The Far-Reaching Effects of Suicide

A member of my church committed suicide last month. I didn’t know him – his wife and I had some mutual facebook friends and I have probably met her but I wouldn’t have known him if I had bumped into him on the street. I wouldn’t have expected someone who was a total stranger to affect me like this but it has for a number of reasons. {If reading about suicide is not a good thing for you at this moment, by all means, don’t do it. Just thought I’d say that)

I have lost two people who were important to me to suicide. One was an uncle who was one of the most creative, loving, inspiration people I have ever met – when he wasn’t drowning in mental illness, drug addiction, and alcoholism. He tried for decades to get sober and hung himself when he was being sentenced for abusing his girlfriend. Obviously, this devastated our family, although it wasn’t really a surprise. He had a 14-year old daughter at the time. I was incredibly sad but not super angry, maybe because I wasn’t surprised. Mostly sad.

Another was a friend from college. We weren’t particularly close in the normal way but we were youth group leaders together and that creates a really special bond. He knew that I struggled with depression and he even knew when I was briefly hospitalized because of it. I think that’s why my main reaction was anger when I found out he had been diagnosed with depression for years and ended up taking his life. He wasn’t messing around either – he had it set up so that if the gunshot didn’t kill him, the fall would have.

I was heartbroken at this too, but also furious. He knew what I was dealing with, how dare he not let me know that he was going through the same thing! Not just for himself, but I would have felt a lot less alone. He was one of those people who gave and gave and didn’t let us know what he needed. I feel cheated by that – I didn’t get to know my friend like I could have and I didn’t get to help someone who helped me.

As someone who has been depressed enough that I wanted to die and fantasized about dying, other people’s suicides affect me by making me feel like it’s a possibility for me. there’s always been kind of a wall up – I know I won’t do it no matter how much I want to. I’m not always sure why, but I know I won’t. I’ve been through periods of self-harm but I knew it would never go that far. But suicides of people in my life make me think, “Oh, maybe it is OK. Maybe I could do it. Maybe that is one way out of the pain.”

Thankfully, I haven’t been in that much pain in a few years so I’ve been thinking much less about suicide. But I still tend to react when people talk about how selfish it is. Of course it’s selfish. You’re not thinking about anyone but yourself (except when your thinking is so twisted that you start assuming everyone else is better off without you), but there’s a reason for that. When people are in enough pain, I don’t think they can think of anyone else. I know I couldn’t. It hurts so badly – physically, emotionally, spiritually, in every way – so much pain that you’ve lost your survival instinct and are ready to end it all… I think depression IS inherently selfish because there’s just nothing left at all for anyone else.

I’m rambling because this is a hard subject for me, but there’s something that this bereaved family did that I think was incredibly brave. They told people what happened. In the announcement at church and in the obituary online, they didn’t say “suddenly passed away” or any other euphemism. They said that he struggled and he took his own life. I’ve been trying to find the words to explain why I think that is so important but I haven’t been able to. It’s the truth and that somehow feels honoring of him. It’s an admission that he was ill. And maybe it will make someone else feel less alone or get help? I’m not sure, but I think it was so brave to say.

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7 Responses to The Far-Reaching Effects of Suicide

  1. 71º & Sunny says:

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your fellow church member. I know you didn’t really know him, but still, these types of things are so very upsetting to everyone around. It is devastating. A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine passed away, and though no one said it, I suspected he took his own life. It really, really shook me up. I didn’t even know this person that well, but still . . . I was literally shaking when I put two and two together.

    I know it’s a cliche – but hey – it’s a cliche for a reason – Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Now, I know that struggling with depression for years does not feel temporary, I get that. I’ve struggled with depression too for many years. But frankly, I just couldn’t do that to my family and friends. I know how it has affected me with someone I didn’t even know well. I can’t imagine the pain it causes to others. Plus, as a Christ follower, well I know it would hurt my Lord too.

    Ironically, I went to a NAMI lunch today, and I heard from two people who lost loved ones to suicide. Their pain was palpable. The thing is, there IS help if someone is feeling suicidal.

    I’m so glad to hear that you know you would never go through with something like this. You are so precious to God, and I’m sure you are very special to your loved ones. There is only one you in the world. That’s a great thing.

  2. niki says:

    i’ve thought about it many many times, just this year. i know i will never do it, mainly for my kids sake. what would they do w/o a mother? i am married too and my husband would feel so lost having to raise the kids by himself. i understand it though. i can see how it would seem the easy way out. when i’m in my deep depressions it always feels OK for me to do, then i snap out of it.

  3. amandycat says:

    It is important because depression is an ILLNESS and it is all too easy to forget that. If that young man had died of cancer, or diabetes, or some tragic, terminal illness with a clear pathology, none of his friends and relatives would have any shame in saying ‘My son died of cancer’. When my best friend killed himself, I said to myself, ‘my friend died of depression’. Because it is an illness, and sometimes people die of illness. This is not to say that a sufferer shouldn’t fight it – life is ALWAYS worth fighting for – but for some, that struggle is too great, and the sickness overcomes them.

    To be ashamed of these people’s exit from this life undermines the value of the time they spent with us, and is entirely undeserved. My friend’s life is worth no less to me for the fact that he ended it. That, to me, is why it is good and right that this man’s family stood up proudly and told it as it was. Sad, but never ashamed.

  4. Birdseye View says:

    Hi Broken Saint and all others posting. I just found your site from a link in a CNN story. Amazing, isn’t it, how God works? Who’d ever think I could find you this way? Broken Saint – your words minister hope in the midst of my pain. I carry much shame about being a Christian with depression. But I’m tired of hiding. I just wrote a piece on Christians and Depression and submitted it for our church newsletter in an attempt to “come out” about my depression. I don’t know if they’ll print it in the newsletter or not, but I needed to say something out loud about it. It’s about a page and a half long. Is there a way I can share it with you? Some place I can e-mail it to? Thanks for your ministry.

    • broken saint says:

      I think even if it’s long you should be able to share it in the comments, then we could all see it? Would that work? Thanks for sharing and not hiding!

      • Birdseye View says:

        Thanks. Here it is.
        A depressed Christian. It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? How is it possible that a Christian could suffer from depression? We should exude joy! Galatians 5:22 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. But what if, no matter how much you desired this fruit in your life to enrich others and bear witness to the Love of Christ, it was beyond your reach? As scary as it is, I’d like to share my personal struggle in hopes that similarly-affected believers can relate and find some comfort.

        “What are you depressed about.” I’ve heard that many times. If depression were about something, then changing one’s life circumstances would be the cure (shopping therapy, puppy therapy, paint the walls a cheery color therapy). Instead, depression is an illness. It’s an invisible wound with potentially lethal consequences. It’s cancer of the spirit.

        This is what depression does to me: It saps my energy. It keeps me isolated from people, including family, and inhibits fellowship. It swirls into brain fog that obscures my short-term memory, clouds my focus, and dampens my purposefulness. It promotes what I call “thought weeds” (sadness, despair, worthlessness, hopelessness) and paranoia (do people think I’m rude, thoughtless, and flaky?). Worst of all, for me, it produces guilt. Lots of guilt. Mountains of guilt. Guilt in such abundance that I’d be a gold-medalist in the Guilt Games:

        The Unbalanced Beam
        • Falling off of priorities
        • Failing to stay on top of things
        • Feeling like I’m always letting somebody down
        The Regret (Should) Dive
        • I should take care of myself/family better
        • I should be more social, not withdrawn
        • I should be more productive
        • I should be a better mother, wife, daughter, neighbor, employee
        The Shame Decathlon
        • There must be something wrong with my spiritual life
        • Real Christians don’t get depressed
        • I don’t have enough faith
        • If I were right with God, He would heal me
        • Scripture says everything that happens is for good, so why aren’t I joyful?
        • I must be resisting God’s plan for my life
        • Depression is a self discipline problem
        • I just need to rebuke that spirit of depression and tell it to leave
        • I’m a terrible witness for Christ with this condition

        Medication is a lifesaver for many sufferers of depression, but for me, the drugs are ineffective and I’m sensitive to the side effects. Working with mental health professionals is helpful sometimes. A healthy diet and exercise does help, but when I’m cycling through the worst of it, I blow the diet and shun the exercise. I’ve spent most of my life trying to get through with sheer willpower. But my will has no power and gritting my teeth everyday just to do the basics leaves me exhausted with an aching jaw.

        After 40 years as a Christian, and 30 years on the depression roller-coaster, I decided recently to let the Lord into my depression. That sounds weird, doesn’t it? But in His most loving and gentle way, He has shown me that He wants all of me, even in my sickness. His Grace has always been the foundation of my faith, but I never realized until recently that Grace applies to this mental illness as well. I believed that my depression was a sin, a shameful flaw, and evidence of my lack of faith. But God does not reject me even as I reject myself.

        In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” I have always been confused by this scripture. Here’s an exhausted, weary, and discouraged person who just wants to lay his burden down and Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you…” What??? Are you serious??? I’m already overloaded and you want me to take your yoke? How is that rest? I had visions of being harnessed in a huge wooden yoke for oxen that bore down on my shoulders causing me to stagger under the weight.

        But taking His yoke means walking side by side with Him, as a yoke is meant for two who are walking in tandem. What would it mean to walk next to Jesus, step for step? To learn the cadence of His rhythm? To go where He goes, when He goes, at His pace? To learn from His gentle and humble heart, and completely trust Him? To have rest means to walk in partnership with Him.

        So, I’m inviting Him in. (Actually, he invited me first! “Come unto me!”) I’m going to commune with him in this, not in spite of this. I believe He has given me this illness for a reason and I’ll be learning from Him as we walk together in this.

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