Background and Philosophy
I have been thinking a great deal about my brother’s suicide on July 17,2017. Death in and of itself seems difficult and suicide seems even worse.
I grew up with a strong Christian indoctrination that took a page out of Thomas Aquinas’ book suggesting that suicide was absolutely wrong because we do not own our bodies. That our bodies are the “temple of God.” God owns our bodies. Or maybe it came from the St. Augustine who was a staunch believer that suicide was wrong because it clearly states in the book of Exodus that “Thou shalt not kill.” That means yourself included. It might just simply be that I was taught that there is a divine order and that we should not violate this divine order and taking one’s own life would violate such an order created by God. As foolish as it sounds then wouldn’t it also be true that this God that has created a divine order could intervene and prevent someone from violating this order and taking their own life?
Plato was also against suicide because he believed that we as humans on earth are here for a purpose and by willingly leaving our post here on earth was reliving ourselves of some duty or responsibility to the earth. He would compare our lives here on earth as a guard on duty spending time on his or her post. If we leave our post before we are ordered to leave our post then we have let many people down. HOWEVER, Plato provides a caveat. He goes on to provide exception to those who are struggling with mental illness and people whose character is so far gone it’s a lost cause.
What if our view of suicide is too narrow and just comes from the singular narrative of the cultural/religious perspective within that of which we were raised? It seems like in some cultures it was revered to give up your own life. For example, the early Spartans trained for war every day and from an early age in order to have the opportunity to give up their own life on the battlefield as a sacrifice. There are even certain cultures today that see it as honorable to take their own life if they have become an emotional or financial burden on the lives of their family members. I am not saying it is ok to commit suicide but I am wrestling with the singular story I have been told to think or believe in regard to suicide.
This may sound like heresy, but what about Jesus who is at the center of the very indoctrination I received in my growth years? We often just think of his death as a death at the hands of the Romans who served as his persecutor. However, isn’t knowing you are going to die and not doing anything about it when you have the absolute power to do something about it, suicide? I would suggest that he committed suicide not for the glory of Rome such as the Spartans, but for the sins of humanity.
I see people all around me that drink excessively, smoke multiple packs a day, and generally live a lifestyle that is leading them daily toward their own death. Is this considered suicide?
This is extremely painful to write, but just as an underdeveloped thought…. what if the most dignified way of dying is to die on your own terms. This thought makes me extremely sad, because it pushes me to a place of exhaustive empathy and the deepest feelings of compassion, where I can take on some of the pain, fatigue, and suffering of those who are hurting so bad that they see suicide as the only option. It is without a doubt, natural to have a very strong desire to live, even when one is depressed or detesting themselves. Therefore, if one commits the act of suicide you can only imagine how deleterious the life being experienced.
I don’t have any more answers now than when I started writing these thoughts, but I will say that looking at suicide from only one perspective is not helpful. I miss my brother and wish he had not made this decision to end his life, and yet I am grateful that he is not having to continue living a life riddled with pain, suffering, and uncertainty.
Since September is Suicide Awareness Month, I think it is important to be reminded of the various ways to be a resource for those suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions who generally at higher risk for suicide. It is tough to be in a situation where must talk to someone about their suicidal thoughts. It is a thin line to walk, but there are simple ways to be a true resource for someone who is on the verge of taking their life.
When put in the situation of walking alongside someone with suicidal thoughts, they may not directly ask for help. This does not mean the help is unwelcome but there is a sense of shame attached to suicide and depressing thoughts. Preventing a suicide starts with knowing the warning signs of someone who is at risk. If a friend or family member may be having suicidal thoughts, it may be an awkward and blunt conversation at first yet, openness around the topic is the best place to begin. The ability to openly speak about the subject makes it less frightening and can create a more open dialogue about the situation.
It is important to first educate yourself on the common signs of someone in a suicidal mindset. The biggest red flag is the person blatantly speaking about wanting to die or kill themselves. Some of the most honest comments can be made in passing. Any type of talk of hopelessness, no reason to live, or feeling nihilistically trapped can also be a major indication of a poor state of mental health. Even withdrawing socially or extreme mood swings are all indications that a person may be suicidal. If they are also searching for resources to hurt themselves such as weapons online, this can be a clear indication of a suicidal individual.
What to Do
Once you have suspected someone is at risk for suicide, it is your responsibility to initiate the conversation, which will be the hardest part. You must take on the mindset that you can prevent someone from suicide by showing care and compassion for their mental health. Allowing an at-risk individual to speak freely and openly about their loneliness or thoughts can actually be helpful as part of the coping process.
A great way to start the conversation could be, “I just wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately”. Initially, one may be closed off to talking about their emotions but only continue a conversation rooted in kindness, non-judgment, and love.
If you or a friend is in need of someone to talk to, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is open 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255