Existential Roundup

blood%20moon - Existential Roundup
Photo by Thomas Rascon.

Welcome to the Existential Roundup, where we bring you links to some articles currently trending that may be of interest to those in the existential-humanistic psychology community.

The sight of a blood moon with the total lunar eclipse earlier this week has cast a bit of a shadow over the week. A reddish tint appears over the moon, referred to as the blood moon, when the moon picks up reflections of sunlight and sunsets through the Earth’s atmosphere as it passes through the Earth’s shadow. Mythological and cultural references to blood moons associate it with gloom and doom so the timing feels right to delve into some darker subjects.

The New York Times recently asked the question “Is The World More Depressed?” T. M. Luhrmann explains that while the numbers for suicide are indeed higher in the last 50 years, that only tells us part of the story. More important, she says, is the awareness and diagnosis of so-called “mental illness,” something unheard of in places like India and Japan a century ago, where the suicides have increased sharply of late. Also important to factor in is the technological revolution. What effect it has is unclear but she says the links are there.

Health Day tells us the importance of recognizing this depression is obvious when you do look at the numbers, since nearly 37,000 people are killing themselves each year in the United States alone. Health Day says that doctors are often missing warning signs since a recent study showed that many of these suicides had seen a primary care physician within a year of their deaths, and some within a week. The study suggests that primary care physicians receive better and more training to recognize signs of psychological distress.

New thinking in suicide prevention, as reported in The New York Times, suggests that people who have attempted suicide actually start telling their stories, rather than hiding them or being encouraged to put them behind them. Matthew K. Nock, a professor at Harvard University, explained, “We as researchers haven’t yet tapped the potential of working with suicide attempt survivors. There’s the potential to learn from them not only more about the experience itself, but about treatments, and where there are gaps in our understanding.” According to the article, for some, the experience of the suicide attempt or attempts becomes a part of the person’s identity and meaning-making structure, while for others, it is simply an event from which they have moved on. Both types of experiences are vital for understanding how to help others in distress.

The APA Monitor highlights that places with great amounts of technology and urbanization are not the only locales for high suicides rates. Rural suicide is on the rise as well, allegedly because of the combination of access to firearms, high levels of drug and alcohol consumption, and difficult access to healthcare and emergency medical facilities. For those reasons, psychologists in many rural areas are trying to help rural residents overcome the stigma surrounding mental health issues so that people can get help and support before their problems reach crisis proportions. Community-based interventions focused on the specific issues of rural living as well as telephone-based support are part of this treatment plan.

Dealing with some of the issues that can lead to suicide—depression, PTSD, shame—are important steps in preventing life-and-death crisis moments. While we hear much about the difficulties young mothers often have in the early weeks and months of motherhood, USA Today says we also need to attend to the young fathers. According to this new research, the first five years of fatherhood are key in whether fathers develop depression, which occurs in five to ten percent of new fathers. Depressive symptoms in fathers impacts the relationships and development of their children as well as the fathers’ own Beings.

Soldiers are another key demographic here as Aeon Magazine points out in its article “The Unforgiven,” which carries the subtitle: “When soldiers kill in war, the secret shame and guilt they bring back home can destroy them.” The article talks about the deep guilt many soldiers bring home with them and a study by Veterans Administration clinicians who have developed a term—“moral injury”—to describe the feelings of guilt these veterans experience about both killing and not being killed. The researchers say:

The key precondition for moral injury, our so-called Achilles’ heel, is a sense of ‘transgression’, a betrayal of what’s right. ‘In the context of war,’ they write, ‘moral injuries may stem from direct participation in acts of combat, such as killing or harming others, or indirect acts, such as witnessing death or dying, failing to prevent immoral acts of others, or giving or receiving orders that are perceived as gross moral violations. The act may have been carried out by an individual or a group, through a decision made individually or as a response to orders given by leaders.’ Indeed, commanders are not just responsible for the physical wellbeing of their soldiers, but through the moral consequences of their orders, their future mental health.

Slate weighs in on the issue with its piece “War Is Hell, and the Hell Rubs Off.” Coupled with another article in Slate, “How to Stop Violence,” which discusses how angry people become killers rather than the so-called mentally ill, the two articles provide another perspective on how  we need to deal with the real experiences of people rather than try to push them aside and lump them in the category of “mentally ill” so we can make them Others. If They become Us, and We are capable of anger and guilt and violence, maybe we will take more effective steps to take better care of ourselves.

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