Suicide: America’s Sick Soul

Suicide: America’s Sick Soul

 America’s Sick Soul

February 8, 2007 — Every 40 seconds, someone commits suicide. And every three seconds, someone attempts to take his or her life. This means that in the short amount of time you spend reading this commentary, four people will commit suicide and more than 50 will have tried.

Given the fact that nearly a million people per year end their lives by suicide, in addition to the number of individuals (20 times more than actual suicides) whose attempts are unsuccessful, it is not surprising that the World Health Organization (WHO) now ranks suicide among the three leading causes of death for people ages 15 to 44.

In fact, more people die each year by suicide than by violent crime or war. By 2020, it is estimated that global suicide deaths could rise to 1.5 million each year. Furthermore, higher rates of suicide tend to occur in wealthier countries, like the United States, with their abundance of luxury goods, shopping malls, cars, homes, etc. The corresponding decline in mental health in Western society (in 2006, the National Institute for Mental Health found that 26% of all Americans are mentally ill) reinforces the concern that the source of our troubles may be found in the lack of meaning and spiritual fulfillment that is part of our increasingly secular and materialistic society.

In fact, our attempts to find fulfillment and happiness in material possessions further feed our sense of hopelessness. In her book The Price of Privilege (2006), clinical psychologist Madeline Levine points out that Americans are not happier today than they were a generation ago when the wealth of America was about half of what it is today. In fact, she suggests that Americans may actually be more miserable now, as evidenced by an increasing suicide rate and higher divorce rate.

Young people are also affected. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate a surprising jump in youth suicides, especially among older teens. And as Levine explains, the depression rate for teenage girls from affluent backgrounds is as high as three times the national rate for all teenage girls. Pointing to the fact that well-to-do, middle-class parents are often overwhelmed with professional and civic responsibilities, Levine notes that teenagers are left feeling isolated, lonely and searching for meaning in other areas of their lives. They seek to fill this vacuum with material possessions and an unhealthy drive to achieve more. According to Levine, whenever material objects or external benchmarks are valued over personal relationships with friends and family, the spiritual development of the teenager takes a beating.

The problem, of course, is that our lives lack meaning what the renowned Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung once described as a  soul-sickness.  And our efforts to find meaning through materialism, drugs, sex, professional achievement, etc., have amounted to nothing more than grasping for the wind.

The soul is sick from a lack of spirituality, and the cure will not be found in a pill. As Craig Hassed, a senior lecturer and coordinator of complimentary medicine at Monash University in Australia, states,  “We are more often concerned with risk factors for depression, youth suicide, substance misuse and violence than the less-publicized protective factors, which include  connectedness  and spirituality”.

Having been sold a bill of goods by the entertainment industry about what success and happiness are all about perfect bodies, flashy cars, spacious homes, attractive partners we are unprepared to deal with the soul-sucking emptiness that goes along with it. The cure for this soul sickness cannot be found in another person. It certainly will not be found in a pill. Or in a bottle. Or at the shopping mall.

Clearly, people recognize the need for something deeper and more meaningful in their lives. This hunger is reflected in the increasing popularity of alternative religions, in the success of films and television shows that address larger questions about the meaning of life and in the preponderance of how-to-find-happiness self-help books that constantly flood the market.

We have forgotten what the ancients knew all too well that everything has a spiritual aspect. This includes our society. Thus, the true cure will only be found in quenching our human thirst for meaning and spiritual transcendence.

We are finite beings in search of the Infinite. And until we, as a society, find it, the materialistic mania of modern life will continue to drag us further into the pit of despair.


Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at
Reviewed by Forum Admin 06-24-2010

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