Anderson Cooper hosted a CNN Special Town Hall last night: Finding Hope, Battling America’s Suicide Crisis. Much of the hour was spent talking to survivors of suicide (Anderson’s brother, Carter, took his own life 30 years ago) as well as survivors of suicide attempts.
However, the standout of the evening for me was CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta who shared that life expectancy as a whole in the United States has plateaued and dropped over the last couple of years, with the middle aged white working class population being hit the hardest. He went on to say that the most common causes of premature death for this segment of the population were liver cirrhosis, typically due to alcoholism, opioid overdose and suicide. He called them the “deaths of despair.”
The Town Hall was followed by the last episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, in which he travels with friend and film director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) to Bhutan.
The small, mostly Buddhist country is the originator of Gross National Happiness (GNH), a philosophy which might seem strange given that Bhutanese culture expects one to think about death five times a day. How can they be so happy when they think about death every day? Those of us who’ve experienced loss up close know that being familiar with death makes us appreciate life all the more. Suddenly having the latest and greatest whatever doesn’t mean much anymore and we’re able to better focus on what gives our lives meaning. We want to live the best lives we can as a way of honoring those we’ve lost.
The show ended with Bourdain and Aronofsky stopping at the Burning Lake, one of the most sacred sites in Bhutan, to leave a traditional spiritual offering honoring the dead. The men sat and reflected on their trip, wondering what the future would bring for Bhutan, a country with little modernization. Historically, transportation in Bhutan has been difficult, if not downright dangerous, due to the unstable geology and extremely high (and narrow) passes. As they build new roads bypassing some of the more dangerous areas and shortening trips times, the friends wondered what would happen to the country that Bourdain likened to Shangri-La? An end to innocence? Materialism and everything that comes with it? A lower GNH?
I was left with my own questions:
Do the stresses of modern life fuel the unsettled mind?
Has modern life outpaced the evolution of our species?
Is our fast-paced lifestyle a contributing factor in the rise in suicides in the United States?