Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Scourge of Suicide

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The World Health Organization estimates that an average of nearly three thousand people commit suicide each and every day.  Suicide has made the news in recent years in the United States due in part to the fact that suicides of military personnel surged for a period of time.  It is also unlikely that this heightened frequency of suicide among military personnel will end any time soon.  Indeed, a September, 2013 Huffington Post article noted that the suicide rate continued to remain high "while the military was mounting an aggressive series of suicide prevention campaigns and offering resources to help soldiers and their families."

It is an unfortunate truth that some lives would seem to matter more than others because suicide among some populations of people receives more media coverage than for other groups.  I was reminded of this today when I saw a New York Times article about suicide on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.  I lived on the nearby Rosebud reservation for a period of nearly four months in 1997.  During that short time I had a small taste of the numerous issues that characterize the lives of the Lakota people.

The above referenced New York Times article notes nine people between the ages of twelve and twenty-four have committed suicide since last December alone.  What is one major issue that impacts the lives of Native Americans such as the Lakota? Sexual assault and abuse.  And this issue is compounded by the reality of insufficient resources available to address the issue. As noted in the article there are currently a mere two investigators working in the tribal child protection unit.  They work on behalf of a population estimated at somewhere between 18,000 and 40,000 people.

Sexual abuse is significant because it also may be implicated in subsequent issues that may deeply affect a person's ability to live a productive and rewarding life.  Dr. Steven Berkowitz, director of a youth trauma center at the University of Pennsylvania, draws a connection between untreated sexual abuse and heightened levels of drug and alcohol abuse.  Such issues of addiction may then undermine what may be a person's already underdeveloped ability to do basic daily tasks such as work, obtain sufficient nutrition and participate in a broader community whose resources will ideally provide support and encouragement.

The deeper history of the Lakota people is also acknowledged as a contributing factor to the present reality.  According to the article there is a "legacy of federally funded funded boarding schools that forcibly removed generations of Native American children from their homes". This experience was an immense trauma to the Lakota people.

I wrote recently about the issue of trauma and the death penalty.  I commented specifically on my perception that American culture is defined by a bias for quick fixes that do not require any degree of deep reflection on the factors that may contribute to influencing the evolution of people's lives (and the choices they come to believe are both within their reach and appropriate).  I believe that the manner in which we collectively respond to the issue of suicide is yet another issue that may exemplify our often shortsighted approach to deep seated issues.  We want quick fixes.  Having a thoughtful, probing and protracted discussion about deep issues seems virtually antithetical to the American way of living.  So many of us are so busy with our own lives.

I sense there is a deeper reality regarding the nature of trauma that goes undiscussed because there has not been a lot of research to validate my perception as reflective of some essential truth.  How much of the trauma people experience is a trauma due to removal or alienation from their culture of origin?  In other words is there something you could call cultural trauma?  And if so how do we deal with it?

I personally believe there is something like cultural trauma?  And I believe this in part because I feel I have personally experienced it.

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