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Suicide - Not the Way to End Suffering, Part II

Dangers from a Religious Perspective

        Persons who intervene in this assertive manner from a religious perspective are at risk of doing significant damage.  Another anonymous blogger shared his attempts to alert friends to his suicidal thinking, “. . . in the hopes they would try to help me or cheer me or love me. They were horrified because they'd never dreamed of somebody actually wanting to do this. They didn't tell me they loved me. They told me God would never forgive me, and I sank a little bit deeper, and walked away.”

        This same person spoke of finding a religious pamphlet addressing suicide and hoping and begging that the words in it would give him reason to continue just one more day. However, he perceived more alienation, including contempt for his “heathen ignorance” and a lack of compassion that made him, “. . . want to die.”   Speaking in outrage against the world’s religious who would rescue him with their faith, this everything2.com blogger said,

Help me. Help me as a person and not as a heathen, and know that I'm agnostic because my logic denies me the power of faith and that that is not going to change in my hour of greatest despair. Speak to me as a person. Speak to me of the beauty of the world and all the things I could be. Leave your God out of it. And then maybe, maybe we can talk. Maybe you can listen to me, and, you know, that just might do it. Maybe I can listen, too. Maybe you might just have something interesting to say, something I didn't know yet, and some sort of reason for one more day.

        Is there a place for faith and spirituality in offering support for those of us who are suicidal?  You bet!  But, as our blogger shared, it has to come on their terms; not ours. How do we compassionately encourage our companion to use his or her own resources to begin moving away from risk and toward resolution?

Moving Away from Risk and Toward Resolution 

        We can begin by asking if there is anything that would hold our companion back, including family, friends, or religious convictions.  This elicits their own reservations and allows us to have some understanding of what deterrents they have in place.  It alerts us to potential allies in the form of existing relationships, or alerts us to higher risk if there is no perception of social support by our companion.  We explore, in our conversation, for an emotional spark of hope and begin to fan it.  We respect their religious convictions – even if they don’t agree with ours.

        We make an effort to determine whether our companion perceives alternatives, without offering our alternatives.  It’s a subtle process.  We get the person to remember when they didn’t feel this way by asking them what they did the last time they felt this way.  What has given their lives meaning in the past?  What was it like when it wasn’t this way for them – and what things could they do to return meaning to their lives?  This is where we can explore what is happening in their lives. However, rather than talking about how much they have to live for, we explore what their options are.

        At some point, we explore the potential consequences of committing suicide.  How will it affect the family – especially the children, and what about the friends?  Does our companion know that parental suicide increases the eventual risk for their children?  Does he or she really want to convey to loved ones that death is better than the pain they caused?  Is killing ourselves the best revenge? Or is it the cruelest thing for all involved in a world where life lived well is “the best revenge?”

        Throughout our discussion, we emphasize the continuing existence of the one small part in our companion that does not want to die – that any trace of doubt is the best certainty that he or she owes it to herself to stay alive.  I believe one of the most powerful questions we can ask is, “How have you answered the ultimate questions of your life?” How we have answered, or not answered, these questions forms the basis for how we live our lives.  Such questions open the door for spiritual discussion, encouraging our companion to wonder about the “bigger picture” of life and what lies beyond it.  Rhetorical questions that invite our companion to discover his or her own answers work better than challenging and debating moral issues. 

        Being of a metaphysical mindset, if somebody is open to exploring in this area, I like to go straight for a person’s intuitive knowing by asking, “What will you do if you kill your body, leaving the real you spiritually intact, but without a body to work out your continuing real problems?”  “If you accept that emotions are not just chemical reactions in the body, but real energetic psychospiritual phenomena (as increasingly supported by research) how will killing your body resolve your emotional turmoil?” 

        Finally, our discussion must cover some remaining essential bases.  When someone is suicidal, we cannot leave them alone.  Somebody must remain with them if they are in an acute crisis.  It is important to establish who our companion will agree talk to if they feel the impulse to actually act on their suicidal feelings. Ideally, there should be at least one family member or friend, a compassionate member of the clergy – if our companion is involved with religion, and a treating mental health professional.  One person, preferably professionally qualified in suicide intervention, should be the primary contact.  Establishing these is the ideal conclusion of our conversation with our companion.

        This conclusion also includes a “verbal contract” involving our companion’s promise that he or she will make contact(s) with the above persons and take other specified self-care oriented actions before succumbing to impulses to suicide.

        The basic methods offered here are intended to empower members of the community to have a better understanding of suicide and how to prevent it, when possible. We accept that the methods we discussed here are challenging for even the most experienced mental health professionals.  Therefore, we realize and accept our limitations to predict and control the actions of those dear to us.   Without holding back, we readily express our feelings of love and caring for the person at risk, we advocate for what we perceive the person needs to reduce the risk, and we take immediate action (call 911) in the event of encountering an imminent suicidal crisis.

        My website version of this article contains links to suicide-related resources.  If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433), visit the hotline website at www.hopeline.com or call 1-800-273-TALK. Mental health professionals in this community, including myself, offer counseling for suicide issues.

Granville Angell            © 6/2006

See Notes and Links Below

Granville Angell, EdS, LPC, NCC, a licensed professional counselor, invites readers to submit questions for his column to his web site: www.transitions-counseling.com .  He may be reached at his private practice, TRANSITIONS Personal & Family Counseling Services by emailing angell(AT)transitions-counseling.com or calling 704-276-1164.

Notes and Links:

10 Reasons Not to Commit Suicide: http://www.the-bright-side.org/site/thebrightside/section/325

If You Are Thinking of Suicide . . . Read This First, by Martha Ainsworth: http://www.metanoia.org/suicide/  

“When a genuine myth rises into consciousness, Ursula Le Guin wrote in The Language of the Night (Spring '81 CQ., p. 54), the message is always: You must change your life. Each suicide attempt, I'm convinced, carries that message: to the person who tries it, to the people who are close to that person, and to the rest of us as a society. I think what happens after a suicide attempt is a sort of autopsy of what's best and worst about our culture.”                   from How Not to Commit Suicide, by Art Kleiner: http://www.well.com/~art/suicidepge1.html

National Alliance on Mental Illness: Suicide http://www.nami.org/helpline/suicide.htm

National Institute of Mental Health: Suicide Prevention http://www.nimh.nih.gov/suicideprevention/suicidefaq.cfm

National Mental Health Association: Suicide Page (Why people commit suicide; Warning signs of someone considering suicide; What to Do) http://www.nmha.org/infoctr/factsheets/81.cfm

Teen Suicide by Richard O'Connor, Ph.D. http://www.the-bright-side.org/site/thebrightside/content.php?type=1&section_id=325&id=557

You Are Not Alone – True stories of people who have faced suicide in their lives. http://www.the-bright-side.org/site/thebrightside/section/620

Back to Suicide . . ., Part I

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