AUTHORS NOTE:This content is a response to something that this writer believes to be continued perpetuation of false Christian teaching and belief around the subject of Suicide. No where in this article does the writer provide professional and clinical diagnosis. The content is expressed from this writer’s point of view and understanding of the subject matter. Any professional intervention needed please contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Seek professional help from a qualified mental health expert. If you are struggling with substance use related issues, contact a local clinic/agency that provides treatment for active substance use disorders. In Washington State, you are welcome to call the Washington State Recovery Line: 1-866-789-1511
Since the COVID-19 Pandemic has American society in the throes of chaos, one of the most difficult social issues that is not being discussed in the arena of conversation is that of suicide. According to the summary of The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Suicide Rates, we read:
Multiple lines of evidence indicate that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has profound psychological and social effects. The psychological sequelae of the pandemic will probably persist for months and years to come. Studies indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic is associated with distress, anxiety, fear of contagion, depression and insomnia in the general population and among healthcare professionals. Social isolation, anxiety, fear of contagion, uncertainty, chronic stress and economic difficulties may lead to the development or exacerbation of depressive, anxiety, substance use and other psychiatric disorders in vulnerable populations including individuals with pre-existing psychiatric disorders and people who reside in high COVID-19 prevalence areas. Stress-related psychiatric conditions including mood and substance use disorders are associated with suicidal behavior. COVID-19 survivors may also be at elevated suicide risk. The COVID-19 crisis may increase suicide rates during and after the pandemic. Mental health consequences of the COVID-19 crisis including suicidal behavior are likely to be present for a long time and peak later than the actual pandemic. To reduce suicides during the COVID-19 crisis, it is imperative to decrease stress, anxiety, fears and loneliness in the general population. There should be traditional and social media campaigns to promote mental health and reduce distress. Active outreach is necessary, especially for people with a history of psychiatric disorders, COVID-19 survivors and older adults. Research studies are needed of how mental health consequences can be mitigated during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has shifted the way we presently live our lives. Much of American society’s focus is on the overwhelming divisiveness of protests, political election, to mask or not to mask debate, and the economic impact that is felt everywhere. The question is: How do we as Christians address the reality of suicidal ideation within our communities? What is the best response to those who are contemplating suicide? For that matter, what does the scripture say about suicide? Pressing questions indeed.
Let’s first address the problematic elephant of how Christians ought not to respond (and the inspiration behind this article).
On one of the Facebook groups that I am actively involved with, the following picture was posted. A link followed to the individual’s blog.
My initial comment on the Facebook post follows:
This lacks any sincerity and understanding of those who are engaged in suicidal ideation. Telling someone “Hey, that is not the answer don’t do it” is poor advice. Never ever tell someone not to do it because it is not the answer. For them, feeling overwhelmed and pressed down, it may seem the only answer.
What do we do when someone is having suicidal ideations?
- Sit with them and really listen to what they are struggling with. There is deep rooted pain. Severe depression. Other distressing emotions. Many times, they’ve cried out and felt no one really listened to them.
- Show real genuine and sincere concern for them and their well-being. Ask specific, direct, and assertive questions: “Are you really thinking about ending your life? Do you have any specific plans? How will you carry it out? Any weapons?” this helps get an idea of whether the threat of suicide is imminent and they have the means to carry it out. This point it may be a good idea to have others – and even notify law enforcement.
- Ask about their medical care or if they are connected with any type of mental health or therapy.
- Ask if they have spoken with a pastor or someone within the faith based community equipped to engage the individual from a mental health background and experience.
- Contrary to popular belief – never tell someone, “you have a lot going for you.” or, “your going to hurt those around you.” Also, do not ever say things like, “it will get better, you will see.” or, “Pray and God will guide you.” What a good response is, “I really care about what you are going through.”
- Contact 911 or the Suicide Prevention Line 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- Do not leave them alone and have people around willing to sit with them.
So, what is the issue I am taking with the posting of the meme and the link? Let us examine what the writer’s blog relates.
1. Myth and Ill-advice:
Out of the frying pan and into the fire. You may have used this phrase many times in your life, I know I have, but you know, that is exactly what you will be doing if you throw your life away.
Those individuals who are contemplating suicide are dealing with some very serious intense and distressing emotions. They feel they are at the brink of complete and total hopelessness. They feel unworthy, unlovable, and feel severely inadequate in dealing with the stress in their lives. They want the pain to go away. To them, suicide is the only answer and there is no arguing or reasoning with them. Saying that they are throwing their life away is quite fruitless and may even seem to be condescending and judgmental. They individual is not thinking about what they are throwing away. They are more about believing their life is worthless and meaningless.
Some time ago, I wrote up an article entitled – Suffering in Silence –
Dealing with depression is no walk in the park. The individual feels utterly hopeless, alone, drowning in their own sense of worthlessness and self-pity.
One may not fully understand the emotional experience of another person. However, understanding how to meet where they are and not where you believe they ought to be.
2. Condescending Judgment Fuels The Justification of Worthlessness
To be sure you may be able to kill your own body, but you cannot kill yourself, and you will only be making matters worse if you try. You see, without having come to know Jesus of Nazareth as your personal Lord and Savior you will only be exchanging one Hell for another. You will be getting out of Hell on Earth and exchanging it for the real Hell and it is ten thousand times worse than anything you may be going through at this moment.
When it comes to understanding evangelism, missionary work, and bringing Christ into the conversation – the very last thing is to use this phraseology to reason with someone engaged in suicidal ideation. It actually may do more harm than good. Saying this fuels the ongoing belief system of one’s worthlessness. What they may start thinking (and believing) is this:
Great, even God will condemn me because I am unlovable.
I believe the best response is to listen to how God, through the Spirit, directs how we minister to someone who may be suicidal. Instead of coming across with condemnation and judgment – sit with them. Listen to what they are saying. A person is in a state of mourning and it is best to mourn with them. Some good responses:
“It seems quite overwhelming and difficult”
“Mind if I pray with you?”
Coming from a place of empathy is the best thing we are able to do.
3. False Hopes and Christian Cliche’s don’t work
I know you may be feeling very low and there seems no way out of your situation, and if we were sit down and you were to tell me your situation, I would probably have to agree with you that everything looks dark and hopeless. You may think that the sun will never shine again for you. But I have good news. There is hope for you, there is a way out, and it can be found in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
Again, this appears to be arguing and reasoning with someone who is suicidal. Honestly, a person does not care whether you have good news for them. They may not even care about God or Christ. In fact, they may harbor resentment and anger toward God and see you more of a threat. We do well to avoid these false hope statements and cliches They do not work and continue to do more harm than good when it comes to sitting with someone struggling with life and contemplating suicide. It is best to not rely on these feel good shallow advice.
And, before one objects, I am not saying do not minister to them. Do so that is more candor and respective of that person’s space. Offering to pray with them may be the best thing. if they object, one thing I may recommend is to respond, “I’d like to pray so that I may understand and know how to support you and help you.”
4. Don’t turn it into a Sunday School Lesson
Jesus is the most loving person that ever walked the earth, and He understands what you are going through, He knows what it is to suffer. Whatever your situation is, Jesus is more than able to rescue you from it. He was born in a draughty old stable, He didn’t even have a proper cot to sleep in, He had to make do with a cattle trough. From the age of 30 He went about doing nothing but good. He healed the sick, He raised the dead, yet at the age of 33 cruel men took Him and crucified Him. On the night before He was crucified He went to a garden (which was like a small park) to pray. There he prayed to His Father in Heaven and said, “Father if it be possible let this cup pass from me.” He was in agony of mind and spirit. He sweat great drops of blood that fell and stained the ground where he prayed. I can imagine God the Father looking down on His Son as He says, “My Son, there is no other way, there is no other way, men and women will go down to Hell unless you bleed and die for them.” Jesus submitted to His Father’s will knowing he would face the cross.
Dealing with someone who is suicidal is not an opportune moment to turn the discussion into a Sunday School Lesson. This, again, may do more harm than good and turn the individual further inward and into the throes of their justification. They may be thinking, so what??!!
Instead of a mini children’s sermon – utilize the real meaning behind Christ’s experience in the Garden of Gethsemane. And, it is better to share your own experience of personal suffering and loss – sharing your own personal Gethsemane experience with them.
5. Forgo the Alter Call and Sinner’s Prayer
So you see, whatever your situation is Jesus knows and He understands because He has been where you are, and He can set you free. Jesus can heal and deliver whatever your problems may be, but the thing that He wants to do for you the most is give you a brand new life. He will give you a purpose and meaning for living. You may feel pretty messed up at the moment, but Jesus can give you a brand new start. Would you like a brand new start in life, would you like to know that all your past is forgiven and forgotten? You can if you are willing to urn from everything you’ve done hat you know to be wrong, and ask Jesus to save and change you. You may be saying at the moment I’d like to do this but I just don’t know how? Well, it’s very simple. As I said be willing turn from everything you know to be wrong in your life, and admit that you cannot do it on your own. Be willing to let Him change you and ask Him to forgive your sin.
Finally, ministering to someone who is struggling and considering suicide as the only answer to their suffrage, does not mean it is an opportune moment to ask them to give their life over to Christ and repent of their sins. Again, one may be doing more harm than good and this furthers the belief they hold that they are worthless.
Praying with them, over them, and for them is a good idea. Asking them to commit over to Christ and seek forgiveness of their wrongs is not really good advice. It is almost beating them down even further. And, asking them to engage in the sinners prayer may further distance them.
Minister with Compassion and Empathy – never from a Sympathetic perspective
One of the other common themes I hear from fellow believers is “I want to sympathize with them“. That may be great. However, there is a difference between sympathizing and empathizing. When we are showing sympathy, we are feeling pity and sorrow for how they are feeling. Almost in an apologetic way. “I am so sorry you are going through this.” Empathy is more of understanding and sharing in their own feelings of sorrow and pity.
So, what is the more appropriate way to minister to someone who is considering suicide? According to Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services:
- Understand how God meets us in the darkness and the despair of our lives
- Understand there are underlying mental health related issues and/or underlying substance use related issues at play
- Understand that it is a waste of time preaching or arguing theology with someone struggling with suicide ideation
- Understand that there may be better equipped individuals who are appropriate to intervene and getting the individual connected
- Understand that if there is an imminent threat of self-harm and definitive plan to carry out the act of suicide – do not hesitate to call 911
Focus on the Family has some great insights (dealing with teens and young adults) that may be struggling with suicide. Faith and Suicide Among Teens and Young Adults
Develop an awareness of the signs associated with someone considering suicide where they either are writing and/or talking about:
- Wanting to die
- killing themselves
- Feeling hopeless or trapped
- Having no reason to live
- Being in unbearable pain
- Fearing they are a burden to others
Observe if there are changes in a persons behavior:
- Searching for a way to end their life, such as stocking pills, looking to buy a gun, etc.
- Increased substance use
- Giving away prized possessions
- Visiting or posting goodbyes
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Isolating from friends and family
- Withdrawing from activities
- Acting recklessly or aggressively
How we talk to someone about suicide matters. Pine Rest continues to share these insights:
- Don’t wait for them to bring up the topic
- Ask direct questions with sensitivity
- Show genuine concern
- Do not be judgmental
- Never act shocked by what they may express
At the end of the day, how we respond and minister to someone (whether they are a believer or not) matters. We either push them further to the edge of the cliff or bring them closer to safety.
What does the Bible say about Suicide?
Being a seasoned student of Scripture – there is no real scripture that deals with suicide. And, where the Bible remains silent, so must we. This includes how we may perceive those who follow through and commit suicide. It is not our place to judge them. We are not God, or dare sit on His seat of judgment. All we are able to do is offer comfort to the family and friends left behind when someone has taken their own life. Never are we to judge and condemn the deceased.
However, what the Bible does teach us is to show comfort, compassion, empathy, and charity toward those suffering. To reach out in genuine love. Being understanding and aware of the needs of those who are suffering. Never ought we to use the Bible to minister in a way that does more harm than good to someone contemplating suicide.
Is there hope? Yes – there is always hope. Does Christ concern himself with those who are suffering? I will not ever deny this. Will He help those suffering and even contemplating suicide? I deeply and sincerely believe that he does. How we go about sharing this with someone in despair and darkness? Being present and meet them where they are and being empathetic. Actively listening to them with out judgment and condemnation.