Your Exposure to Suicide is More Common Than You Think

The room is becoming very crowded. There are too many elephants in it. Time to address them for the sake of preserving life. September is Suicide Prevention Month.  If you’ve never known someone who has actually taken their own life, you most certainly have been around family, friends, or coworkers who have thought seriously about it, whether you realized it or not. It might even have been you who’s considered it.

man in blue and brown plaid dress shirt touching his hair
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Maybe you’ve thought about it: “If I could just end it all, I would be free…;” “I can’t take the pain anymore;” “If I died today, would anyone miss me;” “I’m more valuable to my family dead than alive;” and dozens of other thoughts that have raced through the minds of many people. But not everyone who thinks about suicide attempts it. Not everyone who is hurting beyond what they believe they can bear thinks about suicide. Sometimes people who have suicidal thoughts demonstrate warning signs (consciously or subconsciously), and may even verbalize those thoughts, but not always. Sometimes there are no obvious signs at all and no discussion or warnings ahead of time. Suicide can be a knee-jerk reaction to a sudden problem (real or imagined). Even mental health professionals and physicians don’t always catch the signs. And its done.

Suicide can be both quiet and complicated. You can look at your phone and read about others who have taken their own lives, people you don’t know, and not bat an eye. You can also look through your contacts list and there will be multiple people in that list that have considered suicide as an option but you may never know it. Then there are the people that you are intimately acquainted with who are suddenly gone and you wish you had known and been able to intercede in some way.

Depression, anxiety and overwhelming (even conflicting) emotions are most often associated with suicide. These are common, but there is typically more to suicide than merely slapping a mental health label on someone. These are real people, people we love and care about, who want someone to come alongside and care in ways that they recognize. Mental health labels merely identify symptoms and patterns and not the problems themselves. These labels occur when precipitating factors in one’s life seem insurmountable and the body perceives them as too difficult to process. Those who have experienced even such thoughts describe their lives during those times as though they were paralyzed emotionally. They talk about being incapacitated and non-functional. Depression is most commonly the result of past issues that are not completely resolved (there are exceptions that are more cyclical and biochemical in nature, such as with Seasonal Affective Disorder). Anxiety most often occurs when a person is anticipating some part of their own future being a difficult experience at best, usually feeling the way they do without having all of the information necessary to process that future accurately. And the sudden rush of emotion exists in present time and can be very overwhelming to the body. Some have even described it as a drowning sensation. Suicide in any of these situations is a distinct possibility if the person believes they must struggle alone and have no help or hope. What’s left? Way more than they can see during that season of their lives.

Those who contemplate suicide may or may not communicate their thoughts or their intentions. In some situations, a suicide or attempted suicide may seem to be a spontaneous or impulsive act to someone on the outside looking in. The pain of the known outweighs the pain of the unknown in most cases. The goal in suicide really isn’t to die. There is often very little desire to die; just find relief from whatever the individual perceives as too much. There may or may not be a conscious plan, but there are always variables that point a person in the direction of suicide. They just want “it” to go away.

If you have felt these feelings, thought these thoughts, or even attempted suicide, you know of the truth I speak. I’m not trying to approach this blog from a scientific or medical point of view, but of a human suffering point of view.

bible blur book catholic
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One of my favorite Biblical accounts is of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.30-37). Some men came upon a man who had been robbed, brutalized, and left for dead by the side of the road. Some of the people you would have thought would have stepped up and come to the man’s aid actually went out of their way to avoid him, literally walking on the other side of the road. But one man, a Samaritan, one who was looked down upon socially and culturally, saw one who was a stranger to himself and had compassion on him. Biblically, to have compassion is to be moved mentally and emotionally to the point they are compelled to take action for the greater good of another (that’s one of the many facets of love). The Samaritan did everything in his power to help a total stranger that was obviously suffering.

Probably the person that stands out the most in Scripture with regard to suicide, however, is Judas Iscariot. He was the one who betrayed Jesus, but then had a bout of conscience and in his irreconcilable grief, guilt, and shame, went out and hung himself. He committed suicide. He didn’t need to do it, though he believed that was the only way out of the pain. I wonder what might have happened if someone had caught up with him and walked him through his personal pain. There would have been opportunity for Jesus to both forgive him for his wrong, but also heal his life, fully and completely.

Warning Signs

Do you know how to read the visible signs of someone considering suicide? Here are just a few to consider. Don’t be afraid. Begin a conversation with that person. Step in and step up.

  • Verbalizes wanting to die or kill themselves (even if it is shrouded in jesting)
  • Looks for or seeks access to “equipment” to use in suicide (e.g., guns, knives, ropes, cars, medications, neckties, wire, window blind cords,…)
  • Verbalizes hopelessness or having no reason to live
  • Verbalizes sensations of being trapped or unbearable pain (physically, mentally, emotionally, or even spiritually)
  • Verbalizes being a burden to others
  • Increased use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Fascination with death and ways to die
  • Saying “goodbye” to important people (even subtly)
  • Giving away possessions
  • Verbalizes unusual thoughts
  • Seems to be covering marks on the body with clothing out of season or visual cutting marks
  • Neglecting personal care or obsession with personal care
  • Sudden loss of a relationship
  • Known or verbalized history of abuse (any form)
  • Symptoms of depression accompanied by these other signs
  • Loss of interest
  • Increased anxiety and or agitation
  • Suddenly engaging in risky behaviors
  • Sleep cycle is “off” (sleeps too little or too much — extremes)
  • Withdrawal from activity and isolating themselves from others
  • Raging or verbalizes getting even (revenge)
  • Extreme mood swings

How You Can Help

  • Listen. Don’t just hear. Listen. Even to what they are not actually saying.
  • Recommend helping professionals.
  • Talk to them without judgment.
  • “Restrict” access to obvious equipment resources.
  • Encourage
  • Pray with and for them (whether they want to know about it or not).
  • LOVE — Loving actions and helping them to perceive life accurately can make a huge impact on suicidal decisions. Compassion, grace, mercy, and forgiveness are all components of active love.

Suicide is never the right answer. We have been given one life and we are bound and responsible to do everything in our power to stay alive and help others do the same.  If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide as an option, think again. Dying doesn’t really fix the problem(s).

“There is no problem in your life or mine that God cannot fix.”

I like to say about everything in life, “there are always options.” There is no problem in your life or mine that God cannot fix.  That fix requires effort on your part as well, though. Suffering comes when our lives are out of balance and out of alignment with His will. Broken relationship? God’s got that. Career destroyed? God’s got that. Depressed? God’s got that. Bad news? God’s got that too.

We can help. If not us, seek out someone near you who is a safe person to help you through these momentary thoughts and feelings and onto a better path with options and God’s answers for life. A little out of context, but still true, Psalm 30.5 says, “Though the sorrow may last for the night, joy comes with the morning.” Don’t make a permanent choice for a temporary problem.

You matter. You are precious. You are sacred, even.  Man, woman, or child, you are someone worthy of life.

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