Cutting down on the suicide of the young and the old

The stats are insane:

  • Males complete suicide at a rate four times that of females.
  • Suicide rates have traditionally decreased in times of war and increased in times of economic crisis.
  • Rates of suicide are highest among the elderly (age 65 and over).
  • Elderly adults have rates of suicide of more than 50% higher than that of the nation as a whole.
  • Suicide ranks third as a cause of death among young (15-24) Americans, behind accidents and homicide. (LINK)

I get a strong sense that there is a significant connection between the decrease of intergenerational connection along with rites of passage and the groups in our society that tend towards suicide. I wrote a week or so ago (Rohr quote and the educational system) about our culture’s tendency to emphasize productivity. This is what makes humans, especially men, worthwhile… what they can produce in our society. Success is based on money, status, and climbing up the ladder. Not self awareness, unconditional and sacrificial love, risk taking, and wisdom.

When we emphasize productivity in our culture, it only makes sense that youth (who haven’t gotten to the productive stage and often get overlooked by the producers) and elderly (who have been through it and now see that they don’t have anything left to offer… the worse of the two) would feel the need to end it all.

If generations do not come to realize the need for generational connectivity… if the older generations do initiate and walk with the youth into adulthood… if we do not begin as the young to honor the old for their wisdom and as the old, honor the young for their gifts… we will perpetuate a sick cycle of suspicion of older leadership, jealousy and imitation of the young for their youthfulness, and a continual repetition of worthlessness, power hunger, and disconnectedness. This is a terrible problem in our society!!

We need to see the older generations as elders, not elderly… and they need to start acting like it. We need to see youth as gifts… and they need to be learners, always learners. Some of the early Celts had a name for their children. Eurn… this was also the name for wealth. Essentially, their young were referred to as, “child-wealth.” Not “little rascals,” “trouble makers,” or “terrible-twos.”

This is the need… we MUST begin to value each stage of life, not for the productivity of each person, but for the gift that they have to offer the human race in their wisdom, their love, and their being. What this honoring looks like will have to be reserved for another post.

5 thoughts on “Cutting down on the suicide of the young and the old

  1. Ok, I will offer a perspective, not necessarily my own.

    Coming from a generation that seems fixated on doing it their own way and not accepting the structures, the institutions, the truths, the practices and the values of the “elder” generations, how do you model this to us and how do you want us to model it to you other than living our truths. With a propensity to critique all that exists, and not replace it with any concrete alternatives yet, how do you receive the mentoring and the wisdom you claim we have to give? A major part of the value placed on the young is that they will preserve what their elders have created. How are you doing this?


  2. You’re right it might actually be better more connected society if we were to be more intergenerationally connected and producing wasn’t the goal.

    Unfortunately, I think that may bring us back to a pre-industrial revolution model. This nation was an agrarian society and families lived together on the “homestead” and your nearest neighbor was “over the hill”.

    I am not sure that is even possible today in the flat world we live in, sure we are more connected but what it sounds to me like you are longing for is something that is actually less connectional, more isolated, has a much narrower vision of the world, and much less openness to differences of opinion.

    I’m not saying that it might not be better for several generations to live on the homestead and have the same careers, but I’m not sure that is a place that the US can go back to, short of a nuclear apocalypse.

    Just some thoughts…



  3. Bob,
    I try to do best by example. Being in relationship and listening to the “elders” is very important for me. In that, I seek to honor them. Also, in regards to modeling it for others, I hope that I can continue to bring younger and older generations together in various contexts so that learning and mutual honoring can be experienced.

    My hope is that elders will see that it is not so much the structures and external things that that need preserving… but the wisdom and the values. Things like, as Richard Rohr notes, the notions that we are not in control, life is not about me, I am not that important, I am going to die, and life is hard. These are things that should be held on to. Or in regards to Jesus, how do we grow in love, acceptance, our ability to sacrifice, to put God and others first, to be patient or not worry, etc. Not so much about the structures as the values. These things are what we much learn from each other. I think many of older generations didn’t learn these things from their elders either, so they don’t know how, or see the value in teaching them.

    It is only changed by example and creating opportunities for these values to be taught. Lunches at Toomies perhaps.


  4. Greg,
    Thanks for your thoughts. I think you might be confusing the values (like I mentioned above) with the societal structure. The difficult thing is figuring out how to keep the values and the community connectivity in our current culture. We have spent so many many years without this intentionality and so it is difficult for us to think that we might be able to restore it in our day and age.

    I of course am one who believes that the values of the community should transform the culture rather than haphazardly and passively allowing the values of the culture govern dictate how the community should live. Maybe Western America does change as we shift our values of community connectedness.

    Don’t worry though, I am not concerned with trying to get rid of Twitter. I want us to be more connected and more globally concerned. More open minded and able to learn from traditions that are different than ours. But I hope for a shift in perspective in regards to how we see the generations and the ways that we learn and value each other. It’s a high standard, i know.


  5. Hi Nate,

    Just thought I’d offer my 2 cents worth. As we broaden our cultural perspectives we continuously evolve as a culture. It is important to recognize that the evolution happens no matter if we realize it or not, but if we are conscious of the change, we become active agents rather than passive participants. Change happens on the individual level first in a healthy culture rather than having “individuals following the herd” so to speak.

    I agree that the inter-generational connection is important to our evolutionary process. It is crucial to a healthy process for each generation to feel this connection and to openly share experiences so that there is understanding and so that each generation benefits from wisdom gained by the previous generations. You might equate this to learning from our own mistakes as a culture/society.

    When this connection is not cultivated, we can easily fall into the cycle of repeating unhealthy patterns over and over. One such pattern is the thought that war can somehow create peace. As a society, we haven’t come to the realization that this is a false belief.

    One other point I’d like to make and, like everything I say, believe only what feels right to you and discard the rest, is that Jesus didn’t ever say to put others first. He said to love others as yourself. I believe it is of absolute importance to make yourself as important as others in your life and to never make your desires less important than those of others. We are all equally important here and each person is responsible for making their own unique contribution.

    Of course, loving others as ourselves means we must also allow others to have their desires and respect all perspectives as we do our own.

    Thanks for the conversation and for the opportunity to express my view here!



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