The US and Britain have fairly average suicide rates. The US is 12 per 100,000, Britain is 7. Britain’s is actually low for a first-world country, while France for example has a rate of 15 and Germany is 10. And of course there’s Asia, a world apart, where rich Japan and South Korea have rates of 24 and 31 respectively.
Some of the lowest suicide rates in the world are in the Carribean. Which makes sense, when you live in paradise, why kill yourself? But Carribean countries share this distinction with several middle-eastern countries. The region of the world most known for suicide actually has one of the lowest rates.
In a country of 300 million people like the US, our suicide rate translates into 36,000 people per year. That’s a lot, when compared to 10,000 drunk driving deaths or 5,000 murders or a few hundred killed in Afghanistan. (In fact, suicide in the military is a huge problem, especially in Afghanistan.)
It seems a shame for this number of people to die purposelessly. What if we could help these people to make their end meaningful while perhaps preventing a few of them from committing this act at all? I have an idea.
Why not create a new twist on the suicide hotline, whereby the conversation goes like this: “Sorry you want to off yourself, is there anything I can do to talk you out of it? No? Well then, before you hang up, I’ve got a proposition for you….”
The suicidal caller could be presented with a list of good causes that they could help in the process of killing themselves. The causes could of course involve military efforts that need a few good, fearless fighters, such as fights for freedom around the world. It could also involve working with patients with deadly communicable diseases that most health workers are reluctant to spend much time with.
And then there is the occasional opportunity such as the desperate efforts to stop the meltdown of the nuclear reactors in Japan after the earthquake, or at Chernobyl, both of which saw many dedicated workers put their lives in peril through radiation exposure. Why ask workers with families at home and a strong will to live to make the ultimate sacrifice when there are people who could help out at no cost to themselves?
On web sites, hotlines, and in newspaper articles, we could advertise many of these opportunities for service to the suicidal. And we could offer other opportunities as well. Because if one is bent on the ultimate sacrifice, then lesser sacrifices might not be a burden either. Such as working with the poor and homeless, or teaching poor children.
I think that by presenting suicidal people with a constructive course of action, it might be all they need to start to see a way out. Or it might at least make them see how selfish it would be to throw away their life. Either way, it might just save them.
However, I’m most intrigued by the vision of platoons or companies of suicidal soldiers going to fight with Syrian rebels, or going to defend elephants against poachers in Africa, or rushing into a pirate camp in Somalia to save an elderly couple. The world could use a few good martyrs.