In the last five years there has been a rash of suicides in our community. It is not surprising that it has been primarily men of varying ages who have chosen to end their lives. The immediate response by onlookers is always the question of “why?” What was he thinking? What would cause this man to permanently pull the plug and end his life and future?
What is the truth about men and suicide? Maybe it is the future that is the actual problem. As these men looked ahead, they did not like what they saw. This is the one reality that I see in all men who struggle with depression – no exceptions. Their future always seems bleak to them. Dark. Hopeless. And no one wants to live if he perceives that his future will be utterly hopeless.
Compounding their pain even further, these men carry this heavy weight of despair upon their shoulders…alone. They build up walls around themselves, not allowing anyone in. They have somehow come to believe that men are not supposed to struggle in life. And “real men never get depressed.” It makes for a lonely life. This finally helped me to understand what Thoreau meant when he said, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.”
As I was thinking about hopelessness and depression, I ran across some words of Ernest Becker in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Denial of Death. Becker recognized how modern culture had become incredibly secular, and how God had become irrelevant such that many people believe that our ultimate future does not exist. We are here for a few short years, and then we die and that’s the end of it.
Becker contends that this widespread belief in no ultimate future has caused society to place more emphasis on sex, romance, money, power, and pleasure more than any other culture in history. We are trying to deal with our cosmic insignificance; therefore, we look to these things as a form of escapism…as a way to retreat into our own worlds of distraction and diversion.
But this strategy never works. We are continually reminded that life is ultimately empty and without purpose. Consequently, we have no ultimate future. And it only makes matters worse when a man is struggling with his work, his finances, and his relationships.
And so depression and suicide have become major problems in our culture. One could almost describe it as an epidemic. And the social sciences seem to back it up.
Dr. Martin Seligman is a professor of psychology at The University of Pennsylvania. He is considered an authority on depression. He wrote an article in Psychology Today entitled “Boomer Blues.” He did a great deal of research on the Baby Boomer generation. He compared the boomer generation with their parents’ generations, and he found that their rate of depression was ten times higher than that of their parents. He then made an incredible statement: “We are the most depressed generation in all of human history.”
Several years ago the cover story of the Harvard student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, reported the serious incidence of depression among the students at Harvard. Eighty percent of the students had experienced depression at least once during their college years. Forty seven percent felt so depressed that it was difficult for them to function. Ten percent have seriously considered committing suicide. And these students are some of our best and brightest.
And so the question is this: Is there a way to be delivered?
Let’s start by admitting that depression is complicated, and there are no easy answers. However, I do think that a man can survive almost anything if he has a purpose that gives him something to live for in the future. In other words, men can endure failure, shame, or any type of difficult circumstances if he has meaning and purpose which, in turn, gives him hope for the future.
I base my opinion, in part, on the following observation: Victor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist who survived the Nazi death camps. He wrote a very popular book, Man’s Search for Meaning. As a trained psychiatrist, he was fascinated as to why some of his fellow prisoners wasted away and died, yet others remained strong and survived. He concluded that we cannot stay healthy if we do not have hope in the future. Frankl wrote:
Life in a concentration camp exposes the soul’s foundation. Only a few of the prisoners were able to keep their inner liberty and strength. Life only has meaning in any circumstances if we have a hope that neither suffering, circumstances, nor death itself can destroy.
Frankl recognized that our conception of the future impacts our ability to live and cope with our lives in the present. If our view of the future is grounded in a solid, ultimate hope, then we will have a solid foundation on which to build our lives.
I will continue to share my observations on depression and suicide in my next blog, but I want to close with a final thought.
In his article, “Boomer Blues”, Seligman renders this opinion: “We have lost the art of learning how to relate our daily lives to a bigger cause for which we are living.”
In my mind this larger cause should be trying to mesh our daily lives on earth with God and his plan for our lives. In Jeremiah 29:11, the prophet Jeremiah tells us, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not calamity, to give you a future and a hope.”
When we look toward the future with hope, we can rest in the fact that God has something He wants to do in and through our lives. To be able to grasp this vision is to give our lives a sense of significance, and to fill our days with the knowledge that we have a future, and a hope.