What Biden Didn't Say During Last Night's Presidential Address to Congress
This piece discusses suicide means. If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
It wasn’t a State of the Union speech because President Biden has only been in office since Jan. 20, but it sure did feel like one. Last night, on day 99 of his administration, Biden noted that he had exceeded the goal of 100 million vaccines in arms in his first 100 days, surpassing it with more than two million. He also celebrated the passage of the American Rescue Plan that made those shots in arms possible, and also put money in Americans’ pockets in order to rebuild following a pandemic that still rages on.
In his speech, which lasted just over an hour, Biden touted his $2 trillion “American Jobs Plan” i.e. the “infrastructure plan,” as well as the American Families Plan, his $1.8 trillion effort that will invest in education, child care and paid family leave among other investments.
Gun violence was another hot topic. The president highlighted the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the proliferation of “ghost guns,” ending the lawful use of high-capacity magazines as well as banning assault rifles, which he mentioned had been done before quite successfully under President Bill Clinton.
But there is as much ado about what our president didn’t say last night as what he did say. Biden did not mention the word “suicide” or “deaths of despair.” Not once. This is despite the fact that more than half of gun deaths are suicides, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
And while he did give a nod to the opioid crisis, Biden didn’t elaborate much beyond merely mentioning it. Opioid overdoses would qualify as deaths of despair.
There were 24,156 suicides involving guns in 2020. When you include all gun deaths, there were 43,552, also according to the Gun Violence Archive. This is not to say that Biden doesn’t care or is ignoring the issue of suicide and mental health. On the contrary, he has spoken on the subject before.
In remarks in the spring of 2012, Biden showed empathy for those who find themselves in the throes of suicidal anguish. Biden is not exempt from suicidal thoughts himself. According to a CNN documentary from last year, the president contemplated suicide following the death of his wife and daughter in a 1972 car accident. His two boys Beau Biden and Hunter Biden had survived.
“I thought about what it would be like [to] just… end it all,” Biden told CNN correspondent Gloria Borger in the documentary. “But I didn’t ever get in the car and do it or wasn’t ever even close.”
“I don’t drink at all. I’ve never had a drink in my life,” he continued. “But I remember taking out a fifth of, I think it was gin, and put it on the kitchen table. But I couldn’t even make myself take a drink. What saved me was really my boys.”
He expounded in another speech to families of fallen soldiers back in 2012.
“For the first time in my life I understood how someone could consciously decide to [die by] suicide,” he said. “Not because they were deranged. Not because they were nuts. Because they’d been to the top of the mountain and they just knew in their heart they’d never get there again… There really is hope.”
Last night, there was an emotional response among Congress and viewers when Biden relayed an anecdote about meeting George Floyd’s daughter at Mr. Floyd’s funeral. In the aftermath of the killing, Biden went to visit the Floyd family, telling then 6-year-old Gianna Floyd “how brave she was.”
Mental illness was also not covered in Biden’s speech last night, but he has spoken about it before.
When he reopened healthcare.gov back in January via an executive order, Biden recommitted to the idea of mental health parity, which means mental health should be treated the same as physical health.
“As a society, we need to work together to eliminate the stigma felt by those who are suffering and struggling with their mental health. We must ensure that everyone has access to affordable quality health care and that mental health services are covered,” Biden told a mental health nonprofit.
He continued: “Millions of families are impacted by the opioid crisis. It’s ravaging communities coast to coast, from New Hampshire to California. The challenge of substance use disorders is not limited to opioids. Millions of individuals are affected by misuse of other substances such as alcohol or methamphetamine. I will tackle this crisis by making sure people have access to high quality health care — including substance use disorder treatment and mental health services.”
In other words, Joe Biden is a friend of those who struggle with mental illness and addiction, but it’s important to remember we shouldn’t leave out suicide when we talk about gun violence.
Conor Bezane is the author of a memoir on mental health and addiction — “The Bipolar Addict: Drinks, Drugs, Delirium & Why Sober Is the New Cool“
Screenshot via President Joe Biden’s Twitter account