Suicides and Antidepressants
The Alarming Rate of Suicides among Middle Age People
Like the rest of you I am shocked by the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. These two people had what most of us dream about; Famous in their field, a fortune of money, a life of success after success and world-wide recognition. So why did they kill themselves?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released startling new statistics on the rise of deaths by suicide in North America, which are up by 25 percent since 1999 across most ethnic and age groups. It used to be that most of the suicides were actually among young people from teenage years to 25. Now the middle age population has taken over the demographic with the most suicides.
There are many arguments for the cause. Is this a crisis of mental health care? Are people not getting the services they need? The left wing liberals propose more therapies, more effective antidepressants and greater access to treatment. But none of these were factors in the suicides of Robin Williams, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, all of which had access to every kind of treatment possible.
In fact, as we keep coming up with new drugs, more treatments for anxiety and depression and more accessibility, the suicide rate continues to soar. So there must be another explanation.
The very first antidepressants, Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft were simple selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. The key word being selective as they only affected serotonin levels. Then in 1998 came the new wave of antidepressants. They not only affected serotonin but also norepinephrine and possible many other neurotransmitters in the brain. Among the huge lists of side-effects for these new drugs was suicide. When the suicide numbers drastically increased, the pharmaceutical companies said that these people were already depressed so why is it a surprise they decided to end their lives? But the reality is that these new antidepressants have such a profound effect on so many areas of your brain that they are extremely dangerous.
If you examine drug prescriptions by category, the number one category are drugs for and to prevent heart disease and stroke. However, the number two category, world-wide are antidepressants. If you combine this fact with the change in their formulation in 1998, you can make a statistical case for antidepressants being a central cause in this deadly increase in suicides.
A Crisis of Meaninglessness
Canadian society is not what it used to be 20 years ago. We have become a society of detachment and a weaker sense of belonging which leads to the risk of despair.
Like other organisms humans are in the survival and reproduction game. We have a strong orientation to live—that is, to avoid death. However, the neurological machinery that has helped us survive has us thinking too much. Our capacity to reflect on ourselves, to think about the past and the future and to engage in abstract thought has given us access to some uncomfortable truths; we know we and everyone we care about will age, become frailer and die. We understand that pain and sorrow are part of our destiny. What is the point of it all?
In order to keep our anxiety at bay, we must find and maintain perceptions of our lives as meaningful. We are a species that strives not just for survival, but also for significance. We want our lives to matter. When the meaning of our lives is lost we are most psychologically vulnerable.
A felt lack of meaning in one’s life has been linked to alcohol and drug abuse, depression, anxiety and—yes—suicide. And when people experience loss, stress or trauma, it is those that believe that their lives have purpose that are best able to cope with and recover from stress. But do the antidepressants do their job and help us or do they mess us up so badly that we cannot think rationally and commit suicide?
How do we find meaning and purpose in our lives? There are many ways but psychological literature suggests that close relationships with other people are our greatest resource. Regardless of social class, age, gender, religion or nationality, People report that the life experiences they find most personally meaningful typically involve loved ones.
Critically, studies indicate that it isn’t enough to simply be around or even liked by other people. Having hundreds of Facebook friends is meaningless; having hundreds of likes and cute imogies for your posts just further separates you from human contact. We need to feel valued and that we are making important contributions to a world that matters. Nobody on Facebook really cares about your posts; they are not really your friends. Even pleasant or enjoyable social encounters aren’t enough to stave off despair.
The social landscape of Canadian cities has changed so much in recent years. Neighborhoods are declining, families are shrinking and religion is becoming a thing of the past. I may sound like an old man wishing for the “good old days’ but from the standpoint of psychological science, these changes, regardless of what you think of them pose serious threats to a life of meaning.
I come from Toronto, a city in which as a child, I knew almost everyone on my street and a few streets either way. Today the biggest segment of real estate market is condos, little cubicles where you live in isolation never getting to know who actually lives next door. In my neighborhood I felt that the people on my street were trustworthy and that I could confide in them. There was a sense of belongingness. As the neighborhoods disappear we have a society of lonely people who view life as less meaningful and are not strongly connected to others.
At similar stake is the decreasing size of the family. Canadians today are waiting longer to get married and have children, and are having fewer children. Studies have shown that adults with children are more focussed on matters of meaning than are adults who do not have children, and that parents experience a greater sense of meaningfulness when they are engaged in activities that involve taking care of their children.
As for religion, which has long provided the institutional and social structure for a lif e of meaning, it too, is in deep decline. Canadians these days, especially young adults are less likely to identify with a religious faith, attend church or synagogue or mosque or engage in other religious practices. When Canadians abandon traditional houses of worship, they increasingly search for alternative religious-like experiences ( including belief in ghosts or aliens from space) in order to feel as if they are part of something larger and more meaningful than their brief mortal lives.
Although declining neighborhoods, shrinking families and the loss of religion may be the cause of depression and anxiety, I do not feel that they have led to this huge increase in suicides. I believe that the treatment for these anxieties and depressions is actually the cause of this rapid uptake in self-deaths.
If a loved one dies, if you lose your job, or if you have a mortal illness these are all reasons to feel horrible and depressed. But you must deal with these in real life, not in a virtual life run by your antidepressant medication. There is a chance, albeit a small one, that the drug you take could actually cause you to take your life against your normal and natural will. I personally think that is what happened to Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. Print This Article