By Scott Keith –
This past week I read several articles discussing the phenomenon of suicide clusters that seem to be occurring in affluent areas of the US. These articles attribute the cause to be an attitude of necessary overachievement. While this may be the case, I think that more is at play. Perhaps a culture, which demands “achievement” of often-arbitrary goals and virtually ignores issues of higher purpose, contributes to this very sad trend. Suicide clusters are the apexes of a very sad mental health spectacle, which has a much larger scope.
USA Today reported in 2013: “High mental health costs for young adults threaten to undermine a key assumption of the Affordable Care Act: that insuring more people would lower the costs because they are healthier and require less expensive care.” This was the assumption of the architects of what is commonly known as Obama Care until it was discovered that 18%-21% of people between the ages of 18-35 had been diagnosed with a serious mental condition. I have since 2013 seen figures, which would suggest that this figure is much higher in teenagers and young adults. When the age range is reduced to those who are 16-25, the percentage is closer to between 35%-42%. So, approximately one in five people under the age of 35 are struggling with a mental illness of one type or another (depression, eating disorder, anxiety disorder, bi-polar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and various social phobias). In many ways this is truly a lost and hurting generation.
I have thought for some time that what is happening is a slouching toward nihilism. Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing of value can be known, believed, or communicated. When people are encouraged to believe that nothing has value, or that these values are baseless, they will find themselves at a crux point if this valuelessness proves to be untrue as worked out through their personal experiences. Let me give an example. A goodly percentage of these young adults have been encouraged to believe through social cues, media, and general interactions within society, that sexual relations have no “value” other than the physical sensation during the moment of the act. Most of the characters that they have ever watched on TV (even in porn) put this into practice by jumping from sexual partner to sexual partner within their group of friends. Further, because of the aforementioned societal norms, many believe that these types of behaviors are lived without any moral, psychological, or value based encumbrances. Yet, I have observed that this behavior doesn’t feel valueless as they see their ex-lover on the couch in a post-coital embrace with their “BESTY.” Rather, I more often am told that it feels awful, meaningfully hurtful, and replete with negative value. To add insult to injury, these injured young adults are often faced with a real dilemma even when deciding how to respond. To respond negatively would seem to fly in the face of all that they have been taught about the way society operates, as a valueless entity that does not judge lest it be judged.
This is just one example; one which I encounter frequently in my line of work. I do not give the example above in an attempt to promote some sort of puritanical false sexual pietism (I truly hate that crap). Rather, here is the crux: to assign value to this would be to admit that one ought to believe that these things of real and substantial value hold none. Or it would be to believe the converse, that arbitrary societally mandated accomplishments hold more ultimate value than love, faith, hope, commitment, and true intimacy.
Sometimes I think that the pressure and the disembodiment of their own feelings causes young adults to hold to their nihilistic worldview in an attempt to bury the emotions that are a natural part of who we are as those created in the image of God. It is not my place to argue a case against all of these mental illnesses being the result of chemical imbalances, though it seems like a rather large percentage of the population for that to be the case. What I am asking is for us to consider the possibility that these individuals are more than mentally ill. Perhaps, they are quite logically lost in a world that assigns no value to monumentally important things and great value to arbitrary things. A reality such as this would be maddening for anyone. In this case, reactions of depression, anxiety, OCD, social anxiety, suicidal ideations, and sadly even suicide, are woeful but oddly logical. These reactions may be a quite natural result of an internal undermining of a worldview based on experience that tells them something is amiss with the meaninglessness that surrounds them.
This is perhaps why I feel it is so vitally important that the Church never relaxes when it comes to proclamation of the unmitigated Gospel message. The Gospel is the one thing in this world that is never arbitrary; it is always purposeful and always powerful. The Gospel is the one thing in this world that is always meaningful, because it always placards Christ. The Gospel is the only thing that can truly break in and bring life where before there was only death. Nihilism be damned; the Gospel is the power of God to save. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
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