Jennifer Michael Hecht on suicide in the military and how to stop it.
The American Scholar is a consistently smart and relevant journal, filled with compelling fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. The current issue arrived yesterday and is especially worthwhile because of Jennifer Michael Hecht's straightforward and important essay about suicide in the military, adapted from her forthcoming book Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It (Yale Univeristy Press, November, 2013). Here is an excerpt:
Those who have never felt intense inner pain should not scoff at its power. As the 17th-century doctor Robert Burton wrote in The Anatomy of Melancholy: “Hope, ye miserable. Ye happy, take heed.” Everyone suffers; no one escapes. When the bad time comes, it will feel like it is never going to end. But it will. We must think it through now so that the training against suicide kicks in and saves our life and the lives of our fellows.
The reason I say “the lives of our fellows” is that one of the
principal predictors of suicide is knowing someone who has committed
suicide. We influence each other to an extraordinary degree. Parents who
kill themselves leave behind children who are three times as likely to
kill themselves as children who make it to age 18 with living parents.
It’s not just parents. According to sociological studies, one suicide in
a community very often leads to a rise in suicides by people who knew
the deceased, or knew of him, or felt themselves like him in some way,
especially with regard to age, sex, and occupation. In my new book, Stay,
I compile a large number of studies showing that suicidal contagion is
real. It shouldn’t surprise us, because studies have shown that with
weight, smoking, recycling, and other choices, people do what they think
the people around them are doing. Even with choices as permanent as
getting tattoos or having a third child, people follow each other. After
one suicide, the suicide rate in a given area increases. It happens at
schools; it happens within professions; it happens after a celebrity
suicide; and it is happening in the military right now.
Because of this phenomenon, suicide is also homicide—you take somebody with you. When you take your own life, you normalize suicide for people who liked you and who are like you. Once the numbers reach a critical mass, as they have in the military today, it is a massacre. We have to take better care of each other by insisting on sparing ourselves in periods of emotional agony. What I want to tell our soldiers and veterans is this: If you want your buddies to live, you have to find a way to live, too. . .
You can read Hecht's essay here.
Kudos to poets Farrah Field and Jarred White
Craig Morgan Teicher reports in Publishers Weekly that Field and White will open Berl's Brooklyn Poetry Bookshop (126A Front Street) in Brooklyn's Dumbo neighborhood that will focus almost exclusively on small press poetry book. Read all about it here.