Last fall, I lost a dear friend to suicide. This past week, I lost two friends to murder-suicide. In talking with others, I have heard their own heart-breaking stories of losing loved ones to suicide, or stories of how they attempted to take their own life at some point in their past.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in 2010 (the latest data), there were 38,364 reported suicides; this makes suicide the tenth leading cause of death in America, which is approximately one person every 13.7 minutes. This does not include statistics for attempted suicides. Statistics also state that 464,995 people visited the hospital for self-harm injuries suggesting that about twelve people harm themselves for every reported actual suicide. Because attempted suicides sometimes go unreported, surveys suggest that at least one million people per year in America attempt to intentionally harm themselves. What a lot of people are not aware of is that more veterans are taking their lives. CNN reported that approximately twenty-two veterans take their lives each day.
At least 90% of those who died by suicide were suffering from a mental illness, most often depression. Sources say that 80% of those who seek treatment are treated successfully. One problem is that many people do not have the insurance or the financial means to get professional help.
What people don’t realize is that most people who think about suicide don’t want to end their lives; they just want the pain to end. The pain could be emotional, physical, mental, and/or spiritual. There are countless reasons as to why someone goes into what I call this deep dark abyss, and when one does take their life, we may never know why.
What can we do to help others who may be experiencing this dark night of the soul? First we need to become aware of what people are going through, changes in their behavior, things they say even in jest, and being sensitive to our own intuition towards our fellow beings. When people are in this darkness, they feel alone and unloved, that no one cares, and they come to the conclusion that their loved ones and the world would be better off without them. It may not be the truth, but depression can change one’s reality in an instant. If they only knew and felt how many people actually do love them while they’re alive, they would think twice about ending their own life.
What I have learned through my friends’ suicides is that I need to step it up in my own outreach to those who may be hurting. I wrote about this in my previous article, but would like to reiterate it here. Unconditional love and acceptance are so very important, as well as kindness and compassion. No judgment or condemnation. Do not tell them they need to just snap out of it. We need to help them to keep their hope alive and to find reasons for living!
As religious and/or spiritual leaders, we can reach out to those in pain and be there for them, but we have to do so with only unconditional love. I see too much hate, bigotry, and condemnation coming from too many pulpits, so is it any wonder so many feel they can’t even turn to their churches for help? They feel bad enough; they don’t need someone to make them feel worse.
We need to reach out to our children especially. We can no longer take for granted that they’re only experiencing growing pains or a phase. As parents, guardians, and teachers, we cannot just assume that they’re going to be okay. If you’re not sure, it’s better to investigate than to be sorry.
Most of all, we need to let people know that they are not alone. One of the greatest gifts we can give others is the gift of unconditional love and acceptance, and by doing so, we may change the course of one’s life. There are countless stories where a person decided to live because of someone’s simple kindness.
And if you’re one who is considering taking your life, please hang on. Know that there is always someone you can turn to, so keep trying until you find the help you need. It is not a weakness to seek help. Keep your hope alive. Don’t let this destroy you, but let it make you a stronger and better person! Elbert Hubbard stated, “A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success.” There are many stories where someone decided to live and they became happy, healthy, and successful in life! Please be one of those stories! You are more powerful and courageous than you think! I love you and I believe in you!
Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper March 14, 2014.