"Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes."
— William Gibson.
The Problem of Suicide: You Are Not Alone
As the survivor of an arduous suicide attempt I've subsequently come to contemplate this subject a bit more than most. Throughout the years I've seen friends, family, and loved-ones take their own lives. Each time I hear of another suicide I am reminded not only of my own attempt, but also the attempts by those I've known. To be perfectly honest... my response is probably indicative of some PTSD. But I'm more than a decade removed from my major depressive episode and I feel that the subject of depression and suicide ought now be addressed.
It should be pointed out that suicide is now a leading cause of death in the United States. Amongst the young adults it ranks as the second or third leading cause of death (depending upon the specific age range examined). In other segments of populations around the world it is also a primary cause of death. Economic factors seem overtly connected with suicide in many nations. Certain professions have a higher rate of suicide than others. And, for U.S. soldiers, suicide has proven to be more deadly to them than combat. This problem of suicide could accurately be described as a public heath crisis or an epidemic.
While a variety of factors contribute to individual instances of suicide and the overall suicide rate, I believe that progressive radicals, anarchists, and social justice activists have somewhat unique psychological factors that can also come into play. Although they are probably just as likely to suffer from problems like social isolation or drug dependency, I believe that those who are informed about the myriad of crises that humanity currently faces are given an extra punctuation in terms of reasons to be dismayed. So, in addition to any personal problems they may have, they are also aware that the world seems to be going to hell in a proverbial handbasket. And while I personally believe that's a fairly accurate assessment of things, I don't advocate suicide as a response to this reality.
Life Under Siege
Particularly for younger radicals, as well as for younger people in general, I think the idea that things can suddenly and dramatically change is forsaken. Since they haven't experienced as much of life, it may not be as clear to younger people that situations can, and do, often change. The world is not static and, as terrible as things may be overall, or as bad any particular personal situation may be, it's bound to change -- even if we're just talking about gaining a different personal perspective on things. We are all bound for new experiences, new insights, and new ways of looking at things. And, in your darkest hour, it should be remembered that the next hour may serendipitously be your brightest. Life undoubtedly can be, and often is, a struggle. However, as a radical, as a person who has a conscience and is informed, it behooves us all if you keep up the struggle.
In a seeming paradox, life in nations under siege actually see suicide rates drop (WWII Britain, for example). And, if it might help you, perhaps you should consider that the entirety of the world today is somewhat under siege. I won't go into detail here again about the numerous problems that humanity collectively faces -- suffice it to say that there are serious problems in this world and each of us has our own thoughts about what needs to be changed and how that can happen. Life and truth and beauty are constantly under attack, and these are things worth fighting for -- things worth living for.
When a progressive radical commits suicide it's equivalent to a fascist putting another notch in his rifle. It is equivalent to the war machine rolling its tank treads over another freedom fighter. This, I hope, is reason enough for many to avoid death at their own hands.
Don't Let The Bastards Grind You Down
As radicals, people are often subjected to mockery and derision. Expressing concerns about the state of the world can often lead to plain ridicule. This mockery and scorn can come from any number of sources -- friends, strangers, family, or the media. And this derision can be, without a doubt, depressing. But while some individuals should perhaps to be held accountable for their ignorant insensitivity, I'd suggest that this phenomena of callous ignorance is just a subtle part of the system's overall psychological warfare -- which it wages every day on every front.
The underlying nature of the system is to reduce empathy within the general population so that it can produce more mindless workers and consumers. It's subtle, but this is what allows modern society to continue down the unsustainable path that it is on. This is what allows bona fide psychopaths to attain the highest positions within the highest offices of the land -- be those governmental or business. The value-free attitude of a twisted post-modernism scoffs at sincere concerns about the world and it perpetuates more business as usual.
And make no mistake... whatever the cumulative cause, psychological testing does show that empathy levels in the United States have dropped dramatically. Young people today, in general, are actually less empathetic than they were a generation ago. One can only imagine the social and psychological difficulties that a truly concerned bright young person must have today when dealing with a growing number of sociopathic peers! But these decent young people need to be aware that the problem is not with them. The problem is really not even the fault of their cold-hearted peers -- the problem is with the system that creates and rewards sociopaths. This is what needs to be recognized and this is why good-hearted people should not give up. Merely the continued existence of thoughtful and intelligent people is a strike against the system -- and that is why they should persist in an effort to undermine that system.
For radicals though, the problem of persecution on a psychological level goes beyond just merely the day to day interactions with any numb or cold peers. Martin Luther King himself was famously sent a letter urging him to commit suicide. And although I don't specifically know how common this particular sort of tactic is... from personal experience I can tell you that such things still happen. When I was an outspoken young radical (with an overt tail) I had leaflets left on my doorstep promoting suicide "for the sake of the environment." And while I can't say for certain that this played a direct role in my own suicide attempt after the fact... it's possible that I may have missed similar psychological attacks directed towards me.
This also relates to government infiltration and surveillance. It is clear that infiltration of activist circles continues today (perhaps more commonly than ever). But what subtle psychological effects does this infiltration have upon people? Consider that you are likely to pick up on some level of insincerity amongst your peers. If you begin to tolerate insincerity, or dismiss it, you may come to consider it a relative norm. Or, on the other hand, you may avoid common social situations where you'll have to deal with insincere individuals. Either way... this is likely to have an negative effect on you. And consider that it's not just you who is being subjected to this but, also, other sincere individuals will be subjected to the same situation and may respond by altering their normally good-natured manner of associating with people.
In the 1960's some radical organizations had some of their meetings populated primarily by undercover agents. Now, 50 years later, I see little reason to doubt that this may still often be the case. In fact, the problem may be much more accute. Infiltration and surveillance works as a psychological attack upon progressive radicals. It's psychological warfare. Psy-ops.
I preceded this article with a quote from Willam Gibson, the dystopian science fiction writer, and I believe his quote has particular relevance to anarchists and other social justice advocates. If you fall into those categories, and if you are feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts, consider that this may be exactly what was intended for you... by design. And, so, then, you should rethink your position. If this sort of thing makes you feel paranoid, well, that may be for the best if it keeps you alive. Besides, being paranoid in this world may often be the sanest frame of mind to have. But is it really paranoia if they want you dead? And do you really think that the government and corporate interests never want any activists dead or that they don't work toward those very ends?
You Are Empowered To Live And Control Your Own Life
If your life has gone to shit and doesn't seem worth living... think again. You can actually be part of something bigger and better. You can change your personal life (habits, diet, "friends") and you can work toward being healthier and having a healthier world overall. Even simple changes in your life can alter your perspective and give you reason to live. Your depression may persist... but don't let it dominate you and control your life. I don't mean this all to sound like some hackneyed self-help cliche, but if that's what it takes to keep a few radicals alive... I don't care if that's how it sounds. There are simple truisms that remain true even if they are repeated a million times.
I don't want any more sincere and good-hearted people to kill themselves. And, at the rate which we are losing them, and at the rate which they are being outnumbered, the world can't afford to lose any more. If you are contemplating suicide... use your intellect to contemplate something else. You are in control of your own life, your own mind, and your own activities -- you can make a positive difference in this world by staying alive. Even if you've never met them... there are people in this world who want you to be happy and want you to live.