Suicide has been in the news again this week. It is understandably hard when those we admire take their own lives. A famous designer and a media personality each took their own life in moments of deep despair. Later in the week, it was no surprise to see the headline, “Suicide Rates Have Increased More Than 25% since 1999, According to the Center for Disease Control.”
Suicide is tragically on the rise! Christians need to be ready with answers that give hope to those considering suicide and to those stung by the loss of someone close. One of my first counseling cases as a youth pastor was two middle-school young men whose father had recently taken his own life. I was a bit overwhelmed trying to bring hope to what felt like a hopeless situation. Just this week, I talked with a pastor whose AWANA Commander took his life in recent months.
Suicide is not just happening “out there” or to celebrities!
How do we develop Biblically faithful, careful responses to the interest around this topic? In the months after Robin Williams took his life some experts estimate that suicide rates rose 10%. We may expect more of the same after this past week. We often hear that suicide is preventable and we encourage people to reach out for help, but some of the ways suicide is explained are counter-productive to strugglers feeling safe enough to reach out for help.
We must re-think how we talk about suicide.
Here are some counter-productive statements you might hear in normal conversations in weeks when suicide enters the news cycle.
- Those who commit suicide “have an organ (brain) that didn’t work.” 
- Those who are suicidal have the “disease of depression” which can be terminal just like other serious diseases.
- Anti-depressants are actually inducing more suicides and they are over-prescribed or abused.
All three of these statements taken in isolation can be really harmful because they paint a picture of reality with little prevention. The first two statements imply suicide is a sickness that has no cure. The last statement implies that the “cure” is making people sicker. All three statements fail to give much hope!
The Root Cause
In order to give a wise answer to someone contemplating suicide, we must understand how the Bible describes the human condition and how we respond to life in a fallen world. Suicide begins long before someone actually takes his own life. (Prov. 13:12) We often describe it like this: Disappointment lead to discontentment, discontentment leads to despair and despair leads to destructive choices.
We must understand that suicide begins with “disappointment” and the reasons can be as diverse as we are. For instance:
- The disappointment of lost job or denied college application
- The disappointment of divorce or destructive relationships
- The disappointment of an addiction spiraling out of control
- The disappointment of depressive feelings that won’t relent
- The disappointment of bankruptcy, foreclosure or forced life transition
- The disappointment of a bully who won’t give in
- The disappointment of exposed private indiscretions
- The disappointment of a terminal diagnosis or unwanted longevity of life
Every suicidal person has a story and it begins with disappointment. It doesn’t begin with an organ malfunction, brain disease or a resistance by over-using anti-depressants. All of these things may be currently present, but suicide is far more complicated than a simple disease pathology or a medicinal side-effect. When we reduce the stories involved in suicide down to these factors, or even emphasize these factors, we don’t help people learn to live with disappointments in a healthier way. We may, in fact, actually be counter-productive by implying that suicide is as unpreventable as cancer.
Struggling with suicidal thoughts feels much like being stuck in the wilderness. Yet God reminds us that even when we don’t feel loved in the wilderness, we are still loved by a faithful God. Jeremiah delivered this message from the Lord to his children who were frustrated while feeling far from God as they wandered.
Thus says the LORD: “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, 3 the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (Jeremiah 31:2-3 ESV)
Don’t worry about having all the answers (no one does) but be a friend who shows faithful love, listens to their wilderness story and reminds them of the sufficient grace found in Christ.
If you need immediate help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 800-273-8255., or go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
P.S. This post is part one in a series on suicide prevention and how to think through this issue carefully and biblically. Check back the rest of the week for more help!
 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-origins-of-suicidal-brains/  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/199507/my-genes-made-me-do-it  https://www.cnn.com/2016/04/22/health/suicide-rates-rise/