We don’t know how to talk about it.
We don’t want to talk about it. I’ve written a dissertation on it, and I still find myself struggling for words to understand, to help others understand.
The Christian world, and more importantly the world of Rick Warren and his family was rocked with the news that Rick and Kay’s son had taken his own life after a long battle with mental illness.
Like the basilisk being summoned to people’s lives once more from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, suicide is something we try to avoid thinking about, especially in churches. We only think about it when it rears its ugly, destructive head. The despair and pain felt by a suicidal individual cannot be eloquently described. I could speak of darkness, of a fear of the future, of a bone-heavy weariness with life, but each of these phrases fall short. Kay Redfield Jamison eloquently writes about suicide in her book Night Falls Fast:
“When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralysed, their options appear spare or non-existent, their mood is despairing, and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain. The future cannot be separated from the present, and the present is painful beyond solace: ‘This is my last experiment,’ wrote a young chemist in his suicide note. ‘If there is any eternal torment worse than mine I’ll have to be shown.'”
For some people, it is unthinkable. The thought may flit unwarranted through the mind, but it doesn’t stay. For others, it is a thought which has to be endured, fought on a daily basis. The psychopathology of suicidal ideation is complex and thankfully, many who struggle with the thoughts never act upon them. For those who do, and survive, we speak strangely of a ‘failed suicide attempt’ as if the completion of the act would somehow be a success. Suicide, whether completed or thankfully interrupted, needs to be talked about.
ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) teaches that asking about suicide doesn’t increase the risk – it decreases it. We must banish the myth that speaking of suicide may somehow ‘give someone the idea’. Asking the question may be the key which enables someone to say the words no-one else wants to hear.
I won’t pretend here that hearing someone’s wish to die is easy. It isn’t. Hearing someone say the words ‘I want to die’ is incredibly difficult, especially if we love that person. For the Christian, fears of committing the unforgivable sin and being condemned to hell exacerbate this (for the record, suicide is a forgiveable sin, any more than other sin – for further reading on the attitudes of suicide I direct you to Rob Waller’s article on the matter.
Suicide, in whatever circumstance, is tragic. It leaves in its wake a complicated grief, and countless unanswered, unanswerable questions. For the Warren family, I can only offer prayers and a reminder of the spirit which groans for us when we haven’t got the words to pray ourselves.
For the Church, we have a challenge. We have the chance to make a difference. To ask the most difficult questions and stand beside those whose legs are giving way beneath them.
This article first appeared on the Think Twice website on 9 April. Thick Twice aims: “To increase awareness and decrease stigma so that people are as able to be open about their mental health condition as they are about having the ‘flu.”
Image by Mattox via stock.xchng images.