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1994, his manager hung a banner in the campaign war room: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

That thinking might get a fresh-faced politician elected. Economic or financial reversals might explain suicide by adults. But little girls do not kill themselves over the economy.

Read my newest book, Fat Guy in a Fat Boat, in print or Kindle from Amazon:

Also available is my e-book, A Light from Within, about the small moments of our lives that seem commonplace until they are examined under a creative lens.

And my weekly reflection on each Sunday of the Jubilee Year of Mercy can be found at:

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  • Stephen Kovacev
    commented 2016-05-07 09:17:36 -0400
    Thank you. I agree. And what John Donne wrote in 1624 is how I feel. My fellow ‘humans’ who claim to be christian do not see and feel the way that I do—every life on this planet matters. Also the suicide rate, especially among the youth, in the LGBTQ community is higher than the national average…
  • Peter Yaremko
    commented 2016-05-01 06:39:08 -0400
    To a young girl subjected to unrealistic expectations, bullying and unrelenting peer pressure, the inner pain can be as unbearable and terminal as Grandpa’s physical suffering. If society offers him a way out, “I can do the same,” the tormented child wants to believe. Like a pebble dropped into a pond, there is a ripple effect to many of the decisions our culture makes so glibly—like assisted suicide.
  • Jay Yaremko
    commented 2016-04-30 21:59:50 -0400
    Judi, I agree that assisted suicide is a beautiful and graceful way for those who are in pain to die without further, excessive pain. But that’s not what this article is about. It’s about people similar to who I used to be: pre-teen and teenaged girls who are expected to live up to unrealistic ideals, and who are bullied every day of their lives, simply because they cannot. It is a horrible feeling, intensified by the self-loathing that their peers instill in them. As bullied as I was, I never considered suicide, but from what I’ve seen, suicide is talked about much more today and is being presented in ways it has not been in the past. And, I think, these unfortunate girls are seeing this as a way out of their pain, because they, maybe, have not been taught the skills to deal with the turmoil that such awful bullying creates.
  • Judi Space
    commented 2016-04-30 09:38:33 -0400
    While I don’t agree that assisted suicide suggests to teenaged girls that its OK to take your own life, I think the rest of your commentary is right on the money. Elderly people and those in unbearable pain from terminal conditions should be allowed an a graceful exit, if they choose it.