Kirsten Powers wrote in USA Today what is perhaps the most astute response to the recent news about suicide — not just Kate Spade's and Anthony Bourdain's suicides, but the recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows a sharp increase in the number of suicides overall.
The CDC notes that more than half of those who died by suicide did not have a "known mental health condition." It is also worth noting that male suicide is far more prevalent than female suicide. And there, too, mental illness is not the reason. "The epidemic of depression and despair in the Western World isn’t always caused by our brains," writes Powers. "It’s largely caused by key problems in the way we live" and indicates that something is very wrong with the culture.
Powers points to the fact that we're "largely disconnected from our extended families, friends and communities," and that is absolutely true. But the problem goes much deeper, as the CDC report shows. Of all the factors that contribute to suicide — substance abuse, financial problems, etc. — relationship problems are the number one cause. And sure enough, in keeping with this data, that's precisely the story behind Kate Spade's death. Even the note she left behind for her daughter purportedly alludes to this fact.
A bit of research will produce similar results from others who have taken their lives. Robin Williams was married three times, and his third marriage was besotted with problems. Anthony Bourdain wrote in his book Medium Raw about having been "aimless and regularly suicidal" after his first marriage ended.
As the CDC chart explains, people can have more than one experience that leads to the choice to end their lives. But at the core of the problem is a broken relationship. Broken marriages, in particular, have a domino effect that never seems to end. Not only do they lead to depression and bankruptcy, they often result in broken parental relationships.
Sadly, the truth about divorce and family breakdown goes largely unaddressed in this nation. When something is ubiquitous, we tend to become numb to it. Add to this a nation awash in political correctness — there are things we're not "allowed" to talk about because somebody somewhere will get offended — and we've created the perfect storm. Even Powers' article ignores the elephant in the room — she rightfully points out that something is wrong with the culture but fails to hone in on the underlying issue.
It is simply impossible to overstate how dramatically this nation has fallen when it comes to marriage and the family. I actually took a course in college with that exact title, Marriage and the Family, that I sincerely doubt is even an option for students today. The main reason marriage and family has taken a nosedive can be traced to America's wholesale rejection of sacrifice.
The definition of sacrifice is "the surrender of something for the sake of something else; something given up or lost." There was a time when Americans on both sides of the political aisle understood sacrifice — war has that effect on people — and they accepted that marriage and family was part of that.
But all of that changed in the 1960s, when several factions emerged to turn this worldview on its head. Instead of mapping out a life that incorporates other people's needs into the equation—which is part and parcel of marriage and family—people were encouraged to be "true to themselves." If someone or something interfered with their plans or didn't make them happy, they were encouraged to throw it out and move on. Sacrifice was replaced with the worship of the Almighty Self.
Since that time, things have only gotten worse. We live in a throwaway culture, and the concept of doing without or of suffering, even temporarily, for the good of others is gone. As a result, people are lost in a sea of meaninglessness. But those who reject this new way of life don't suffer in this way. Happily married couples with happy, healthy children usually don't kill themselves. It's people whose relationships are broken who most often do.
Ergo, it's the state of our relationships, not the state of the individuals themselves, that's broken. Depression and suicide stem from loneliness, which has become an epidemic. It stems from a lack of love and a lack of purpose, particularly for men, who suffer terribly after a divorce. Nothing in this life is more painful than broken marriages and families. And as the suicides of the famous demonstrate, no amount of money or fame can make up for it.
We should heed their warning.
Suzanne Venker (@SuzanneVenker) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is an author, Fox News contributor, and trustee of Leading Women for Shared Parenting. Her fifth book, The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men & Marriage: HOW LOVE WORKS, was published in February 2017.