Last week was National Suicide Prevention Week. You missed it.
We know so little about suicide that people worry awareness days might draw attention to the act and encourage some people to do it. For this, and for deeper reasons, suicide prevention week doesn't get much play.
Although it would be ironic if suicides spiked on suicide awareness days, it would be an irony fully in keeping with this ironic act, to which, for instance, rich people in privileged nations are drawn much more often than poor people in failed states.
Indeed in successful countries like Japan, the US, France, and Germany, the failed state has clearly moved within. Affluent societies pop with postmodern delights, but the internal governance of many of their inhabitants looks somnolent, aggrieved, inept. They can't work their blouse buttons, much less run a self.
Things are so bad in Japan that private state failure now makes a significant contribution to public. "Suicides and depression," writes Business Week, "will cost Japan 1.7 trillion yen ($20.2 billion) in lost economic output this year, the government said today as it launched a task force to address the problem. Gross domestic product would be about 0.4 percent higher this year if there were no suicides or cases of depression."
Successful states are able to offer their depressives neurotransmitter-nudging drugs galore. But psychiatrists don't use the drugs with much precision, and researchers don't really understand why so many little regimes go pfft in the first place.
"People seemed to run out of their own being," Philip Roth's Nathan Zuckerman says in American Pastoral, as he contemplates the suicide of an acquaintance who seemed to have a great life. It's as if we're like those simple mechanical toys you need to keep revving along the floor make them roll: At some point, who knows why, we can't rev ourselves anymore.
There are ways in which highly favored societies positively favor being-depletion. Broadly speaking, the more advanced the country, the more solitary its inhabitants. The more secular and without sustaining beliefs. The more endowed with free time during which to ponder personal failures. (Highly competitive countries are unforgiving when it comes to failure.)
In the early stages of being-depletion, moreover, citizens of lucky countries have easy access to opiates, and opiates make the depletion problem far, far worse. Doctors are more likely to give depleted people pills than to talk to them at any length, or with any depth or regularity.
So say the depleted are already self-medicating with pain-killers, and now on top of that they're on mood elevators or anti-psychotics or whatever. And then if all that doesn't work, they're on something else. And then something else.
We can natter on about the typologies of suicide, but many suicides seem to happen when all of the pain-baffles fail at once, when the naked austerity of any particular mental economy reveals itself.
The deeper reason we overlook National Suicide Prevention Week is that we're all like this to some extent, fortified against pain with various tricks and defenses and white lies and illusions. Inside our heads every day, a propaganda play featuring full harvests and excellent leading indicators revs us up.
It seems to work, this artistry, but it's always a little shaky. National Suicide Prevention Week makes us focus on just how shaky it is. We'd rather not.
MULTIPLE: President, Los Angeles Harbor College, President, Los Angeles Southwest College, President, Los Angeles Valley College