When the soul bleeds

When someone takes their own life, it is often said that they probably saw no way out or had no other choice. But this is not the whole truth: there are ways to prevent suicide. Here’s a call for more compassion and counselling.

Yesterday, 10 September, the world observed World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), an awareness day endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is to raise awareness that every year there are hundreds of thousands of suicides, or attempted suicides, and that often there was not the least help available to overcome such a crisis. Sure, suicidal tendencies are often repressed; people don’t talk about it. Almost everyone, however, is aware of this problem, whether in one’s neighbourhood or one’s own family. Every 40 seconds a person dies by suicide. It is a leading cause of death. Young, old, sick, healthy, rich, poor, famous, anonymous…

What can we do if we know that someone’s soul is bleeding? We can go and help the person and bandage his wounds. And why not? We would probably help someone with an open wound in the leg or head and provide first aid. The high suicide figures in every country prove that souls can bleed too. Sometimes people are simply overwhelmed and cannot help themselves; they need help from others. It is then up to us to go and help them!

Here are some impulses from the pastoral care side of things; and this is not only for ministers.

No one likes to kill himself!

This may seem a trivial observation, but it is highly relevant. It comes across as being provocative and it takes some time to be understood. As a simple observation, the phrase heads in two directions: sometimes a suicide can be prevented, other times not. Sometimes there is a possibility to have a conversation that can actually help. Sometimes a suicide happens spontaneously, irrationally: a dark night envelops the person without any hope of light. It is true that in texts containing relevant counsel, one can read statements such as the following: “Suicide is the act of taking one’s own life, executed with conscious intent.” However, what exactly does “conscious” mean? How can a person consciously control stress and pressure that threaten to get out of hand?

Suicide may look like a free choice, but it does not end in freedom. And in the last moments of life, the suicidal person is completely alone.

It is important to listen!

One of the great dilemmas in our time is the lost ability to listen. People often just talk without thinking, they interrupt each other, they rattle on selfishly without being asked, are quite often senseless or at least inaccurate. Yet active listening would be a real gain for human relationships. How can you know how the other person is doing if you don’t wait for their response?

People often use empty and hurtful phrases: “It’s going to be okay! Hang in there.” Even a well-meant “I know how you feel” is completely misplaced, unless the sentiments expressed are really true. Such statements must be real and credible. Am I really able to understand him? Am I really able to put myself in her shoes? Do I really know how she feels at the moment? Help needs to be sincere, not phoney. The mere desire to comfort should not be a reason to make false statements. Sometimes we cannot understand suicidal people because they are in situations that we have never been through before. If this is the case, we must approach the situation openly and ask the person we are talking to, to help us understand them better.

Talking can save lives

Suicide is not usually the result of a free choice. Relationships are the most important way of showing a person that life is worthwhile in the world in which he or she lives. Relationships have an effect! And good relationships do good things. They can actually prevent suicides. Prevention requires an open ear, a trusting heart, and an outstretched hand. It is a matter of life and death.

  • Together instead of alone
  • Share loneliness
  • All for one, instead of one against all

These are some of the principles of suicide prevention. “Crisis” means a state of emergency, trauma, threat, threat to life, and this is where united forces of help are needed, not lectures.

It is clear, even for the WHO, that people still know far too little about suicide and how to prevent it. For example, many people still believe that the dark season of winter is the worst season for those who are suicidal. The statistics speak a different language: suicide peaks in the months when nature comes to life and when mentally ill people experience that their mood does not improve at all despite the sunshine and the warming temperatures, and they feel their emotional impairments. Winter, the darker season of the year, suits the depressive mood, spring does not. It is therefore always important to watch out for particular signs and not sit back when your neighbour is not feeling well. Help is always in season.

Think positive

Finally, here is one more piece of advice for the ministers: existential crises are sometimes put down to a lack of faith. The idea behind this is that the cause of the existential crisis lies in a lack of trust in God, in an insufficient prayer life, in an unwillingness to sacrifice, or a superficial approach to God’s blessing, for example. In other words, the crisis is self-made and therefore a punishment from God.

Such ideas are absurd! They only hurt and humiliate, and they exert pressure and aggravate the crisis. They also do not correspond to the New Apostolic understanding of a good and just God, who wants the best for human beings: our salvation.

Stay alive

We humans constantly have to relearn that life is a precious gift. There are times when we must force ourselves to tell ourselves: “The world is poorer without me.” And yes, life is of course more than laughter and victory; it is imperfect, full of weakness, failures, and breakdowns. This mix—if I may say so—is common to us all.

Gourami Watcher, CC BY-SA 4.0, wkipedia.org

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Peter Johanning
Social commitment, International