1. ALARMING INCREASE IN SUICIDES
There is an alarming increase in the number of suicides committed all over the world. In the United States it is reported that over 30,000 suicides are committed every year. Literate or illiterate, poverty-stricken or rich, man or woman, or religious backgrounds do not seem to matter much. Personal reasons of failure, depression, and political reasons are some important factors that influence committing suicides. In recent years,suicide is developed into an art for political reasons, citing religious sanctions for such acts.
2. SUICIDES EVERYWHERE AND FOR EVERY REASON
In the Third World countries, for example, in India, people commit suicide because they could not repay their loans. Some commit suicide because they are not able to bear the pain from the diseases they suffer. Young unmarried women commit suicide because of pregnancy and the consequent social shame upon them and their families. Some quarrel with their parents or spouses and commit suicide. Daughters-in-law commit suicide because they could no longer bear the torture in the hands of their in-laws, and the other relatives of their husbands. Dowry "suicides" are also quite common. Aged parents commit suicide because their children do not take care of them and they make it clear that the older parents are not wanted any more. Some kill their spouses for suspected infidelity along with their innocent children, and then commit suicide. Some fail in their exams, and make this a sufficient reason to commit suicide. Emotion-charged members of some political parties commit suicide because in their view, the suffering meted out to their dear leader or leaders is unjust and they believe this injustice and humiliation should be highlighted through their supreme sacrifice. To demand a rightful place for their language, caste, or religion, some people may commit suicide. Newspapers report on failed suicidal attempts as well as the suicides that unfortunately succeeded in taking the individuals' lives. Human life has become cheap in the thoughts and acts of those who dare to commit suicide. One of the weapons of threat easily exhibited by many is the threat of suicide.
3. RELIGIOUS SANCTION AND SUICIDE
Killing oneself is generally viewed as something wrong, but atma hatti (killing the self) sometimes has some sort of religious sanction among the Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. Classical literature in some Indian languages contains poems that state how the poets, sages, and leaders would sit in quiet and peer in the direction of the north and give away their lives. Jaina and Buddhist traditions also report stories about how, as part of attaining nirvana, one would let life come to an end. A distinction between letting one's life come to an end as part of spiritual disciplines, and committing suicide (including taking the life of another being) in the secular plane is made. In Sati, where the widow of the deceased husband would be thrown into the funeral pyre of the husband, both the worlds met. It was but a small step from the religious plane to the secular plane.
Islamic fundamentalism has taken committing suicides as a weapon, as something heroic for the benefit of establishing Islamic rule around the world.
The person who commits suicide causes physical, mental, and spiritual suffering to others. He not only does not love himself, but, through his suicide, hurts others. It is difficult to understand how people practising these faiths would consider such acts as good and noble.
4. SUICIDES, SUICIDAL ATTEMPTS, AND SOCIAL STIGMA
In reality, the actual number of suicides is much less than the number of suicidal attempts. It is also a fact that social shame and fear of the police often force families to cover up the suicides as accidents. The episodes of stoves that exploded, of drowning, of falling off speeding buses or trains, etc. are often the preferred explanations about the death of the individual who in reality committed suicide in India and other Third World nations. Among the Hindus and Buddhists, in the past, spiritual stigma was attached to the memory of the person who committed suicide. His or her soul would not rest in peace, would demand continuous appeasement through sacrifices, and would be a subject of abject fear for the living. In some cases, folk religious traditions would elevate the dead person to some divinity status.
Higher frequency of suicides reported these days has come to blunt the sensitivity of the individuals and the community. Over the years, suicide appears to be gaining recognition as a possibility of exit from the present difficulties faced by the individual or family.
The Word of God makes it a sin to commit suicide, killing oneself. Suicide is against the Sixth Commandment. If our faith is strong, and we put our trust in the Lord unreservedly, then suicide can be avoided.
5. SOME FACTS ABOUT SUICIDES
Let us review briefly some facts about suicides:
- Most people who tried to commit suicide but failed in their suicidal attempt promise not to attempt to commit suicide again. Two-thirds of these people do not try to commit suicide again.
- Depressed people in their peak condition of depression do not commit suicide. However, when they regain strength while still under depression, they may attempt committing suicide.
- There is always some advance warning about the impending suicide attempt. But most of us fail to recognize such signs.
- Suicide is more common among the schizophrenic population than among others.
- Most people who commit suicide have some spiritual and consquent psychological problems.
- More women attempt to commit suicide, but more men die from their suicide attempts. Men use methods, weapons, and other means that ensure their death.
- Suicide occurs in every walk of life and every social level, but presently it is more common among those who are relatively more educated. It also appears that relatively higher social groups and castes are more susceptible to this phenomenon.
- Suicidal instincts are not hereditary instincts, but could be socially acquired and religiously encouraged in families. It is possible that in a family there may be continuous suicides across generations. So, the generation curse should be cut off before actual counseling begins.
- A suicide attempt may be made merely to communicate the individual's suffering or desire for privileges and recognition.
- A small group of people really wants to die and they may become successful in their attempt.
- Escape from the present agony, expression of anger and revenge, desire for adventure and daredevil acts, and even self-sacrifice as a form of dedication to certain ideas and leaders are noticed in the individuals who commit suicide.
6. SOME THEORIES
Durkheim (1951, originally published in 1897), an early investigator of suicide, distinguished between egoistic suicide (caused by disconnection between the individual and the society for various social and personal reasons), altruistic or sacrificial suicide, and anomic suicide (caused by sudden changes in the environment such as loss of a relative, job, status, etc.)
Escape from agony or pain, or seeing suicide as the only solution to a problem, or a failure to frame a plan of action to extricate oneself from the present situation are commonly adduced as reasons or explanations for suicide when suicide is viewed more as a psychological problem.
There are also biological theories to describe and explain suicide. Some studies indicate a relationship between low levels of serotonin in blood serum and suicide.
While these studies contribute to our understanding as to why people tend to commit suicide, the findings of these studies and approaches are not sufficient to explain the suicidal tendency. Suicide in its very nature is anti-God, and so it should be treated as a ploy of the Devil. The Lord Jesus Christ asked us to come to Him for deliverance.
7. AVENUES FOR COUNSELING
What can we do to stop people from committing suicide? How do we sensitize ourselves adequately to read the advance signs of suicide demonstrated by individuals in their acts and words?
- Take the talk of suicide by an individual very seriously. This is a good beginning.
- If the talk of suicide is vague, confront the person and ask him or her whether he or she is really contemplating suicide and for what reasons.
- Treat the persons gently and engage him or her in dialogue and activities that will lessen their stress, depression, and anger.
- If the person who is contemplating suicide is spiritually inclined, show how suicide within his religion is not approved. Certainly read him the verses from the Word of God, where the Lord Jesus Christ assures us that He would give us peace.
- If this individual's religion is ambiguous about such things, show him how people who suffer more than they do presently still hold on to life.
- Prepare and discuss alternatives to their current perception of their difficult situations.
- Show him or her extra love in acts of kindness and patient listening to their woes.
- Refer them to a Christian counselor or Christian psychotherapist.
- The counselor, through deft handling of these individuals, will identify the crucial problem that plagues the thinking and acts of the individuals with suicidal leanings. He or she will narrow the list and focus on the most crucial item.
- Create some doubt in the minds of the individuals about the need for this extreme step. Once this is established, it may become easy to proceed with other reasoning and acts.
- The counselor will assess the risk factors for each individual and evaluate the seriousness of the statements of intent to commit suicide, and suggest suitable remedial action to the individual, his or her parents, etc. The counselor will refer the individual to other professionals as well.
- The friends and relatives of the individual who committed suicide or who attempted suicide also need to be counseled suitably. Often Christians and people of other faiths in India and other Third World countries do not take the impact of these events seriously and do not do anything spiritually specifically to overcome the stress and depression caused by the suicidal act of our friend or relative. Since we do notice a recurrence of suicide across generations in certain families, it is important that the individuals and families close to the person who committed suicide or attempted suicide seek counseling, and follow necessary steps for healing and deliverance.
Things seem to be falling apart around the world. Stressful and competitive living brings about drastic consequences to our life. Parental and societal or communal counseling have begun to lose their relevance for the individuals who receive formal education along with a spirit of competition. When people move out of their native places and environments, seeking jobs far beyond their ethnic moorings, they are unable to get the support they need to maintain a balance. Suicidal tendencies will continue to rise in such contexts, especially when expectations are not achieved. For this reason, it may be important for individuals to develop coping strategies with the help of their pastors and Christian professional counselors.
Christians around the world have the responsibility to bring a message of hope to people who suffer. Life is precious. God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves. This only means that God expects us to love ourselves. Suicide is lack of love for oneself. It is an attempt to escape from reality. Hope can be built only when we read the Word of God, and pray to One True God. Other faiths appear to condone suicide for one reason or another.
Durkheim, E. 1951. Suicide. Translated by J.A. Spaulding and G. Simpson. New York: Free Press. (Original publication 1897)