Written by Pamela K. Orgeron, M.A., Ed.S., BCCC, ACLC, Author
Like euthanasia, “Suicide is murder. It is self-murder.” (Chery, 2017, 3rd heading) In this article I will explore the means , the motives, and how to move on after surviving an attempted suicide and after losing a loved one to suicide. As I believe prevention is always the best medicine, I would be amiss to not discuss the topic of prevention ending with a discussion about what the Bible says about suicide. Having survived two attempted suicides years ago and having lost loved ones to suicide, this topic is very personal to me.
Suicide and suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts) are at epidemic proportions in the United States. What are the statistics that lead many individuals to refer to suicide as an “epidemic”? Among the alarming statistics I found in literature are:
- Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States [American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), 2018b; Mental Health America (MHA), 2018; Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), 2018b]. Globally, “suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the world for those aged 15-24 years.” SAVE, 2018b, Global Statistics section, ¶ 3)
- In America, “suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults age 5-to-24-year-olds.” (Suicide in Children and Teens, 2017, ¶ 1)
- Almost 45 thousand Americans die annually from suicide. (AFSP, 2018b)
- For every 25 individuals who attempt suicide, one is successful. (AFSP, 2018b; MHA, 2018; SAVE, 2018b)
- “Previous suicide attempts serve as a risk factor for completed suicide. Suicide risk is 37% higher in the first year after deliberate self-harm than in the general population. Older white adults have triple the suicide risk than younger, non-white adults.” (Olfson et al., 2017, as cited by MHA, Suicide Statistics section, Bullet 6)
- When researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) evaluated state-level suicide rate trends from 1999 through 2016, they found “across the study period, rates increased in nearly all states. Percentage increases in suicide rates ranged from just under 6 percent in Delaware to over 57 percent in North Dakota. Twenty-five states had suicide rate increases of more than 30 percent.” (CDC, 2018, State suicide rates vary widely section, ¶ 2)
- “Suicide costs the US $69 billion annually.” (AFSP, 2018b, ¶ 1)
With the reported statistics, anyone can see how serious the problem of suicide is in America, and even around the world. Yet it seems to me that rarely are suicides reported through the media leaving many citizens naive about the full extent of the problem. Not until a celebrity, such as Robin Williams, Kate Spade, or Anthony Bourdain, kills him or herself is much media attention given to suicides. Why is this? According to Puterbaugh (2017), “journalists will weigh the privacy interests of these individuals’ family and friends over the newsworthiness and interest among the general public.” (¶ 2) Puterbaugh added,
Reporting on a suicide, or any other death for that matter, is never simple. Reporters and editors talk these situations over extensively. Some factors we look at in considering the newsworthiness of a suicide or death include whether the person was well-known or the circumstances of the death were of public interest, and the impact on the person’s family.
It’s important we always remember that the decisions we make have the potential to cause emotional pain. Some of us have experienced our own pain from losing a family member to suicide. (¶s 8-9)
Another point I would like to make is that the given statistics are only the reported cases of suicide. “The real figure for completed suicides may be as high as three to five times that number because many suicides go unreported.” (Facts About Adult Suicide, 2017, Suicide Facts section, Bullet 2)
Why do some suicides go unreported? Possible reasons include the stigma associated with suicide (Weichenthal, 2017) and police apathy (Most suicide cases go unreported due to police apathy, 2010).
Besides suicides being under reported in the media as a reason why many individuals are not aware of the seriousness of the suicide problem, a number of myths exist about suicide. What are these myths? The first myth I want to share is that only Caucasian males kill themselves. The fact is “While some demographic factors contribute to higher risk for suicide, it is important to remember that suicide does not discriminate. Individuals of all genders, races, ethnicities, upbringings, and socio-economic statuses kill themselves” (Myths about Suicide, 2018, ¶ 1) Remember, suicide is no respecter of persons. It can happen to anyone in any family in any community.
Behavioral health and Suicide Prevention Specialist Laurel Biever, LPC reported the following four myths about suicide, particularly in regards to children and adolescents:
MYTH 1: Asking your child about suicide will put ideas in his/her head.
FACT: When someone is having suicidal thoughts, being asked about it is often a relief. Actually saying the words, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” opens the door for your child to talk about his or her emotional struggles. As difficult as it may be to talk about suicide, it is an important step toward increasing your child’s safety.
MYTH 2: People who talk about suicide won’t really do it. They just want attention.
FACT: Talking about death or suicide is a warning sign and needs to be taken seriously. Far more often than not, suicide is a response to intense emotional pain rather than a way to seek attention.
MYTH 3: If someone wants to kill him/herself, nothing can be done.
FACT: Most people who attempt suicide do not want to die, they want the pain to stop. [Suicidal ideation is treatable.]
MYTH 4: All teens who die by suicide spend a lot of time planning how they will make an attempt.
FACT: Suicide can be an impulsive act. (Biever, 2016, ¶s 5-12, Bullet Points Omitted)
The Means . . . How People Commit Suicide?
From the images above one can see that the different ways people choose to attempt, or successfully commit suicide are as varied as the personalities of each person who wants to die. According to AFSP (2018b), “In 2016, firearms were the most common method of death by suicide, accounting for a little more than half (51.01%) of all suicide deaths. The next most common methods were suffocation (including hangings) at 25.89% and poisoning at 14.90%.” (Suicide Methods, ¶ 1)
The Motives . . . Why People Commit Suicide
Why do people attempt suicide? That’s a tough question to answer. To best exemplify why someone might want to die, I look to the example I know best, my lifelong struggle with suicidal ideation. The first time I remember feeling like I wanted to die I was in junior high school. I even remember telling my locker partner my thoughts. How did she respond? She said, “You won’t do it.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked her.
“Because you still have dreams–dreams like college and stuff.” She made a good point.
Over the years off and on Satan has used suicide as a way to try to stop what God is doing in my life now. To exemplify how Satan works, I am going to share excerpts (to protect the innocent) from my recovery journal written at 9:12 PM, December 30, 1991. The below words were written when I was living in the pit of depression and Satan was feeding me a lot of lies (John 10:10).
Well, Lord, I guess ***** is right. I can’t take care of myself. I’m just a failure. I want to just go ahead and die. Maybe I’ll overdose on my medicine or something. I’ve hit the bottom of the barrel with no way out. I can’t get out of this physical bondage because of a lack of finances. Furthermore, I can’t get out of the financial bondage because of the physical problems. Before I’d just go to McDonald’s or somewhere to pick up some extra cash. But the ankle won’t let me do that now. Before my ankle gets to the point where I’d have to be more of a burden on people, I think I’ll go ahead and relieve myself of my misery. Nobody wants me. . . . No man will ever marry me because they wouldn’t want my health problems . . . . I’d be better off dead or at least taking off somewhere as far away as I can get to start a completely new life. I guess I’d better include my last wishes in this writing just in case I disappear or something.
As for my personal belongings/material possessions, . . . Since I have no cash on hand or anything valuable, I regret that my debts will have to be written off by my creditors.
As for a funeral and all, the state can just bury me however and where ever they’d like as I have no one legally responsible to care for such matters. Although I do not want to be taken back to Kentucky. They can cremate me first before I’d want them to do that. I’m so tired. I’d like to just go to sleep and never wake up again. No more pain of any kind! No more tears! To go on and leave this wicked troublesome world is what would be best for me. I’m no good for anybody now.
In addition, I don’t have any hopes or dreams left. No chance of advancing career wise without more education. More education requires more money. More money we don’t have. No chance of having kids of my own because there’s no chance of a husband because I scare them off or they just don’t think I’m good enough for them.
I’m thinking about slashing my wrist now but I can’t stand blood. Overdosing on pills would be preferable as long as I don’t throw up a lot and all at the last. I just want to go to sleep without feeling anything. So peaceful in the arms of Jesus without the fleshly nature pulling at you. Right now, let’s just go to sleep and finish this tomorrow night.
No, I didn’t follow through with a suicidal attempt at that time. Actually, a year or so went by before I fell for Satan’s lies hook, line, and sinker to try to kill myself. I tried overdosing on my prescribed Prozac twice in my twenties. I’ll never forget the out-of-body experience I had after my second attempt. I remember being in the emergency room lying on a bed with several medical personnel around me. I remember seeing my body lying on the bed from above. I heard one of the medical staff say, “she’s coding. We need to do something.”
I felt myself going through a tunnel and saw a bright light ahead. However, before I reached the bright light, I heard the Lord speak to me saying, “Go back. I’m not finished with you yet.” When I answered the voice of God affirmatively, the next thing I knew I was back in my body. At that point I made up my mind that God had a purpose for my life, and I promised myself that I would never attempt suicide again.
For years while I still had suicidal ideology off and on, I kept my promise to myself to never try to kill myself again until May 2008 when I planned to starve myself to death. Here’s my journal entry from that time:
9:32 a.m. Monday, May 05, 2008
“Sleeping my life away” and “Starving myself to death”—that’s what I have been doing all weekend! Since I do not have the guts to blow my brains out or to try overdosing again, this past Friday I came up with the idea to starve myself to death. Last time I checked I had lost 3 pounds, weighing in at 165—only 10 pounds overweight.
Fortunately for me and a lot of other individuals, my plan backfired. Slowly losing weight helped me to feel better physically, which perked me up emotionally and spiritually. Not to mention I had a wonderful therapist then too! Though Satan still tempts me occasionally with suicidal thoughts, I rebuke the attacks in the name of Jesus Christ. That’s what saved me.
As you can see from my story a diversity of reasons exist as to why an individual might not want to live. My reasons included physical and/or mental health issues, family problems, relationship issues, etc. In the previously mentioned study by the CDC (2018),
Researchers found that more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death. Relationship problems or loss, substance misuse; physical health problems; and job, money, legal or housing stress often contributed to risk for suicide. (Many factors contribute to suicide section, ¶ 2)
According to Nordqvist (2018), “The most common situations or life events that might cause suicidal thoughts are grief, sexual abuse, financial problems, remorse, rejection, a relationship breakup, and unemployment.” (Causes section, ¶ 2)
Moving Beyond Suicide
I Survived Suicide . . . What Comes Next?
“You can recover from a suicide attempt. It takes time to heal both physically and emotionally, but healing and help can happen.” (Attempt Survivors, n.d., How To Take Care Of Yourself section, ¶ 1) One of the first steps in moving beyond a suicide attempt is identifying and facing the problem(s) that triggered the suicidal thoughts initially. This may take some soul-searching for some people. Also remember recovery is a process and takes time. The following are tips I share that helped me along my path to healing:
- Eat healthy and in moderation.
- Exercise. As a college student during part of my recovery process, I had free access to the university’s Wellness Center where I started working out with weights and riding the stationary bicycle.
- Get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation can cause depression, which can trigger suicide thoughts.
- Find a hobby that you enjoy. Suggested hobbies include reading, sewing, gardening, biking, knitting, crocheting, volunteering, etc. Therapeutic activities for me include reading, making crafts, quilting, and working in the kitchen.
- Find a counselor. For those who prefer a Christian counselor, I recommend using the American Association of Christian Counselor’s Christian Care Connect page to find a reputable counselor in your area.
- Find a support group at a local church or through one of the various 12-step programs. I found Celebrate Recovery most helpful to me.
- Have a safety plan. By that I mean know what you will do if you become aware that you are headed down that slippery slope of having suicidal thoughts again. This plan might include calling a support person or distracting your thoughts in another way, such as with your hobby.
- Take time to relax and destress after working and especially after a counseling session. Working on deep-seated issues with a counselor can be draining, at least it was with me. I used to come home after a session to write in my journal and/or to soak in a warm bubble bath.
- Keeping a journal has been a big help to me. If you don’t like writing, try recording your thoughts, feelings, and what your circumstances are at any particular time. This helps to keep track of your progress through recovery, and also is a big encouragement to go back later to read or listen to see how much you have matured in your recovery process.
- Most importantly, develop your spiritual walk with God through regularly implementing spiritual disciplines in your life (e.g.: prayer, Bible study, worship).
In addition to the “to do” list shared above, I want to share a few pointers regarding what a person recovering from a suicide attempt needs to avoid:
- Do NOT try to go through recovery alone. Make sure you have a support system.
- Try to avoid making major decisions in your life, regarding matters such as marriage, remarriage, divorce, relocating, etc.
- Don’t take rejection from those who don’t understand your situation personally. I remember returning to church after my suicide attempts and how some individuals whom I had thought were my friends isolated themselves or would shun me. I realize now it wasn’t that they didn’t care, these individuals had never been exposed to mental illness and didn’t know what to do to help. So they just did or said nothing. I made the mistake initially of taking their behaviors personally, which only compounded my depression problems.
- If grief through the loss of a loved one by death, divorce, or whatever was the catalyst leading to your suicide attempt, don’t jump into a new relationship expecting that to solve your problems. As the old saying goes, “Rebound relationships don’t work.” I realize there may be exceptions to this generalization; but, those are typically miracles from God.
- Don’t hang out with negative people, even if that means finding a new circle of friends.
- Minimize how much time you spend watching or reading the news. When I watch the news too much, I get depressed or discouraged, which can lead to suicidal thoughts.
How to Help a Person Surviving a Suicide Attempt
More often than not when a person has attempted suicide, his or her actions were a cry for help. Additionally, he or she may feel embarrassment or confusion over what happened. Your role as a family member, friend, or whatever is to encourage the individual to get the help needed. Points to remember:
- The individual needs PROFESSIONAL help!!! You are not the counselor. Even if you work in the mental health field, proper protocol for professionals working in this area is not to work with family members or close friends.
- Be understanding. Don’t judge.
- Offer them a hug. Hugs are very therapeutic. However, some survivors with past sexual abuse or other issues may be sensitive to touch. Make sure you have permission to hug the person.
- Don’t become enmeshed or codependent with the survivor. Don’t neglect your own needs. “Helping a loved one through a crisis is never easy. You might want to talk about your feelings with another friend or a counselor.” (Attempt Survivors, n.d., How To Help; Get them help and take care of yourself section)
When a Loved One Commits Suicide
In the aftermath of a loved one’s suicide, you might feel like you can’t go on or that you’ll never enjoy life again.
In truth, you might always wonder why it happened — and reminders might trigger painful feelings even years later. Eventually, however, the raw intensity of your grief will fade. The tragedy of the suicide won’t dominate your days and nights. (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2018, Face the future with a sense of peace section, ¶s 1-2)
I remember when I was first told that a loved one had committed suicide. My immediate response was one of denial and confusion. Then I asked the questions, “why?” and “could I have done something to have helped?” Research (Help Is At Hand, 2015; Mayo Clinic Staff, 2018; Suicide Bereavement, 2016; Vitelli, 2012) reports that the emotions and initial reactions to losing one to suicide can be devastating. Among these reactions are:
- Feeling angry at the person who committed suicide. I sometimes still struggle with this years after the death.
- Feeling confused
- Feeling defensive
- Feeling embarrassment/shame (“not in our family” attitude). “In many cases, shame can even lead family members to conceal evidence that a suicide has happened at all and making the death appear to be due to accident or illness. ” (Vitelli, 2012)
- Feeling guilty (asking the “What if . . . ” and “If only . . . ” questions)
- Feeling helpless (I felt this, as I lived out-of-town and was unable to attend the viewing and funeral.)
- Feeling listless
- Feeling lonely and disconnected
- Feeling numb
- Feeling rejected
- Feeling sadness and despair, even to the point of having suicidal thoughts.
- Feeling a sense of acceptance
- Feeling shock and denial.
- Having physical reactions (headaches, stomach issues, over or under-eating; sleep problems)
What happens after the initial response? According to the Mayo Clinic Staff (2018), “You might continue to experience intense reactions during the weeks and months after your loved one’s suicide — including nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty concentrating, social withdrawal and loss of interest in usual activities — especially if you witnessed or discovered the suicide.” (Brace for powerful emotions section, ¶ 2)
What Can Help? According to Help Is At Hand (2015), individuals who lost someone to suicide have reported the following actions helpful:
- Share your thoughts and feelings with others around you.
- Create ways to remember the person (e.g.: looking at photos; doing things you did together)
- Develop rituals or lasting memorials to the person’s life.
- Keep doing what you enjoy doing (e.g.: hobbies)
- Keeping a journal
- Taking care of yourself
- Spending time outdoors.
- “Meeting, speaking with or reading the words of other people who have been bereaved” (p. 13)
- Develop an “‘emotional first aid kit’” (p. 13): collect together a few items to help
you when feeling down (e.g.: your favorite music, a punching bag)
What NOT to do? According to Help Is At Hand (2015), individuals who lost someone to suicide have suggested avoiding the following behaviors:
- Don’t avoid discussions about what happened.
- Don’t try to escape the pain with alcohol or drugs.
- Don’t rush to make major decisions in life.
- Don’t take risks (e.g.: speeding).
- Don’t neglect getting professional help.
Suicide prevention begins with education. I believe this education should begin as early as possible in the home with parents at an age appropriate level. Educational interventions at schools and in the community also are important in thwarting the suicidal epidemic in the United States and around the rest of the world.
What should be included as a part of that education? First, everyone, especially parents, teachers, coaches, and others working with children and adolescents, needs to be aware of the risk factors and warning signs of suicide. Additionally, I believe minimizing the root causes, the catalysts and precursors of suicidal ideation, are crucial to turning the suicide epidemic around.
Though suicide can happen to anyone, there are specific risk factors that make an individual more apt to have suicidal thoughts or to commit suicide. What are these factors?
- Family or individual history of mental illness
- Family or individual history of alcohol or drug abuse
- Family or individual history of violent behavior
- Feeling isolated or hopeless
- Having an acquaintance, friend, or relative who committed suicide
- In children, low grades or disciplinary problems in class
- Past history of abuse
- Prior suicide thoughts or attempts
- Lack of sleep
- Legal problems
- Living a LGBQ lifestyle. According to Christensen (2017), “40% of teens who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or unsure of orientation considered suicide in the past year.” (Story Highlights section)
- Transgendered Male or Female (Anderson, 2018). The results of a 30-year longitudinal study by Dhejne et al (2011) “conducted in Sweden, where the culture is strongly supportive of the transgendered—documents their lifelong mental unrest. Ten to 15 years after surgical reassignment, the suicide rate of those who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery rose to 20 times that of comparable peers.” (Anderson, 2018, ¶ 4)
- Victim of Bullying
Though “A significant number of people with suicidal ideation keep their thoughts and feelings a secret and show no signs that anything is wrong” (Nordqvist, 2018, Symptoms section, ¶ 2), I still encourage everyone to be aware of the warning signs, as you never know when you may be that one person to help save a struggling person’s life. Below are a list of warning signs gleaned from research (MHA, 2018; Nordqvist, Recognizing Suicidal Behavior, n.d.; SAVE, 2018c) and my personal experience:
- Abnormal obsessions or conversations about death, dying, or violence; suicidal threats or having survived an earlier suicide attempt
- A calm spirit—“Suddenly becoming calm after a period of depression or moodiness can be a sign that the person has made a decision to end his or her life.” (Recognizing Suicidal Behavior, n.d., What are the warning signs for suicide? section, Bullet 2)
- Critical spirit
- Experiencing what seems to be unbearable emotional or physical pain
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol, or using these substances when not used before
- Loss of interest in activities once deemed pleasurable
- Low self-esteem
- Mood swings
- Participating in risky behavior (e.g. driving recklessly)
- Personality changes
- Prolonged grieving after trauma or significant loss
- Putting affairs in order (e.g., giving special items away to others)
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Showing signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental illness
- Withdrawing from friends and family
The warning signs for suicide listed above are diverse. Not every suicidal person will exhibit signs. However, if you are aware of someone who exhibits several of the signs listed above, please don’t be afraid to SPEAK UP and SPEAK OUT. Ask him or her what’s happening. If he or she won’t talk and you’re still concerned, don’t hesitate to share your concerns with a person in authority over the individual. It’s better to err on the side of safety, rather than sorry. You may save a life!
Attacking the Root Causes
I believe every “suicide can be prevented” (Recognizing suicidal behavior, n.d., Can suicide be prevented? section, ¶ 1) but not without dealing with the root causes. “Research suggests that the best way to prevent suicide is to know the risk factors, be alert to the signs of depression and other mental disorders, recognize the warning signs for suicide, and intervene before the person can complete the process of self-destruction.” (Recognizing suicidal behavior, Can suicide be prevented? section, ¶ 1)
What are the root causes? From my perspective, major root causes are an existing mental illness, past trauma and/or abuse, and bullying. Although, when I think about how much mental illness is triggered by trauma and/or abuse, especially experienced as a child, that seems to be a major root of suicide that needs to be uprooted preventing the development of some mental illnesses/chemical imbalances. Society needs to be more vigilant to protect children and others from being exposed to any form of abuse or neglect. Not only should preventive measures for stopping abuse, bullying, etc. be implemented, but when these acts occur, the victim needs to receive treatment as soon as possible rather than let anger, pain, and other emotions be stuffed to surface later in the form of mental illness, as happened to me.
To discuss thoroughly the root causes of suicide, such as mental illnesses, past abuse/neglect, bullying, etc. is beyond the scope of this article. However, I encourage you to educate yourself on the issues. Open your eyes to the reality of suicide and its precursors. Encourage legislators to make tougher laws protecting children and making parents, teachers, and others working with children more accountable for inappropriate actions towards children, and even adults. Only when we do these things, with the help of God, can we rid society of the suicide epidemic.
What Does the Bible Say About Suicide?
To my knowledge, the word “suicide” is never mentioned specifically in the Scriptures. However. with suicide self-inflicted murder, the verses shared in last week’s article “Euthanasia . . . The Controversy” about why Euthanasia is a sin also apply to suicide. To review, these Scriptures are: Exodus 20:13; 1 Corinthians 15:26; Genesis 2:7; and, Deuteronomy 30:19-20. Based on the aforementioned Scriptures, I have no doubt our lives are sacred, and that God alone has the right to decide when each life ends.
Did anyone commit suicide in the Scriptures? Yes, six men in the Old Testament killed themselves. These men include:
- Abimelech (Judges 9:54) – to avoid the shame of death at the hands of a woman
- Samson (Judges 16:28-31) – to defeat those who imprisoned him
- Saul (1 Samuel 31:1-4) – to avoid the dishonor of being captured after he was wounded
- Saul’s armor-bearer (1 Samuel 31:5) – to atone for killing a king
- Ahitophel (2 Samuel 17:23) – in despair over deception being perpetrated around him
- Zimri (1 Kings 16:18) – to avoid capture by the army (Paprocki, 2010, ¶ 1).
Only one person in the New Testament committed suicide. That was Judas Iscariat (Matthew 27:3-5).
Not only were there biblical characters who committed suicide, other men in the Bible experienced suicidal ideation wanting to die (Moses, Numbers 11:13-15; Elijah, 1 Kings 19:1-4; and Jonah, Jonah 4:5-8). Additionally, the Bible implies that after losing his family, health, and wealth, Job contemplated suicide (See Job 3.).
Besides the Scriptures indicating that life is sacred and that suicide is a sin, the Bible is full of Scriptures that encourage us to not give up and to work through our trials. Examples include:
Suicide is nothing to play games with. Take every suicidal thought and attempt seriously. Be alert to the signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation in yourself and in others around you. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal ideation, please seek professional help. Don’t let suicide happen to you or anyone else.
Finally, and most importantly, remember to keep God first in your life. He alone knows all your pain and what needs to happen to relieve your pain. He helped me, and continues to help me when Satan tempts me with suicidal ideation. He can help you too, if you let Him. To close this article, I leave you with a “Prayer Against Suicide”.
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