LOVE LIFE: Critical Care for Students and Care Givers in a Suicide Culture

Posted on by YFC Seattle

By Warren Mainard and Mark Haug

Suicide is on the Rise: Understanding the Cultural Reality of Teen Suicide.

According to the CDC and other research findings such as the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, youth culture has seen a sharp rise in suicide and attempted suicide.  Research indicates that teen suicide has increased between 56-60% over the past 10 years.  While there are many explanations for this dramatic increase, one is a phenomenon described by Malcolm Glidwell called “relative deprivation.”  This is the explanation behind the question of why suicide rates are generally higher in happy, affluent and educated countries.  Counterintuitive, yes, but data supports the assertion that more people kill themselves in countries in which citizens describe themselves as happy, compared to those in which citizens describe themselves as not very happy. “Relative deprivation” is the experience of being deprived of something to which one believes he or she is entitled. It refers to the discontent people feel when they compare their positions to others and realize that they have less of what they believe themselves to be entitled than those around them. Gladwell writes: “Citizens of happy countries have higher suicide rates than citizens of unhappy countries, because they look at the smiling faces around them and the contrast is too great.”

Consequently, the impact of social media only exacerbates this sense of comparative happiness- “everyone else seems happy, I should be too.”  Research suggests that those who spend more time on social media are more likely to be lonely. In addition, two out of every five Gen Z’s report feeling bad about themselves as a result of social media use.  Relative deprivation feeds into the biggest internal struggles of teens who believe, “I don’t measure up,” and “I am hopeless and helpless.”

Students do not need to be shamed by their perceived “deprivation” in the midst of first world privilege.  Shame, even when attempting to help students see how fortunate they are, only serves to feed their own sense of inadequacy.  Rather, leaders and parents should help students focus on generosity and gratitude.  Generosity has been demonstrated to reduce anxiety and depression as well as release feel good chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin.  Generosity also improves relationships as students experience that sharing with others and caring for each other creates greater relational satisfaction.  It appears that the concept of the “cheerful giver” is more about finding joy in giving than it is mustering up feelings of joy in order to give.  Generosity is about more than simply dollars and cents but can also include sharing resources and time and even serving in the community or going on a mission trip.

Similarly, regularly expressing gratitude helps students experience higher levels of positive emotions, cherish good experiences, deal with adversity and build strong relationships.  There are a number of ways that students can practice gratitude including, keeping a gratitude journal, sharing two or more “praises,” singing worship music or giving a testimony.  When Paul wrote, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) it seems he may have been giving us a roadmap of how a person can “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)

This is not to suggest that a few verses and a trip to the local food shelter will cure everything that ails students today.  These are complicated issues that may involve several layers of treatment, therapy and thought, but understanding the grip that “relative deprivation” may have on a student and how to loosen that grip is an important step in the journey to help students love life.

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