Submitted to the AFRO by Kevin Daniels, Cashmere O’Neal and Paul Archibald
The month of September is widely considered National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and it is observed as a time to bring education surrounding ways to identify those who are at risk for suicide. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there is an average of 123 suicides each day, as well as being the tenth leading cause of death in the United States.
Over 45,000 Americans kill themselves every year, which is more than all the annual deaths from terrorism across the world combined. In fact, there are twice as many suicides every year as there are homicides. More than 500,000 people are treated in U.S. emergency rooms each year for injuries related to self-harm. It is estimated that a single suicide costs $1.3 million to the society, while the total societal cost of suicide and self-harm behaviors is close to $93 billion every year.
Equally important, the State of Maryland was among the 49 states that saw an increase of 25 percent in suicide rates from 1999 to 2016, and according to data from the Baltimore City Health Department, in Baltimore, about 53 people or more die from suicide annually, and 82 percent of those deaths occur among men. However, according to Pew Research, the rise in millennial suicide is most startling in that among ages 25-34, it is the second leading cause of death in the United States with a rate of over 7,366 per year.
Even though they are considered the largest generation at over 85-90 million people in the US, and are the most educated generation in history, they are reporting the highest levels of clinical anxiety, stress, and depression than any other generation at the same age; they also have a 40 percent high unemployment rate coupled with enormous college debt. Most report that they feel “wired” all the time and mostly due to the influx of information gathered by all forms of internet-social media outlets that strongly inform their beliefs and values.
Due to their lack of trust in most institutions and societal structures, which includes the breakdown of the family and intergenerational conflicts between tradition and contemporary values, they report little or no “brand loyalty” in most areas of life. Even though faith, historically, has been a strong coping mechanism against suicide, many millennials, while still holding to a view of God, tend to see the role of the faith community dwindling in its ability to inspire, impact, and influence the community at large. With that kind of loss of faith, many millennials tend to spiral towards a loss of hope, despondency, and despair, which are all the ingredients of a “perfect storm” for suicide ideation within their generation.
To that end, because of the crisis of faith and rise of suicidality within the millennial generation, there has been a resurgent call from the faith community using the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) V-code 62.89, to serve as a bridge between the faith and science community, to not only revisit areas of loss or questioning of faith, changes in membership and organizational affiliation, beliefs, and practices; as well as, spiritual emergence vs. spiritual emergencies, co-occurring religious and spiritual challenges and opportunities, and having a strong awareness of overlapping religious and spiritual challenges with combined mental disorders.
This charge and call is similar to the one given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention in 1967, in which given the continuing changing cultural landscape at that time, called for careful attention to strengthening of identity (i.e., who am I? Why am I here?), direction (i.e., Where am I going? How do I get there?), and purpose (i.e., What am I doing here? Why am I going there? What does it all mean?).
Dr. Kevin Daniels is the Chair of the Civic Action Committee (Minister’s Conference) and an associate professor at Morgan State University in the School of Social Work.
Cashmere O’Neal, LCSW-C, LICSW, COB-CS, is the co-Founder of Elijah’s Hope Foundation.
Dr. Paul Archibald, LCSW-C, is the CEO and founder of Archibald Optimal Health Services.