I have always hated Munch’s picture “The Scream”. I just cannot stand the feeling it provokes in me. It’s sad and disturbing and not-shake-off-able. Last night the news reported that another young man from our local community was found dead. The prevailing thought is that this young man took his own life. This makes four suicide-deaths in our area in almost as many weeks – three of these young people were 18 years old or younger, one was a mere 25 years-old. The vision of Munch’s The Scream came immediately to mind. I just wanted to scream when I heard the news. I wanted to hold my face and just scream “Noooooooooooooo” until I had no more breath to utter sound.
In our area, suicides are a growing epidemic and I cannot help but think there is a connection between these deaths, the day-to-day stress that families are feeling and the current political distress in our country. My experience is that both my democratic and republican friends are all feeling a collective sense of depression and hopelessness, even if it is for different reasons. I am not sure how we can tell kids that suicide is not an option when we don’t really have a lot options to offer ourselves, either personally or as a body of Americans. Think about it. Today’s youth are bombarded with news of violence, incidences like the Neo-Nazi’s rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, of the Black-Lives-Matter movement and the backlash of that movement, of three-in-a-row destructive hurricanes, of overall increased concerns for the economy, or increased concerns about people losing access to health care to name just a few.
And none of this accounts for the additional high school specific issues that kids are dealing with every day – growing expectations of academic success, the competitive stress of positioning to get into a “good college”, fitting in, standing up to bullying, saying no to drugs, wearing the right outfits, playing the right sport, or the best instrument in band and so forth. The stress levels that kids experience is astronomical and we are doing precious little to reduce or even mitigate this stress. Instead we say, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Really? I have not heard one person- not one news commentator, not one podcaster, not one politician, not one financial expert sending out a message that says anything like, “Oh, don’t worry. This is just a temporary moment of distress for our country. It’s all going to be really great any minute now.” That is not the message being sent. The messages being sent are the kind that highlight the divisions and fractions, they highlight who’s right and who’s wrong, they name call, character assassinate and, in some cases, condone and justify violence and unrest. Do we think that because human beings are between the ages of 13-20 that they are not impacted by these messages? Are we crafting the message that the future is actually worth living?
I want us all to stop the mindless busyness that is the newest addiction in our country. I want us to take a day to create peace - close the schools and stores and businesses, have people gather so we can be together and comfort each other. I want us to breathe, practice mindfulness and for us to remember that every word we say to each other counts. I want us to re-learn the language of kindness and love. I want to start a national campaign for young people knowing they are loved and valued, that they belong and where they see us living a future of peace and of hope. Where they look at what is possible and they want to contribute, versus looking ahead and permanently stepping off of the ride. No one wants to hear of another death, another young person who took their life and wonder if they could have done anything to stop it.