The Growing Epidemic of Suicide in America

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

Suicide is exploding across the United States in frightening numbers. Today, there are over 47,000 suicides each year in America, or one every 11.8 minutes. There are roughly 2.5 suicide attempts for each completed suicide, which means that every year, over 1 million individuals attempt or complete a suicide.

Suicide is no respecter of persons, economic status, social class, age or religion. Consider these current statistics:

  • Suicide today is the second leading cause of death among those 10 – 24 years of age. The rate of suicides in this group has doubled over the last 10 years.
  • Twenty US veterans die by suicide every day.
  • Men are far more likely to die by suicide than are women.
  • The fastest growing numbers of suicides are among men, 45 – 54 years of age.
  • Men over the age of 65 are the most likely sub-group to die by suicide.

I am, however, particularly focused on suicide among the elderly in this article, for the potential for a true epidemic in this age group is truly staggering.

As baby boomers enter their retirement years by the millions, certain existential realities come into play:

  1. Many healthy men and women are forced into retirement by arbitrary age requirements long before they are ready to do so. Depression often ensues.
  2. These seniors often feel hopeless and abandoned, take antidepressants and sleep medications that can be harmful to them.
  3. As these individuals enter their senior years, they discover that they have exhausted their financial resources through inadequate estate planning.
  4. The loss of a spouse is always traumatic, but in older years, such a loss leaves them alone, with a need for care that their depleted resources will not permit.
  5. As a result of all of these factors, persons aged 65 and older make up 13% of the U.S. population, but 18% of the suicides, and that number grows every year.

I urge that C-TAC consider this population as much in need of “advanced care” as those afflicted by physical illness.

Despair is an illness. Depression is an illness. Hopelessness is an illness. Let us attend to these precious souls who need us so badly.

About Rabbi Daniel Syme
Lifestyle magazine’s readers once voted Rabbi Daniel B. Syme one of the 18 North American Jews “who will be most influential in shaping the future of the Jewish community in the 21st century.” This compliment comes highly merited. Now the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth El, Syme carries with him an impressive resume. But, more importantly, he draws on his life’s experiences to bring compassion, caring and determination that accomplishments alone cannot convey. Syme spent 24 years with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, including three years as senior vice-president. He oversaw all of the UAHC’s programs, including his special interests of outreach, television and film production, and the Task Force on Youth Suicide Prevention. After graduating from the University of Michigan with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1967, Syme was preparing to continue his education and accept a fellowship in psychology. However, at age 20, a near fatal bout of cancer changed his life forever. Prior to surgery, he asked his father, Rabbi M. Robert Syme of Temple Israel, to get him an application to the Hebrew Union College. He said that if he recovered he was going to devote his life to God. That vow held true, and five years later, Syme was ordained from the Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati campus in 1972. While at the HUC, he won the Farband Hebrew Prize, the Sulzberger Award in Homiletics and the Lazarus Prize for Academic Excellence. He also earned a Master’s Degree and a Doctorate in Education from Columbia University Teachers College, and taught at the New York campus of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. His intense drive led to numerous accomplishments as both an author and executive television producer. He is a published author or co-author of 24 books, on topics such as Jewish parenting, youth suicide prevention, Christian-Jewish relations, Jewish social action, ritual, theology and Jewish education. His books include Finding God; The Jewish Home – A Guide to Jewish Living; Why I Am A Reform Jew; What Happens After I Die; Drugs, Sex and Integrity, The Jewish Wedding Book; The Book of the Jewish Life; and 100 Essential Books for Jewish Readers. Syme has also been the executive producer for seven UAHC television programs, including “A Conversation with Menachem Begin,” “To See the World Through Jewish Eyes,” “A Conversation with George Burns” and “Choosing Judaism.” Syme has been very active in national and international organizations, serving as vice president of the American Zionist Youth Movement, director-at- large of the Board of the Jewish National Fund of America, a board member of the United Israel Appeal, and as vice president of the American Zionist Movement. He was one of the first chairmen of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, a board member of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, the Executive Boards of the National Council for Jewish Education, and the Ecumenical Institute, and was Co-Chairman of the Coalition for Jewish Unity. He was honored as a Knight of Charity by the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (P.I.M.E. Missionaries) in 1997, elected to the Board of the Economic Club of Detroit in 1998, and received the Justice Louis D. Brandeis award from the Zionist Organization of America in 1999. He served on the board of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums and Humble Design and continues his work in suicide prevention. In 2010, he was inducted into the prestigious Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Board of Preachers of Morehouse College in Atlanta. In 2012, he was presented with the Community Leadership Award by the American Jewish Committee and in 2019, was designated a “Distinguished Warrior” by the Detroit Urban League. Rabbi Syme is the founder of the Single Soul Suicide Prevention program of Jewish Family Service. He lives by the Talmudic teaching that “one who saves a single soul is accounted as though he or she saved the entire world.” Rabbi Syme has been named as a Senior Fellow of the Pulse Institute, a new Institute focusing on Poverty in America. Rabbi Syme is married to Dr. Jill Syme.

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