‘Suicide Deaths Rose in 2022, CDC Estimates Say” ran the upsetting headline of a recent article in The New York Times. Now there are few better ways to gauge the health of a society than to consider how it represents self-slaughter. One of the marks of sickness in the former Soviet Union was the sunniness enforced by the state’s censors, who forbade the mention of suicide in the media or in literature. The dissenting culture, however, teemed with references to suicide, from Nikolai Erdman’s lacerating 1920s play Suicide, to the work of Boris Pasternak, to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich—in which refusing to kill oneself is an act of heroism—and beyond. Before that, in Russia during the mid to late 19th century, suicide had been at the center of public attention, due partly to its frequent presence in the work of Dostoyevsky and Turgenev, as well as Tolstoy’s famous reflection on it in Confession; it is significant that the ferment leading to the Russian Revolution began in that period. But then, Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther, whose young hero’s self-annihilation captured a universal despair at living in the purgatory between an old era and a new one, was published just a few years before the French Revolution. At a time of social, political, and cultural dissolution—our time—some people can’t hang on.

The recent Times article was barely over the length of a news release. Clearly, accelerating rates of self-slaughter aren’t up there with Trump, Trump, Trump. The article didn’t even report the profoundly newsworthy fact that the number of suicides last year is the highest level ever recorded in US history.

“Out of the 49,449 Americans who killed themselves in 2022, 37,459 were white.”

Part of the reason for this short shrift might well be that the groups that have suffered the highest rate of suicide comprise the one demographic the media seems like it couldn’t care less about: non-privileged white people, especially white males over 65. “People 65 and older had the highest increase in the number of deaths by suicide in 2022 among the various age groups,” as the Times article reported. In fact, that age group had a significant 8.1 percent increase in suicides. What’s more, out of the 49,449 Americans who killed themselves in 2022, 37,459 were white, and 39,255 were men. All this, while the media tore the country into pieces over the last several years over the chimeras of “systemic racism” and a war on women.

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