What does it say about American society that more middle-aged people now die of suicide than of car accidents?
While I wouldn’t say that suicide rates are soaring–the suicide rate for middle-age men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000, according to the most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)—these numbers do represent a dramatic increase from previous norms.
For men in their 50s, suicide rates jumped by nearly 50 percent in the decade from 1999 to 2010. For women, the largest increase was seen in those ages 60 to 64, among whom rates increased by nearly 60 percent during that decade.
A few weeks ago I was stunned to hear that an old friend of mine, a woman in her 50s, had committed suicide by hanging.
I have bad days too, when I just want to lay down my load and become a lily in the field. We all do. But to actually plan and execute a self-hanging? That I find hard to fathom.
Apparently most men commit suicide by self-inflicted gunshot wounds, while women are more likely to take their lives through overdoses of prescription medication.
According to the CDC report, poisoning deaths were up 24 percent overall from 1999-2010, while hangings were up 81 percent.
Whenever I find myself feeling too despairing, I remind myself that I have to hang on at least until my two children are independent and self-sufficient.
The truth is that if you have children, there can never be a right time to commit suicide.
Your children are always going to be counting on you to be blazing the trail ahead, setting the example, holding the fort.
It would be terribly selfish of me to give up and take my own life.
I believe that people should have the right to make their own end-of-life decisions. If I were diagnosed with a terminal disease, I would want the ability to dictate the circumstances of my death.
And it’s true that in some ways, we are all living with a death sentence. All of us will die sooner or later—of that we can rest assured.
For some people—for instance, the hunger-strikers at Guantanamo—courage wears a suicidal face.
All in all, it’s what we do with this short, precious lifetime that matters. What do we want to be remembered for? What do we want to leave behind?
I want to be remembered as a woman who confronted the challenges of my individual life, and my zeitgeist, head on. Who did not give up, ever. Who looked on the bright side and tried to see the glass as half-full. Who blazed a trail for those behind me to follow.
There are some desperately serious situations to which suicide is a rational response. If I were to come to such an impasse, I hope I would have the courage to do the right thing.
But in the meantime, I will continue to embrace all the challenges life throws at me, and meet my own expectations for being a stalwart mother, daughter, sister, friend and teacher. It’s the least–and the best–that I can do.