Death Wish?

As I have previously noted, I regularly read a Texas blog titled Juanita Jean: The World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon, Inc. The blogger, Juanita Jean Herownself–nee Susan DuQuesnay Bankston–reminds me a lot of the late, great Molly Ivins.

The other day, her post suggested a possible answer to a question many of us find perplexing, namely, what the hell is wrong with people who stubbornly, deliberately engage in behaviors that obviously and seriously endanger them?

It isn’t just vaccination, either.

So there’s a giant fire in California and it looks like the only thing that’s gonna put it out is for Canada to melt and head south.

Firefighters are evacuating homes in the line of fire.

They ain’t going. And you can’t make ‘em.

They are met with people who have guns and [are] saying, ‘Get off my property and you are not telling me to leave,’” he said.

In response to those who flatly refused to evacuate, he said, deputies were asking for next-of-kin information.

Now, here’s what I say.  When people come to the hospital without a COVID vaccine and expect us to break the back of our health care system to help them, it pisses me off.  If you want to stay in a house that’s gonna burn down, do not expect us to come rescue you once the fire is at your door and there’s no escape route.  Give us your kids and then go sit in your kitchen and drink the kool aid.

This goes well beyond stupidity.

Could it be that a not-insignificant portion of the population actually has a death wish? I think of recent headlines about “deaths of despair” and the opioid epidemic; I think about the (fortunately, still rare) “suicide by cop” phenomenon. I think about growing rates of anxiety and depression…

The post led me to do some (very superficial) research on suicide and suicidal tendencies. I was shocked to discover that the World Health Organization has labeled suicide one of the world’s leading causes of death–I would never have guessed that.

In the articles I found, the personality traits most likely to be predictive of suicidal intent included–in addition to the psychological issues that one might expect–hopelessness and  hostility. Given the constant drumbeat of negative news, from climate change to COVID to the continuing inability of our government to function properly, and the consequential drowning out of news items suggesting  upcoming changes for the better, is it any wonder that many people–especially those who may already have experienced disappointments with their lives–might consciously or subconsciously harbor such thoughts?

Given the dawning recognition of social changes that are eroding White Christian male social dominance, I found it interesting that the highest rate of suicide in the U.S. is among White men over the age of 65.

Okay–I do realize that this exploration into the motives of people whose behaviors are incompatible with reason and self-regard is pretty fanciful. I’m probably just grasping for straws–but  I found Juanita Jean’s post interesting, because it reminds us that it isn’t simply the loons inventing reasons to avoid potentially life-saving vaccinations who are behaving in mystifying (and ultimately suicidal) ways.

And credit where credit is due: at least the homeowners who are willing to die in their houses aren’t endangering unaware others–something you sure can’t say about the anti-vaxxers.

The longer I live (and I’m one of those people who intends to hang in here as long as possible), the less I understand….


  1. Well, another couple married for 52 years divorced so that the guy wouldn’t bankrupt his wife with his medical debt so at least he’s still alive.
    We spent 20 years in Afghanistan and McConnell suddenly wants Biden to stay! For what?
    Covid is unrelenting because of covid idiots are refusing to take a vaccine!
    Ms. Dodd decides she didn’t like Obama have a 60th birthday party. How many times do you turn 60?
    You work for a company for 30 years only to lose your promised health care when the division you work in is sold!
    It’s been 12 years since the minimum wage as raised!
    There are 20k kids at the border begging for help?
    What’s to live for?

    FYI, I’m fine. I too am shocked that suicide is the number one cause of death.

  2. Our egos are not very rational. The more you are identified with it, well, the more unhappy you’re going to be. You need to be right all the time and defend your position a lot. Addicts are too identified with their egos, and it kills more people than any other medical illness.

    Whereas happiness is an inside job. Buddha would say we suffer too much because of all our attachments. That’s our ego.

    The more we let go of the ego, the happier we become. Jesus taught us how to be happier, but man’s ego got involved, built all these rules and dogma around it, and forgot the message. 😉

    The house, truck, tools are just stuff; they can be easily replaced or not. But, if you believe that you are nothing without all that stuff, you’ll have one hell of fear of staying and protecting it. That includes your status in society as well.

    I hope Robin talks about the white and black wolves. That’s what we’re seeing play out in humanity right now. But, sadly, we are feeding more to the black wolf.

  3. I know people are going to disagree with what I’m about to say, but in my judgement I’m going to lay the blame for many of our problems associated with the disregard reality go to human over-population. The rapid growth and the increasing complexity of our society is beyond some people’s capacity to cope. This is where we see the most destructive responses.

    Save our democracy? Screw it. It hasn’t done anything to improve my life.

    Take the vaccine? Screw it. I’ll take my chances. The fewer people the better.

    Climate change? Not my problem. What is going to happen is going to happen. Fatalism and hopelessness cause suicide and a death wish for society.

    Some of this can be attributed to inequality and and the lack of education. People have lost control of their lives. Our scientific community and government look like unfathomable black boxes. They are on the outside with no understanding and no power. Is there any wonder they want to tear the whole thing down?

  4. There’s an old Chinese blessing: “May you live in interesting times.” We certainly have been doing that. After twenty years of focus on math and science in our school systems, we have a large number of our fellow citizens who refuse to believe in math or science. Many of those same fellow citizens have turned to opioids, possibly to relieve the cognitive dissonance created by that seeming contradiction.

    We need a new renaissance. We need to teach our children to read for the love of reading once again. We need to teach everyone the joys of art for art’s sake. Painting, sculpture, music, dance, theater all need to be a part of our lived experience. In short we need to encourage people to be better human beings, so that when we come face to face with ourselves, we can appreciate who we have become.

  5. I have to agree with geraldine. The extremely complicated society we all inhabit has become unmanageable for at least half the population. It is unnavigable and thus unlivable.
    Done the street from me this morning a large Hispanic family of which only one member speaks English is in isolation. The mother and father have Covid. The men of the family leave every day in beat up trucks to work of some kind. The women stay home with several small children. When not working, the family works on their house which they got cheap as it had been vacant for over ten years. They dug a new water line to the house in January… by hand. It isn’t that they have some death wish; it’s that they are too busy trying to survive to be the informed citizens we want them to be.

  6. We here all have our drumbeat, so I will apologize in advance for another drum roll. “American individualism/exceptionalism” has been accelerated/fed by technology/technology impacts and ridden/taken advantage of by the evil/rich/powerful.

    The result is an ever-stronger culture/psyche of ME/WE (my group, my group, my music, my sport, my religion, my ethic/nationality, my Party, my socio-economic group, my region, etc.), not US. Yes, USA begins with US, but it is no longer about us. It is very difficult from the deck to see us avoiding the iceberg…

  7. AgingLGirl: no, suicide is not listed as the number one cause of death, but that “…the highest rate of SUICIDE in the U.S. is among White men over the age of 65.”
    Todd, you are on point.
    Peggy, that’s not meant s a blessing, but as a curse, and it has teeth! But, yes, Peggy, we need to educate for a life, not just for a job.
    As a career psychotherapist, I have to land on hopelessness as a major cause of the depression that we usually associate with suicide, the hostility surprises me, however. Though, the hostility may well be the response to a society that is seen as having left one behind.
    Hope is essential to a healthy outlook on one’s life, without it the future is nothing but bleak, so one can see the birth of a “Why bother to try,” outlook.
    It seems to me that just as the GQP has opened up the country to the cover virus, its predecessor, the GOP, opened up the country to nasty, aggressive capitalism, beginning with the saint of the damned GOP, St. Reagan. Destroying the middle class, and the various benefits its existence provided for the wider culture, has, imho, led to the loss of hope.
    When the unemployed will not accept jobs paying at the minimum wage, which is below a living wage, because it is not worth working for that which will not sustain a life, where in hell have we gone?
    Geraldine, and Lester, I have to agree with you, though I’m not sure how much the population issue would be an issue if we had a culture in which we recognized how interwoven all our lives are, and had a focus on taking care of one another, rather than the self alone. I have no statistics, but I’m willing to venture the idea that the suicide rate in those countries whose focus is on “We,” rather than “Me,” where family is the focus of one’s life, is lower than the WHO claim, as above.

  8. It has been brought to my attention that my comments this morning are giving the wrong impression. To clarify, the Hispanic family is quarantined and no one is leaving the house. I do not know if the children are still there. Friends and perhaps relatives are bringing them food and leaving those items on their porch.

  9. Having gone from Sheila’s blog to HCR’s, dated yesterday, was quite a nice segue. HCR wrote about the birth of the S.S. Act, and of the person who spearheaded it. That person, Sec’y of Labor, Perkins, recognized the need for people to rely upon one another, as opposed to the “rugged individualism” of myth.

  10. It is not unusual for people to refuse to leave their homes even when they are in imminent danger. During the hurricane season in the Caribbean with a powerful hurricane approaching and warnings from officials to evacuate some people in the target area refuse to leave. Officials inform these people there will be no rescue operation for them and yet they stay.

    Perhaps one of the most famous non-evacuate types was Harry Truman, an older man who had a cabin near Mt. St. Helen. He was killed when the volcano erupted.

    I suppose it maybe an attitude of going down with the ship and the lack of hope in starting over if you leave.

  11. In “The Crucible,” Giles Corry called for “More weight.” Is there ever a rational reason for choosing suicide?

  12. We hear often about system racism. But when was the last time anyone spoke of system stigma against those who are mentally ill and those who are addicted? I was appalled as a psychiatric nurse and substance use counselor at the ignorance of insurance companies. They refused to cover lengths of stay that people with these disorders truly needed for inpatient detox and day partial care. Outpatient detox is NOT evidence based and yet insurance companies prefer it because it is more “cost effective”. No it isn’t. What price shall we place on a human’s life? Even the nurses with whom I worked found it difficult to access treatment due to employer stigma. They were often fired and then had no health insurance to help them access treatment. I wonder how many nurses will start using drugs to cope with the burn out and/or PTSD due to COVID.

    It is usually severely paranoid men who commit suicide by cop. They do something violent, destructive and set the cops up to kill them. It really would be awful to believe that people are out to get me, to be lost in that grandiose belief. And often paranoid people keep their paranoid thoughts hidden. They look and act quite normal until their paranoid thinking gets so intense it ruins the normal facade. The severe lack of good gun regulation contributes to suicides by hand guns.

    There are many reasons so many people suicide and /or die by overdose. Freud spoke of thanatos, the unconscious death wish that is opposed to eros, the unconscious creative love of life. Freud said to work and to love were essential to us. These 2 things create meaning in life. I think Carl Jung would agree to that though unlike Freud he was not an atheist. Joseph Campbell stated we are all on a heroic quest. Maslow spoke of his hierarchy of needs Love and belonging are two of the first ones.

    So many men in conservative communities believe they should be the provider of their families. But due to automation, AI, they are losing the jobs that would allow them to provide for their families. They cannot find meaningful work. This often leads to suicide even amongst farmers. Agribusiness has contributed to this. I think family farming is more meaningful than assembly line farming. I also think assembly line work for many feels empty unlike the craftmanship of someone who built furniture by hand. In Europe, there is still a strong sense of craftmanship i.e. they have a butcher, breadmaker, wine maker, cheese shop etc. You have to go to each one rather than a centralized grocery store full of processed foods.

    The loss of positive connections and a sense of belonging( we get some of this through our work) leads to a sense of isolation. The extreme individualism of our society impairs our ability to ask for help, to trust that we can be vulnerable with people, to experience how interconnected we are with people and the earth’s ecosystems. Loneliness is at an all time high ,and many now speak of its destructive impact on people. I learned as a therapist that simply listening to people, bearing witness to their struggles and losses is very healing, in and of itself. People are literally dying to be heard.

    And,it’s true, the corporate oligarchy with its addiction to profit does not care about people. It is amoral like the free market system. It does not care who loses a job or goes bankrupt and has created severe wealth inequality which has impacted people of color more than white people. It feeds a black wolf.

    The traditional monotheistic faith traditions have failed to make the teachings of their religions relevant to people in modernity. The refusal to learn from science, has created communities unable to adapt to the rapid changes in the world. Many young people have left. This has led to a loss of belonging in a faith community where people watch out for each other.

    Like Todd, I have learned to use some of the teachings of the Buddha and Jesus to cope with suffering. I stay in the present moment. But often when I feel overwhelmed by the violence and destruction of the human race, I do this:

    “Go I then into the wild, wild wood
    Go I stepping slowly on a rambling path, dark and solitary

    Here lies the fallen branch. There is the brambled stem and berry,
    Round a turn, turning there, there stands a tree,
    Her arms open wide to welcome me,
    Heretic, lesbian refugee.

    And there I lie a queer pieta, draped over her limbs, taking my ease
    In a sea of green , glowing leaves.”

    Nature helps create peace of mind for me. I’m so glad there is a small woods behind me. But usually to recenter I go for a walk at Eagle Creek and let the trees soothe and heal my wearied soul. Maybe we should all have tree houses to retreat to. Maybe we need to create communities that come together in nature and have a feast together, a time of listening and learning from each other. That, I think, would help us feed the white wolf within each of us and to become beings of compassion.

    Now for my 2nd cup of coffee. May each of you and all sentient beings be well and happy.

  13. Personally, I’ve had two close friends who ended their lives to save their families the massive medical debt approaching.
    To answer the question: Yes, there are rational reasons for suicide. The Will to Life, as Schopenhauer called it, is not invincible, and sometimes it’s the honorable thing to do when your own circumstances dictate. Arrange your affairs to minimize bad effects on those you love, and say goodbye.
    When I went to Europe at age 23, while in Sweden I asked my friends there “Why do Swedes have such a high suicide rate?” The answer surprised me:
    There’s very little social disapproval of those who decide to die.
    It’s a very nice blend of individual liberty and social honor there.
    We deride their life style maybe, but we ain’t doing well about this.
    I don’t intend to burden anyone else, including the medical occupation, with pointless struggles against the inevitable… I’ll choose my time, with regard for its effects. As is usual in life, it’s a difficult decision, but that’s no reason to shirk it.

  14. Hmmm – US suicide rate is 16.1

    The world’s lowest suicide rates are in the following countries:

    Antigua and Barbuda – 0/4
    Barbados – 0.6
    Grenada – 0.7
    Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – 1.0
    Sao Tome and Principe – 1.5
    Jordan – 1.6
    Syria – 2.0
    Venezuela – 2.1
    Honduras – 2.1
    Philippines – 2.2

    As for countries I believe are pretty “us” ones:

    Australia – 12.5
    New Zealand – 11.0

  15. Aging, I’m not so sure I buy that story about the divorce to avoid medical debt. Not sure how it works in other states, but in Indiana if a married person incurs medical debt that is his/her debt. The creditor can only go after the person who utilized the services that resulted in the debt. The creditor can’t go after the debtor’s spouse because they are married. For example, the creditor can have the debtor’s wages garnished. But the creditor can’t garnish the debtor’s spouses’ wages. And a debtor can’t go after the spouses property that is held as joint tenants with rights of survivorship (JTRS) which is how couples typically hold property.

    I do know it’s more complicated when you’re looking at joint bank accounts. But even then the court looks at who is contributing the money going into the bank account to see if, and how much, of that money can be obtained to pay the debt.

    I guess I knew more about collection law than I thought. I also know enough to know it is an area of law I’d never want to practice.

    Okay, I guess I do know more about

  16. Geraldine Powell nailed it.

    We all long for simple satisfaction, and what we get is more complexity and intractable problems. Some people react to that with empathy by trying harder to help, some by becoming cynical and trying harder to steal, and some by saying f— it and trying harder to end it all.

  17. When the infamous Rev Jim Jones ordered his followers to join him in his death wish almost all of them did. Over 900 died. Why?

    They did stupid thing number one when they let his disinformation become their conscience. Once they did that stupid thing they were hooked into the brain part that tells us all please don’t let anything that I did turn out to be stupid. They were hard-wired into his conscience at that point to their ultimate demise.

    We all know that Donald Trump has always had a pea-sized conscience.

    The same cognitive flaw of “please don’t let anything that I did turn out to be stupid” is hard-wired into the brains of us all but most of us didn’t take that fatal first step of replacing our conscience with his.

  18. Death Wishes?

    The Soviet Union fell two years after exiting Afghanistan. Will the U.S. fall as well?

  19. This death wish mentality reminds me of what I recently listened to by Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching audio book read by Wayne Dyer ( This observation about people stood out:

    “Between birth and death, three in ten are followers of life, three in ten are followers of death, and men just passing from birth to death also number three in ten.”

    This helps me somewhat understand the death cult trajectory of the GOP and conspiracy theory fanatics. There have been “followers of death” for thousands of years, and this is merely the latest iteration. Sad.

  20. “…let the trees soothe and heal my wearied soul. Maybe we should all have tree houses to retreat to. Maybe we need to create communities that come together in nature and have a feast together, a time of listening and learning from each other. That, I think, would help us feed the white wolf within each of us and to become beings of compassion.”

    Thank you Robin, nature does indeed help sooth oneʻs soul.

  21. For me, a deeper investigation and understanding of some of the reasons for potential self harming actions (and the inability of knowing about one’s actions which may be of harm to others) has finally led me (sometimes) to a deeper level of compassion for those I just do not have the ability to understand. This is addressed often by Pope Francis and The Dalai Lama and others on a far higher spiritual plane than me.

    Thank you Sheila for this insightful reminder today, that others may only be engaging in reflection about their own lives, and may be in despairing feeling states, of which they are lacking self-awareness.

  22. Thanks to all for such wonderful and thoughtful comments today. I have now read all which preceded mine. Without knowing you all in person, I feel closer to you than to many in my circle of acquaintances after you have shared. I wish you ALL a week of peace, as you seem to have engaged already this week in peace filled reflection.

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