Preventing Suicide

Among young people ages 15-29, suicide is the second-leading cause of death.

Preventing Suicide

A global imperative

https://www.adventistreview.org/1701-19

On September 5, 2014—in the presence of ministries-of-health leaders, ambassadors, administrators, and health professionals—the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva issued its first-ever comprehensive report on suicide.1Its goal was to reduce the rate of suicide by 10 percent by 2020. The presenters’ research and statistics showed that suicide occurs in all regions of the world, and throughout peoples’ life spans. Among young people ages 15-29, suicide is the second-leading cause of death. Yet suicides are preventable through a multi-sectorial strategy. Such strategy must involve policymakers, health workers, and communities, including our own Seventh-day Adventist churches, hospitals, and clinics.

The Magnitude of a Worldwide Tragedy

Suicides take a high toll. More than 800,000 individuals die from suicide every year, one every 40 seconds. For each adult who dies from suicide there may be more than 20 others who have attempted to do so. Since it’s a sensitive issue and even illegal in some countries, it’s probably underreported.

Seventy-five percent of suicide deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, the highest number among young people between 15 and 29 years of age.

Proportionally, however, in most regions of the world, suicide rates are higher in those aged 70 years or older, for both men and women.

Three times as many men die by suicide as do women in the richest countries (3.5 male-to-female ratio). In the low- and middle-income countries, the male-to-female ratio is lower (1.6 male-to-female ratio).

The good news is that between 2000 and 2012 the number of suicides fell by 9 percent, from 883,000 to 804,000. One possible explanation is the dramatic improvement in global health in some countries throughout the past decade. This reduction confirms that improvement is possible. In some regions, however, the suicide rate has increased. In Africa, for example, it has grown by 38 percent.

Mental health declines

Risk factors:Job and financial loss, Chronic pain, Harmful use of alcohol, Mental disorder, Previous suicide attempt, Relationship conflict, Isolation, Lack of social support, Trauma or abuse, Access to means, Stigma and taboo, Inappropriate media reporting

Mental health improves

Protective factors:Strong personal relationships, Resilience against stress and trauma, Sense of self-worth, Religious or spiritual beliefs, Supportive community, Self-identity, Effective problem-solving skills, Healthful lifestyle choices, Regular exercise, Adequate sleep and diet, Support for those seeking treatment

The Consequences of Stigma and Myths

Being confronted with someone with suicidal ideas is frightening and uncomfortable. It’s generally thought that talking about suicide is a bad idea and can be interpreted as encouragement. Unfortunately, this myth isolates despondent ones in their suffering and quest for relief. In 25 countries suicide is a crime, and survivors might be sent not to a hospital, but to jail.

It is well recognized, however, that one of the best ways to prevent suicide is to offer an open space for communication. Mental health professionals often ask the question to distraught or desperate patients: Do you think about death or dying? If the answer is yes, they will continue by asking: Do you think about killing yourself? What has helped you to stay alive up to now? Could you make a commitment to call for help in case of pressing suicidal ideation?

Through presence and dialogue, individuals may be led to take some distance from pain and hurt and to weigh the consequences of such a radical choice. This approach has saved many lives. 2

Risk and Protective Factors

As outlined in the figure below, research indicates that there are many risk and protective factors for suicide. The presence of protective factors increases mental health and decreases the risk for suicide.

Restricting access to the means for suicide works. An effective strategy for preventing suicides and suicide attempts is to restrict access to the most common means, including pesticides, firearms, and certain medications.

Primary health-care services need to assess the risk during routine visits, incorporating suicide prevention as a core component of routine health care. Mental disorders and harmful use of alcohol contribute to many suicides worldwide. Early identification and effective management are key to ensuring that people receive the care they need.

Communities play a critical role in suicide prevention. They can provide social support to vulnerable individuals and engage in follow-up care, fight stigma, and support those bereaved by suicide. In India the monthly visits of nonprofessional community health workers to individuals who have attempted suicide have decreased the rates of completed suicide in significant numbers. Imagine if our churches were to do that!

Our Opportunities for Action as a Church

The stigma of suicide could be reduced with more awareness in society and particularly in the church, which would allow people to seek help more readily. We need to talk about suicide, and people need to see the church as a safe haven. If people feel hopeless, they can come to us to find hope in Jesus Christ and renewed purpose. That’s what we as a church are all about.

Members and leaders can support the effort by participating in individual and corporate action. Adventist hospitals and clinics should embrace the call to early recognition of emotional distress in primary-care settings and offer a continuum of specialized care, including mental health services where faith matters are included as active components of the restoration. Adventist universities that train ministers, health workers, and mental health professionals should actively teach principles to recognize and treat those suffering from emotional pain, as well as their families, drawing from the teachings of Scripture, the Spirit of Prophecy, and sound science.

Individuals can contribute by recognizing depression risk factors and identifying individuals at risk. They can also set an example by living a balanced lifestyle and urging people to refrain from consuming recreational substances, including alcohol, in order to maintain mental health and emotional well-being.

Finally, a caring church community can see suicidal thoughts not as a lack of faith but as a time of spiritual distress (see text box) and a cry for support and compassion. A survivor from a suicidal crisis has said, “The compassionate presence of a friend has been as worthy as 10 years of psychiatric care.”

When we do that, we are extending the healing ministry of Jesus.

The Impact of Suicide on the Survivors

This ministry of love and compassion needs to be extended to those left behind in a lonely, deep, and dark pit of pain, grieving loved ones taken by suicide. Despite the best efforts of family members, friends, and health providers, suicide happens. An anonymous letter from someone who had been very close to committing suicide provides perspective: “I had a loving family, a very good and supportive doctor, but when you reach this tunnel, it seems that nothing matters.”

One of our seasoned clinicians experienced the loss of a patient through suicide. Although it happened more than 10 years ago, it’s remembered as if it happened yesterday.

It was a Thursday during the noon hour. The patient had been in treatment for more than three years with chronic suicidal ideas, multiple attempts, and several admissions to the psychiatric hospital. The immediate impact was extremely painful. Just a simple walk along a lake became difficult for the clinician, as the last shop on its shore was named The Last Stop. It seemed as if almost anything could bring back memories of this patient’s death. The family invited the clinician to the funeral service and asked him to be a pallbearer. With every step the clinician was thinking, Here I take you to your final rest.The gratitude of the family for the clinical work he provided was his source of consolation. “You gave her—and us—three more years,” they said.

Myths

Facts

Talking about suicide is a bad idea and can be interpreted as encouragement.

Talking openly can give an individual other options or the time to rethink their decision, thereby preventing suicide.

People who talk about suicide do not intend to do it.

A significant number of people contemplating suicide share their experience of anxiety, depression, and hopelessness and may feel that there is no other option.

Most suicides happen suddenly, without warning.

Most suicides are preceded by warning signs, whether verbal or behavioral. Some suicides occur without warning.

Someone who is suicidal is determined to die.

Suicidal people are often ambivalent about living or dying. Access to emotional support at the right time can prevent suicide.

Once someone is suicidal, that person will always remain suicidal.

Heightened suicide risk is often short-term and situation-specific.

Only people with mental disorders are suicidal.

Suicidal behavior indicates deep unhappiness but not necessarily mental disorder.

But the pain felt by the treating clinician did not compare to the pain felt by the family. Within a year the patient’s elderly parents passed away deep in grief. The mother had declined treatment and accepted only palliative care. Both sisters were overpowered by grief and depression and were unable to work for years following the event. One of the sisters struggled with a wrenching sense of guilt, resulting in her feeling suicidal for several years. Everyone involved suffered. Their faith was one of the only elements that brought them solace. Years of treatment eventually restored the surviving sisters to their work and their families.

However difficult recovery may be, there is hope. The role of friends, pastors, counselors, and the survivor’s faith cannot be underestimated. The surviving mother of an adult child that committed suicide renewed her faith in the Lord’s grace to accept what came her way. She found refuge in the consistent love and care of her daughters and sought help from a psychotherapist to deal with elements of guilt and find the emotional capacity to forgive those she felt had contributed to her child’s desperate end. Wherever there is grace, there is hope.

The Healing Ministry of Jesus

As a church, we may not have been as consistent in responding to emotional pain as we have been in other areas of health and lifestyle. Perhaps we have not read the Bible as clearly as we should have. Consider the words of the prophet in Isaiah 61:1-3. The language used is suffused with an invitation to care for those in emotional distress:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

Ellen White described how Jesus ministered. Again, notice the words that denote the Savior’s attentiveness to the emotional needs of those who came in contact with Him:

“It was [Jesus’] mission to bring to men complete restoration; He came to give them health and peace and perfection of character.” 3“During His ministry, Jesus devoted more time to healing the sick than to preaching.”4“The Savior made each work of healing an occasion for implanting divine principles in the mind and soul. This was the purpose of His work. He imparted earthly blessings, that He might incline the hearts of men to receive the gospel of His grace.”5“Gracious, tenderhearted, pitiful, He went about lifting up the bowed-down and comforting the sorrowful. Wherever He went, He carried blessing.”6“Christ recognized no distinction of nationality or rank or creed.”7“He passed by no human being as worthless, but sought to apply the healing remedy to every soul.”8

May we as followers of God manifest the Spirit of Christ and “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:3-5).


  • World Health Organization, “Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative” (2014). The complete report can be read on the WHO Web site: www.who.int/mental_health/suicide-prevention/world_report_2014/en/.
  • See “Myths and Facts About Suicide,” adapted from 2014 WHO report.
  • Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 17.
  • Ibid., p. 19.
  • Ibid., p. 20.
  • Ibid., p. 24.
  • Ellen G. White, Evangelism(Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), p. 568.
  • Ellen G. White, Reflecting Christ(Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1985), p. 27.

Bernard Davy,M.D., M.P.H.,is head physician for Psychiatry Service, Clinique La Ligniere, in Gland, Switzerland. Carlos Fayard,Ph.D., is associate professor of the Department of Psychiatry, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, and assistant director for Mental Health Affairs, Health Ministries Department. Peter Landless,M.D., is director of Adventist Health Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.


The Bible and Suicide

by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez

Suicide is usually defined as the taking of one’s own life. The emotional scars left to family and friends are deep and produce not only feelings of loneliness but particularly a sense of guilt and disorientation. In attempting to provide some guidance in answering your question, I must limit my comments to the following brief observations.

Let’s first distinguish between suicide and martyrdom, which is the willingness to surrender our lives for fundamental convictions and values that we hold nonnegotiable—and heroic acts of self-sacrifice that result in the preservation of other lives (a soldier throws himself or herself on a grenade to save others). While suicide is fundamentally a denial of the value of our present life, the final solution to a life perceived as unbearable, those other cases are expressions of respect and love for life.

I will list the cases of suicide or attempted suicide recorded in the Bible, draw some conclusions, and make some general comments.

  • Cases of Suicide in the Bible: Abimelech, mortally wounded by a millstone thrown at him by a woman, asked his armor-bearer to kill him to escape shame (Judges 9:54 ). Saul, after being seriously wounded in battle, killed himself (1 Sam. 31:4). Seeing what the king did, the armor-bearer “fell on his own sword and died with him” (verse 5, NIV). This was motivated by fear of what the enemy would do to them. Ahithophel, one of the counselors of king Absalom, hanged himself after realizing that the king had rejected his advice (2 Sam. 17:23 ). Zimri became king after a coup d’état, but realizing that the people did not support him he went into “the citadel of the royal palace and set the palace on fire around him,” killing himself (1 Kings 16:18 , NIV). Judas was so emotionally disturbed after betraying Jesus that he hanged himself (Matt. 27:5). Samson took his own life in battle against the enemy (Judges 16:29 , 30). After the earthquake the Philippian jailer concluded that the prisoners had escaped, and out of fear attempted to kill himself, but Paul persuaded him to the contrary (Acts 16:26-28).
  • Cases of Suicide in the Bible: Abimelech, mortally wounded by a millstone thrown at him by a woman, asked his armor-bearer to kill him to escape shame (Judges 9:54 ). Saul, after being seriously wounded in battle, killed himself (1 Sam. 31:4). Seeing what the king did, the armor-bearer “fell on his own sword and died with him” (verse 5, NIV). This was motivated by fear of what the enemy would do to them. Ahithophel, one of the counselors of king Absalom, hanged himself after realizing that the king had rejected his advice (2 Sam. 17:23 ). Zimri became king after a coup d’état, but realizing that the people did not support him he went into “the citadel of the royal palace and set the palace on fire around him,” killing himself (1 Kings 16:18 , NIV). Judas was so emotionally disturbed after betraying Jesus that he hanged himself (Matt. 27:5). Samson took his own life in battle against the enemy (Judges 16:29 , 30). After the earthquake the Philippian jailer concluded that the prisoners had escaped, and out of fear attempted to kill himself, but Paul persuaded him to the contrary (Acts 16:26-28).

2. Comments on the Biblical Materials: From the incidents listed above we notice several things.

  • First, most of the suicides took place in the context of war, in which self-killing is the result of fear or shame.
  • Second, other cases are more personal and reflect, besides fear, a low self-image. All of them take place in the context of a highly emotional state of mind.
  • Third, suicide is mentioned without passing any judgment on the morality of the action. That does not mean that it is morally right; it indicates that the biblical writer is simply describing what took place.
  • The moral impact of suicide is addressed through a biblical understanding of human life: God created it, and we are not the owners, to use it and dispose of it as we please; the sixth commandment has something to say about the topic. Therefore, a Christian should not consider suicide a morally valid solution to the predicament of living in a world of physical and emotional pain.
  • First, most of the suicides took place in the context of war, in which self-killing is the result of fear or shame.
  • Second, other cases are more personal and reflect, besides fear, a low self-image. All of them take place in the context of a highly emotional state of mind.
  • Third, suicide is mentioned without passing any judgment on the morality of the action. That does not mean that it is morally right; it indicates that the biblical writer is simply describing what took place.
  • The moral impact of suicide is addressed through a biblical understanding of human life: God created it, and we are not the owners, to use it and dispose of it as we please; the sixth commandment has something to say about the topic. Therefore, a Christian should not consider suicide a morally valid solution to the predicament of living in a world of physical and emotional pain.

3. Comments and Suggestions: How then should we relate to the suicide of a loved one?

  • First, psychology and psychiatry have revealed that very often suicide is the result of profound emotional upheaval or biochemical imbalances associated with a deep state of depression and fear. We should not pass judgment on the person who, under those circumstances, opted for suicide.
  • Second, God’s justice takes into consideration the intensity of our troubled minds; He understands us better than anyone else. We must place the future of our loved ones into His loving hands.
    Third, with God’s assistance we can face guilt in a constructive way. Keep in mind that often those who commit suicide needed professional help that most of us were unable to provide.
  • First, psychology and psychiatry have revealed that very often suicide is the result of profound emotional upheaval or biochemical imbalances associated with a deep state of depression and fear. We should not pass judgment on the person who, under those circumstances, opted for suicide.
  • Second, God’s justice takes into consideration the intensity of our troubled minds; He understands us better than anyone else. We must place the future of our loved ones into His loving hands.
    Third, with God’s assistance we can face guilt in a constructive way. Keep in mind that often those who commit suicide needed professional help that most of us were unable to provide.

Finally, if you are ever tempted to commit suicide, there are medications that can help overcome depression, there are friends who love you and would do all they can to help you, and there is a God who is willing to work with you and through others to sustain you as you walk through the valley of death. Never give up hope!

Ángel Manuel Rodríguez

One of my best friends committed suicide. Since then I have wondered what the Bible says about the topic.

Suicide is usually defined as the taking of one’s own life. The emotional scars left to family and friends are deep and produce not only feelings of loneliness but particularly a sense of guilt and disorientation. In attempting to provide some guidance in answering your question, I must limit my comments to the following brief observations.

Let’s first distinguish between suicide and martyrdom, which is the willingness to surrender our lives for fundamental convictions and values that we hold nonnegotiable—and heroic acts of self-sacrifice that result in the preservation of other lives (a soldier throws himself or herself on a grenade to save others). While suicide is fundamentally a denial of the value of our present life, the final solution to a life perceived as unbearable, those other cases are expressions of respect and love for life.

I will list the cases of suicide or attempted suicide recorded in the Bible, draw some conclusions, and make some general comments.

2. Comments on the Biblical Materials: From the incidents listed above we notice several things.

3. Comments and Suggestions: How then should we relate to the suicide of a loved one?

Finally, if you are ever tempted to commit suicide, there are medications that can help overcome depression, there are friends who love you and would do all they can to help you, and there is a God who is willing to work with you and through others to sustain you as you walk through the valley of death. Never give up hope!

https://adventistbiblicalresearch.org/materials/bible-interpretation-hermeneutics/bible-and-suicide

Copyright:

Copyright © Biblical Research Institute General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists®

Date:

3/11/04

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