You may not have known it, but today is Suicide Prevention Day. According to the World Health Organisation every year, one million people die by suicide. That means every 40 seconds – someone dies by their own hand.
It’s a terrifying statistic. It is not just the number of lives lost in the act, but the families and friends left behind. The questions that are left forever unanswerable, the grief and the guilt that weigh upon the bereaved.
And yet for some, the plight of the suicidal just calls for shove in the right direction. I was disturbed when I googled the topic. The links were not only numerous – but a frightening number were websites with instructions on how to kill oneself ‘successfully’ with different options for those who wanted either a quick and painless death – or a long and drawn out affair.
Reading the pages made me feel sick. Not only because (according to the news reports surrounding these websites) the instructions have led to people’s deaths. It scared me because a google search can take you from the life-saving realms of The Samaritans – to the sites that give step-by-step instructions on how to end life.
A study in America found that 5.8 million adults had thought of suicide without making any specific plans. And Young adults aged 18 to 25 were far more likely to have considered suicide in the past year than those aged 26-49. (1)
And it is this vulnerable age group that a possibly most likely to search for an answer from the Internet.
And while, considering suicide does not mean that a person will go on to die by suicide. Some may experience suicidal thoughts as a result of a mental illness such as depression or bipolar, others because of a traumatic event or bereavement. A suicidal thought does not have to end in suicide.
How do I know when someone is suicidal?
Someone with suicidal thoughts may not be explicit in their wish to die. Signs can range from a sudden decision to make a will, or take out life insurance, to taking less general care of themselves either by not eating, or not taking an interest in personal hygiene. Others will talk specifically about their suicidal thoughts to a friend, relative or counsellor. It is important to take all signs of suicidal thoughts seriously – whether or not you believe they will actually take that final step. (2)
How can I help someone who is suicidal?
One of the most important things you can do is to be available to listen without trying to ‘jolly’ them out of it or dismiss their thoughts. Secondly, encouraging them to get help; either from a GP or the Samaritans is a really good first step – your GP may then be able to source other, more long-term help.
It is also very important that you care for yourself – you may need your own support as it can be a very distressing time for you, as well. Try not to deal with it alone and do not guarantee confidentiality if you believe a life is at risk.(3)
As you can imagine, this was not a particularly easy post to write. To inform without lecturing, offering compassion without condescension – I hope that at least on some level I will have managed this.
As a Christian a whole new set of questions can arise about the perceived sinfulness, which can add guilt to an already heavy load of grief.
Yet there were a surprising number of biblical figures who seem to have expressed a desire for life to end; from the desolation Elijah at Mt Horeb, to the despair of Job. The feelings were not something that a person would be damned for – but they can be brought to God, to the foot of the cross. It is not a ‘quick-fix’ solution for anyone – but there is hope. Hope in the God of Heaven who descended to the depths for our sake.
I’m going to end with one of my favourite Psalms – given to me in one of my darkest hours in the hope that it may give hope to someone else:
“I waited patiently for the LORD, he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”