“Today the news was rather sad,” starts the Beatles’ homage to a worldview of stoned numbness that features a “lucky man” found dead in a car by suicide. This, from their song “A Day in the Life,” seems apropos following the recent release of the drugs-in-her-system report on the death of the 22-year-old granddaughter of Robert Kennedy.
The news is actually terribly sad. Saoirse, whose name means freedom in Gaelic, had struggled with clinical depression since she was a preteen. An unpretentious beauty whose both noble and notorious American family heritage has included tragedy of mythic proportion, Saoirse reportedly had been fighting for freedom from dependence upon alcohol. It seems she was on anti-depressants and anti-alcohol drugs and in the event consumed as well anti-anti-alcohol and anti-anti-depressants in the mistaken belief that she could then risk a drink. Whatever was her intention, the cocktail was fatal.
Why are so many of our nation’s young people drinking and drugging themselves to death, both accidentally and on purpose? Why is suicide now the second leading cause of death of young people aged 10-24? That is a 56% increase since 2009.
I think that those of us who have stayed the course of life and found goodness in doing so must ask and then answer with individual and concerted action: What can we do to help kids find the meaning and joy in their lives that makes life worth living?
As with so many social illnesses, the problem is complicated but the solutions are many, varied, and simple. Irrespective of our temperaments, personal philosophies, socio-economic status, or complex cultural identity, we can strengthen social good through harm reduction. We can lessen the impact of a convergence of hurtful factors by identifying even one that we are able to positively mitigate. Every time even one harm factor is removed or reduced, the impact upon the person or situation in danger is disproportionately helped towards the good; in other words, good really is stronger than evil.
We have virtually erased the “do-over,” second chance, fresh start, and anonymity. We, the generation who preached a warm inclusivity and radical respect for others, have abdicated our responsibility as adults to ensure that children are safe enough in school and life to explore their special gifts, interests, strengths, and weaknesses in order to develop as individuals. A majority of school-age children are bullied brutally for being different in a punitive peer culture that is arrogant, mean, and elitist. That whole “mean girl” thing, besides being a complete abdication of feminism, can drive injured girls to self-harm or to attack others.
I believe that a powerful way to heal our shallow, strident, poisonous pop culture is to re-explore, with minds keen for new understandings minus revisionism, the brilliance of our rich human history through religion, philosophy, the arts, science and humanities. We need respect in civic affairs. Not the elitist domination of social goods for the shallow “feel good” selfie that barely touches the lives of the left behind, but rather celebrating self-discipline, stoicism and a generosity of one’s highest and best self to revalue. Also, respect each other across the earnings gap between the 72 % of struggling poor and working poor and upper quadrant uber-class in America today that thwarts social integration and shared civic engagement.
I believe that a turn away from contempt for others and its flip side self-hate will guarantee that there will be a lot less need for antidepressants, self-medication, and too often, abject despair among our presently thought-stultified and pressure-cooked young people trying to make their way to the future.