Recently the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two people who by public appearances seemed to have it all, made headlines around the world. We are still reeling from the effects of Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Chris Cornell of Sound Garden who ended their lives as well. We also learned this week that suicide rates increased by 25% nationally, making it a national crisis.
Rather than pathologizing the despair and emotional suffering that is a rational response to a culture that values people based on ever escalating financial and personal achievements, we should acknowledge that something is very wrong with our culture. We should stop telling people who yearn for a deeper meaning in life that they have an illness or need therapy. Instead, we need to help people craft lives that are more meaningful and built on a firmer foundation than personal success.
Of course, there are people who have chemical imbalances who should be supported and treated with medicine. But most Americans are depressed, anxious or suicidal because something is wrong with our culture, not because something is wrong with them.
Changing our culture is critical. Being honest with others about our own personal struggles and dark nights of the soul is the first step. People on the edge need to hear stories that assure them there is a way through the all-consuming pain to a meaningful life. Stories like Charles Krauthammer, one of the most successful commentators of our time, both in the US and around the world, is a shining example that comes immediately to mind.
He is an American syndicated columnist, author, political commentator, and former physician whose weekly column was syndicated to more than 400 publications worldwide. While in his first year studying at Harvard Medical School, Krauthammer became permanently paralyzed from the neck down after a diving board accident that severed his spinal cord. After spending 14 months recovering in a hospital, he returned to medical school, graduating to become a psychiatrist involved in the creation of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and later developing a career as a Pulitzer Prize–winning writer. He was a weekly panelist on PBS news program Inside Washington from 1990 until it ceased production in December 2013. He was a contributing editor to The WeeklyStandard and a nightly panelist on Fox News Channel’s Special Report with Bret Baier.
Here is an article he published yesterday in the Washington Post:
“I have been uncharacteristically silent these past ten months. I had thought that silence would soon be coming to an end, but I’m afraid I must tell you now that fate has decided on a different course for me.
In August of last year, I underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in my abdomen. That operation was thought to have been a success, but it caused a cascade of secondary complications — which I have been fighting in hospital ever since. It was a long and hard fight with many setbacks, but I was steadily, if slowly, overcoming each obstacle along the way and gradually making my way back to health.
However, recent tests have revealed that the cancer has returned. There was no sign of it as recently as a month ago, which means it is aggressive and spreading rapidly. My doctors tell me their best estimate is that I have only a few weeks left to live. This is the final verdict. My fight is over.
I wish to thank my doctors and caregivers, whose efforts have been magnificent. My dear friends, who have given me a lifetime of memories and whose support has sustained me through these difficult months. And all of my partners at The Washington Post, Fox News, and Crown Publishing.
Lastly, I thank my colleagues, my readers, and my viewers, who have made my career possible and given consequence to my life’s work. I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.
I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.”