With the loss of Prince potentially due to an overdose of pills – presumably accidentally – it rekindles the age-old debate about creative types and reckless behavior. But let’s take it a step further and look at suicide and the writer.
A study was published on suicide and mental illness around four years ago in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. It was based on the work of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. It slowed that authors were almost twice as likely to commit suicide as the general population.
Now consider that suicide in the United States has dramatically increased over the past 16 years. A new study shows that the suicide total of 29,000 in 1999 has risen sharply to 42,000 last year. This is almost a 50% increase. The suicide rate, which is adjusted, based on a growing population, jumped more than 24% - from 10.5 to 13.0 per 100,000 Americans.
The most frustrating thing about suicide is that it is preventable and even with all of the public outcry to improve mental illness treatment, even with all of the medicated Americans, and even with all of the therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists available, and even with the declining public stigma of getting help for mental illness, we have failed miserably to help those who obviously need help.
You can speculate on any number of reasons why people kill themselves. For some, it could be a crappy marriage, the loss of a job, an addiction gone wild, or any reason and no reason at all. Suicide is not rationale and is induced by mental imbalance. But why are so many more people imbalanced, and why are so many pushed to their doom?
We do have an increase in psychologically damaged veterans returning home from a decade-and-a-half of fighting terrorism wars. We did have a Great Recession that killed dreams and hopes. We still have many problems, as a society and as individuals, that if not addressed, can get out of control and lead to one believing that ending their life is a better option than to live with pain, loss, or a broken heart.
Are we missing something here? Is life itself the problem? Does life cause suicide? Does the toll of life burden so many people to the point of no return? Is it chemical, like a toxic pollutant that gets into our system and leads to out-of-control behavior? Could suicide not be a mental issue at all, but a physical one, one based on the environment?
So why do writers choose to kill themselves twice as often as the average person? Is writing itself a symptom, or even a cause, of mental illness?
My uncle committed suicide when I was just five years old. I learned a lesson early on about death that will stay with me until the end of my days comes. But I know my death will not come at my own hand. I learned that we are bigger than life’s troubles and I know that there can be some hellish scenarios that could tempt us to see death as relief. But we get this one life to live. Reincarnation may be possible, but nothing is certain. I choose to live this life fully and hopefully.
But I don’t blame anyone for taking their lives. Everyone has their threshold of pain. But I bet most victims would alter their plans if they had hope or love or support in their lives. Still, for some, a disease, an injury, a personal loss or even a professional shortfall tests their resolve and seems overly burdensome.
Writers, if they didn’t write, would probably kill themselves at double the rate they already die at. Writing is a salvation to many. It’s our therapy, our passion, our artistry, and our way of seeing the world and sharing it with others. It’s our cry for help. It Is the legitimization and validation of our pain, suffering, and shattered lives.
I came across a web site that listed hundreds of writers who either attempted suicide or killed themselves. You may recognize a few:
· Virginia Woolf
· Kurt Vonnegut
· Jack London
· Sylvia Plath
· Edgar Allan Poe
· Ernest Hemingway
· David Foster Wallace
· Malcolm Lowry
· Anne Sexton
· Arthur Koestler
· Spalding Gray
The list can get really long. It’s not just the famous, award-winning or best-selling writer that takes his life. It’s the amateur writer, the unknown poet, and the person struggling to be heard and seen. For some, fame and fortune accelerates their demise; and for others it is their failed pursuit of such things that expedites their dark ending.
Writers have a great ability to rescript the world and imagine it in a way that it never has been and may never be able to become. They have a gift and a talent that can be shared with so many others. If only they could appreciate their writings in a way that others are impacted by their words and ideas.
Perhaps every book is a portion of a long suicide note. For many writers, that note is never completed but all too often, the note is finished before they can fully share their works with others.
America has a suicide and mental health problem. We have failed to contain it. On a mass scale, society has unequivocally dropped the ball. Can we merely throw dollars, doctors, and drugs at the problem? Suicide is winning by huge numbers. You can’t point to something specific and say if we fix that we fix the problem. How could we go backwards and fail so many people?
Suicide is the exclamation point to the bigger issue – society suffers from mass depression. I know, not everyone is sick, sad, or crazy but tens of millions are suffering or at risk. Maybe the answer is not to treat depression but to treat life. Something is deficient in the world that leads so many people to lose hope, faith, and happiness.
You would think that our lives are supposed to be better.
Maybe it’s technology and the digital era that’s killing people off. The meteoric, suicide rate coincides with the period of time that the majority of the population has been connected online.
Maybe it’s the terrorism era. Could we be self-imploding because we fear terrorists are coming for us?
Maybe it’s something in our genetically-altered foods, the global warning environment, or the oversized lightweight T.V. in our homes.
Or it’s none of that. The mental health community obviously has no clue because it has failed us miserably.
Maybe our improved society is to blame. As we have more laws to protect ethnic minorities, the LGBT community, pot-smokers, and women – and as it becomes more publicly acceptable to be different, if not weird – we have an increase in people killing themselves. I thought the opposite was supposed to happen. It seems as life became easier for us on a socially accepted level we instead have retreated deeper into depression. What the hell is wrong with us?
I wonder if my writing could ever save a life. What could I say that would lead people to veer off their suicidal path?” Maybe one day I’ll need inspiring or encouraging words to pull me from the brink of reckless despair.
Scientists and feng shui experts tell us how to employ better surroundings and environments for maximum living potential. Psychologists tell us to reduce stress and meditate. Religion tells us to have faith in God and community. Sports and Hollywood distract us in useful ways. So we have all of these industries and experts to make us feel good and enjoy life, but again I ask: What went wrong? How are we, citizens of one of the greatest nations in modern history, so screwed up that we can’t even choose life over death?
Do we need more therapy dogs? The pet population is at a record number but so is suicide. Comfort food sales remain high, but so is the suicide rate. Our exposure to new ideas, health information, and resources to prevent or heal from depression is on the rise, but so is suicide.
The numbers just don’t add up. Sometimes pieces of our lives don’t add up either.
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016
Can the book world recover from PublishingGate?http://bookmarketingbuzzblog.blogspot.com/2016/04/can-book-world-recover-from.html
Should there be guidelines for authors to follow?http://bookmarketingbuzzblog.blogspot.com/2016/04/are-there-any-standards-in-place-for.html
What should authors not write about?http://bookmarketingbuzzblog.blogspot.com/2016/04/what-shouldnt-authors-write-about.html
Will we never see another Shakespeare?http://bookmarketingbuzzblog.blogspot.com/2016/04/will-we-ever-manufacture-another.html
The Author PR Priority List
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22 Bad Things Writers Should Avoid
Can authors audit their writing like they do their taxes?
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