"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Saturday, May 30, 2020

Check In Regularly With Your Masonic Brothers: Suicide Rates Rising Under COVID

Photo: @chantaldgarcia via Twenty20

by Christopher Hodapp

Back in March, I wrote an article, Rising Farmer Suicides: Are These Your Brethren? It talked about the alarming increase in self-inflicted deaths among the American farmer population and why that should be important to the Masonic fraternity. Many Masonic lodges (arguably the majority in the U.S.) are in rural areas, and these incidents strike very close to home.

Now the COVID-19 enforced lockdowns have had their own damaging effects on people everywhere, not just in rural areas. Case in point: an article on May 21st reported that San Francisco Bay area hospitals had already clocked more suicide attempts in just four weeks than in all of 2019. That means that more people in their region had died by suicide at the time than from the COVID virus.

From ABC-7 in San Francisco: 'Suicides on the rise amid stay-at-home order, Bay Area medical professionals say' by Amy Hollyfield:

"Doctors at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek say they have seen more deaths by suicide during this quarantine period than deaths from the COVID-19 virus.
"The doctor in charge of a Bay Area, Calif. trauma center said the state should end its lockdown orders after an “unprecedented” spike in suicide attempts amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve never seen numbers like this, in such a short period of time,” Dr. Mike de Boisblanc, head of trauma at John Muir Medical Center, told local station ABC7... “I mean, we’ve seen a year’s worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks.” He added that he thinks “it’s time” to end the state shutdown. Trauma nurse Kacey Hansen, who has worked at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek for over three decades, said she had “never seen” so many attempts, most being young adults. “I have never seen so much intentional injury . . . it’s upsetting.”
"I think people have found themselves disconnected from the normal supportive networks that they have, churches and schools and book clubs, you name it," Tamura said.
Whether these suicides are rooted in economic uncertainty caused by loss of jobs, livelihoods and businesses, or media-stoked fears of viral infection, or the inability to confront their own mortality for the first time, or just plain loneliness, it's far too early to say. But what is clear is that the isolation from human contact and near total lack of social interaction is contributing greatly to the dramatic rise in self-inflicted deaths.

Even before the COVID virus came along, the Centers for Disease Control reported that between 1999 and 2016, the second leading cause of death in Americans aged 15-34 was suicide. The report at the time was authored in 2018, and their statistics ran out at 2016. There were nearly 45,000 suicides in 2016. Middle-aged adults between 45-64 had the largest rate increase, rising to 19.2 per 100,000 in 2016 from 13.2 per 100,000 in 1999. Twenty-five states saw percentage rate increases of more than 30% over the 17 years that were studied. 

The report also looked at the underlying reasons surrounding suicides and found that the effects of economic downturns like job loss, career upheavals, business failures, and financial catastrophes were major causes of the increases, especially during the Great Recession of 2008. And suicides don't just happen to people with pre-existing mental problems - more than half of suicides in 2015 in a subgroup of 27 states were among people with no known mental health condition.

This should be one more wake-up call to Masons everywhere to find ways to communicate and contact our lodge brethren more regularly. Be especially attentive if a Brother is in danger of losing (or already has lost) a child, spouse or parent over the last few months. Business failures are already going up steadily, and job losses have hit records not seen since the 1930s. During the lockdowns, families have been denied the traditional ceremonies and customs we have required for centuries to purge ourselves of the grief from death, as mortuaries are essentially shut down for even small funerals for the duration. All of these situations can have corrosive effects on people who might otherwise appear outwardly fine. Generic e-mails or Facebook posts to grieving friends and Masonic brothers aren't sufficient.

Consider another aspect of the current societal trends that affect Freemasonry today. One of the most fundamental lessons that Masonic rituals teach us is to live each day with the awareness that Death can happen at any instant. In earlier ages, death was an omni-present spectre for most of the world. Americans and Europeans have fewer children today which results in smaller and smaller families that are spread out nationwide by instant mobility. Ease of divorce, live-in relationships and single parenthood all have conspired to fray extended family connections and support networks to the thinnest level in history. Having many children was the rule in prior centuries, in part as a guard against infant mortality and premature deaths from disease, war, or accident. Extended families cared for their elderly relatives at home, not in distant retirement communities by anonymous healthcare workers. So it was not uncommon for children to lose their siblings, grandparents or parents who died under the same roof. Death was a regular visitor.

(The very term 'living room' was promoted after the turn of the last century as a substitute for 'parlor' to blunt the 'dying room' association between death and the home's parlor where funerals were often held for a family member.) 

Up until about 50 years ago, the vast majority of men seeking Masonic membership had some rooting in a religious, faith-based tradition. Most of those religions offered their adherents and congregants hope of some form of 'eternal life' once we shuffled off this mortal coil. Masonic rituals reinforced that belief in an afterlife and a hope of eternal reward for leading a virtuous life on Earth. The most common American rituals feature as part of the Entered Apprentice degree a lecture accompanying the bestowing of the new Mason's apron upon him that says, in part,
"When at last your weary feet shall have come to the end of life's toilsome journey, and from your nerveless grasp shall have dropped forever the working tools of life, may the record of your life be as pure and spotless as this fair emblem which I place in your hands. And when your soul shall stand, naked and alone, before the Great White Throne, may it be your portion to hear from Him who sitteth as the Judge Supreme, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of thy Lord."
It's unfortunate that anti-Masonic fundamentalist Christian critics almost always point to this very passage as 'proof' that Freemasonry offers a false promise of eternal salvation based upon good works on Earth, not faith and redemption in Christ. It's one of the top reasons many Christian critics wrongly allege that Freemasonry is a false religion. That argument actually goes much farther back to a longstanding theological battle that still rages today in Christian denominational feuds between Faith vs. Acts. Interestingly, it didn't get added to American Masonic ritual throughout the country until sometime after the Civil War. And I don't even find references to it in print until Thornburgh's Monitor out of Arkansas in 1903.

But Masonry doesn't 'promise' anything of the sort. Freemasonry is concerned with improving life on Earth, for its members and the wider world around us. Masonry doesn't concern itself with the afterlife, apart from an everlasting expression of hope for one, and it has always ceded that role to each members' own religious faith tradition. 
You don't need to be suicidal yourself to call a prevention hotline. It could be someone you are worried about. You can explain what the person is going through and see what the counselor suggests to intervene, since they are an expert on suicide.
If you need help or know of someone in need, the National Suicide Hotline is there for you: 800-273-8255 or suicide and crisis hotline (855) 278-4204.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this and helping us to start the conversation. Many people think "teenagers" when they hear "suicide" and yes, we want to prevent suicide among teens, but roughly 2/3rds of suicides in America are by white men aged 21-64. That's a big chunk of Freemasonry. Further, the most common precipitating events for suicides among men in this age range are job loss and significant health issues, which are what we have happening right now.

    If you have a bad feeling about a brother, have a hunch, then please please please ask him, clearly and directly, if he plans to kill himself. Yes, use words like those. It's not rude and you will NOT put the idea into his head just for asking. I'm coming from the experience of hundreds of suicide risk assessments, and so I mean it, please ask and please be direct.


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