Why Have Suicides Increased Even After Enormous Efforts to Reduce Them?

Jacob Z. Hess, Ph.D.

First published on the EternalCore Conference website (Join us this coming Friday and Saturday, March 29-30 in Salt Lake City for a gathering to explore a “God-Centric Mental Health” – what that looks like, and what it could mean for those suffering).

Note: Suicide is an inherently difficult topic – especially for those families who have been impacted by this tragedy. It’s precisely the enormous pain of suicide that arguably calls for a wide-ranging discussion of anything that could potentially help reduce the numbers. The purpose of this article is to raise one possibility not widely considered – partly because it involves an intervention largely embraced as central to solving the problem. This article does not constitute medical advice and should not be used to guide individual care decisions. No changes to any medication regimen should be made without supervision from a physician – especially since research confirms that dosage changes are one of the times where risk for suicidality is heightened. I believe that everyone is doing the best they can to solve this societal problem, and that we need to make sure there is space in our public discussion for all possibilities (including unpopular ones) so we can make more progress. All feedback will be appreciated.

Like so many others, I’ve lost loved ones to suicide. The heartbreak this causes for so many families has prompted enormous prevention efforts and a wonderful new Church website dedicated to helping raise awareness.

The most obvious question that comes up is why? What was it that led this individual…to that? Although there will always be some uncertainty involved in this profound heartbreak, thousands of studies documenting various risk factors for suicide make it clear that no single cause is responsible, as much as hundreds of overlapping contributors.

As suicides keep rising, another “why” question arises: Why have the numbers been going up? This brings up other conversations about social media and the opioid epidemic, along with other unique cultural and economic factors that have shifted markedly in the last decade or two. Shifting views on sexuality have also been rightly discussed as potentially playing a role in growing distress, although there are substantial disagreements about how to make sense of that influence.

The why question we’re not talking about.  There’s a third “why” question that is far less obvious and rarely discussed: Why do these numbers continue to rise, even when we are doing so much to decrease them?

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In the Marrow of our Bones

Elder Whitney Clayton was the keynote speaker this week at an interfaith religious freedom conference series being sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, William Jessup University, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. THe Conference series is on the topic of “Preserving Our Religious Freedoms with a Civil Voice: People of Faith Working Together in the Public Square.”

Elder Clayton’s remarks were well received by a very diverse group of people of diverse faith traditions who are coming together to speak up about the important role that faith plays in the public square.

His remarks were recorded and will eventually be available online. However, his remarks were substantially similar to ones that he gave at BYU’s Religious Freedom Annual Review in June 2018. Here is a write up in Meridian on those remarks.

Elder Clayton’s central thesis was that increasingly many people in our secularizing society do not really understand the role that religion plays in the life of the believer. All too often, faith is seen “as something akin to a quirky, private belief or hobby like secretly believing in the Yeti or UFOs or belonging to a weekly bowling league.” From that premise it is easy to treat faith as something quaint or unnecessary. Accordingly, it is easy to say “You are welcome to have your own private fantasy world, but keep it private and don’t make me acknowledge it.” When push comes to shove, beliefs must yield to changing social trends.

But in reality, faith is far deeper than that. “[F]or tens of millions of Americans, faith and religious convictions are the most powerful defining sources of personal and family identity in their lives. … [T]heir faith is marrow to their very bones of who and what they are.” Faith is far more central than that: ”
“Once experienced and accepted, faith in God is life-altering. The faithful, life-changing choice to believe deeply influences ones personal, familial, and cultural identity. It defines who and what we are, how we understand our purpose for being, how we relate to others, how we deal with pain, suffering and death.”

Elder Clayton argued that we can do much more to make clear that religious plays a role at least as profound as our identifiers such as “race, color, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education, profession, wealth and so on,” and that from such a foundation we can build am ore authentic and productive dialogue with those who might disagree with us.

I really liked Elder Clayton’s focus. All too often, we believers try to minimize or downplay our faith in conversations with others. Instead, we need to be clear about where we are coming from and about those beliefs that are part of the marrow in our bones

Good article from CNN on the Church revelatory process

The CNN religion editor wrote a surprisingly good article that was released today on President Nelson’s process of revelation. Some key excerpts:

When the messages come during the dark of night, Russell M. Nelson reaches for his lighted pen and takes dictation from the Lord.
“OK dear, it’s happening,” the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tells his wife, Wendy Nelson. 
“I just remain quiet and soon he’s sitting up at the side of the bed, writing,” she said in a recent church video. 
Sometimes the spirit prompts the prophet’s wife to leave the bed, though she’d rather sleep. One such morning, Wendy Nelson told Mormon leaders, her husband emerged from the bedroom waving a yellow notebook. 
Russell Nelson has instituted several changes based on revelations since becoming church president in 2018.
“Wendy, you won’t believe what’s been happening for two hours,” she recalled Russell Nelson saying. “The Lord has given me detailed instructions on a process I am to follow.” 
Nelson’s nighttime messages have “increased exponentially,” his wife said, since last year when the 94-year-old took the helm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon church. 
“One of the things the Spirit has repeatedly impressed upon my mind since my new calling as President of the Church,” Nelson said, “is how willing the Lord is to reveal His mind and will.” 
Through a spokesman, Nelson declined an interview about his revelations. But more than any Mormon president in recent memory, he speaks openly and often about his divine communications, some of which have significant consequences for the 16.6 million-member church. Last year, Nelson announced that God had told him the church should drop the moniker “Mormon,” a nickname that has stuck since the 1800s.

Check out the entire article here.

Relying on Self (with God’s Help)

Elderly adults in the United States spend an estimated $400 Billion per year supporting their adult children. (Illustration by Patrick Leger for Barron’s)

A couple of years ago, the Church launched a series of Self Reliance workshops. These can help individuals and families understand their current status and future, then take action to provide for a future that will be a blessing to themselves and others.

As I have participated in numerous Self Reliance workshops in the past two years, I was interested to read Friday’s article in Barron’s by Reshma Kapadia describing the alarming burden older Americans are shouldering on behalf of their adult children.

When does helping an adult child go from compassion to willing participation in exploitation? When does helping children, grandchildren, and friends go from being helpful to debilitating the very individuals we seek to help?

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Hot Drinks Cause Cancer

Hotter than this thermometer can measure? Don’t drink it.

In 2016, the International Agency for Research on Cancer 1 identified one carcinogen as “drinking very hot beverages above 65C (150 degrees Fahrenheit).”

This 2016 guidance has recently been validated by a study published in the International Journal of Cancer. Researchers studied over 50,000 people in Iran. The risk of developing throat cancer was nearly double in those who reported drinking very hot tea (at temperatures higher than 65C or 150 degrees Fahrenheit).

This makes sense. High temperatures are used to kill micro-organisms in organic matter. This process is called pasteurization, and is a great thing for killing microbes in a product you might wish to store for future consumption, such as milk. Need to ensure water is safe in a survival situation? Many folks keep a Water Purification Indicator (WAPI) in their emergency kit, which measures when water has been heated to 150 degrees for long enough to be safe.

So 150 degrees Fahrenheit is something of a magic number.

Do pasteurize food and water.

Don’t pasteurize your throat.

For what it’s worth, this correlates with other behaviors that damage body tissues, such as the link between excessive exposure to UV radiation (sun burn) and skin cancer.

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we already avoid caffeinated tea and coffee. In the spirit of reducing cancer risk and being heedful of counsel, feel free to put ice cubes in hot soup, milk in hot cocoa, and let the herbal tea steep for a spell before taking a sip.


  1. The International Agency for Research on Cancer is associated with the World Health Organization.