23 July 2008

The Suicide Index

On the 10th of September last year I made a blog entry entitled "Pobreza" in which I noted that in the first half of 2007 there had been 167 known suicides in the State of Guanajuato, most of them committed by poor and desperate people. The total reported suicides for Guanajuato in the first half of 2008 is 171. The trend is indeed upwards, however, the most alarming thing is that the suicide total for the whole of 2006 was 196 and so the suicide rate looks like it is on the verge of doubling in just two years Why is that?

I think I have a clue. I have discovered for myself that there are two Mexicos, the visible and the invisible. The visible Mexico that many expat bloggers are enamored with consists of around sixty million people who at the very least have access to the basics needed for survival. The people at the top of the heap live like Arab kings and the people at the bottom…well, let's just say that somehow they get by. The invisible Mexico consists of about forty million people who don't "get by" and their plight is worsening every day. As the cost of food, water, fuel, housing, electricity, clothing, medicine, and basic services go up, more and more people leave the visible Mexico for the invisible and when the economy goes down, the suicide index goes up. It is a subject that nobody wants to talk about but that is what is currently happening here in Mexico and in many other parts of the world as well.

There is no place immune. At this particular time in the State of Guanajuato, my City of Irapuato holds first place for the percentage increase in suicides. The City of León is in second place and Celaya is in third. San Miguel de Allende is in fourth place with 24 suicides already this year, almost one per week on average. How could people be so desperate as to be invisible in San Miguel while surrounded by all that expatriate wealth? God only knows. I am reminded of poem titled "A Missionary Cry" that was written in the late 1800's by Albert Benjamin Simpson. The last (and most often quoted) verse goes:

"They're passing, passing fast away,
A hundred thousand souls a day,
In Christless guilt and gloom.
O Church of Christ, what wilt thou say
When in the awful judgment day,
They charge thee with their doom?"

The words, "They charge thee with their doom" are very haunting. Mr. Simpson was talking about "lost" souls in general at the time, however, and not particularly about suicides and the world suicide rate is definitely not as high as the number of poor souls in his poem unless, of course, you count smoking cigarettes and drunk driving and other reckless activities as forms of suicide. The World Health Organization (WHO) talks about a world suicide rate of one person every 40 seconds which would be "only" 2160 suicides per day. The problem with that figure is that it is based upon data that is five to ten years old. I suspect that the current rate is about double that, or more…and growing steadily.

Mr. Simpson wrote his poem in reference to the Bible verse Romans 10:14 (King James Version):

"How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?"

My thought is, "How can you give hope to people when they have an empty stomach and nowhere to turn?" It is interesting to note that the miracle about Jesus feeding the multitude with five loaves and two fishes is one of the few miracles (to my knowledge) that was reported by all four evangelists and so it must have been a really big deal. I think Jesus really liked to feed people. In John 21:15-19, Jesus, the Good Shepherd admonishes his disciples to "Feed my lambs" and "Feed my sheep". Yes, yes, I know, He was probably talking figuratively to his disciples about esoteric spiritual matters but I prefer to take the meaning literally. It grieves my heart to know that somewhere in Guanajuato today it is more than likely that there is some poor desperate soul who is on the verge of committing suicide for want of a full belly and a vision of hope for tomorrow. He or she has perhaps found a bit of plastic "raffia" (cheap binder twine) lying on the side of the road and is about to climb into the lower branches of a mesquite tree at sunset, tie themselves off at the neck, and fall into oblivion. If I could only happen upon them as they were contemplating this move I would gently say, "Come on, let's go get something to eat…I'm buying". But alas…they are invisible.

1 comment:

Tony Federico said...

Your marvelous writing style and facility with words is only exceeded by the depth of your heart my friend. Thank you for keeping the poor in front of us. Most of us act as if though they don't exist, as we live our very privileged lives. Your missives serve to remind me to prayer for these unfortunate souls always, and to actively support charities that truly help them. God Bless You!

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.