Suicide is a terrible thing, because it is the taking of a life and also because it leaves a lasting, troubling impact on others. Our faith tells us that the taking of one’s own life is objectively a mortal sin. However, we know that depression clouds one’s judgement and ability to reason and therefore, we understand that God is merciful to these souls. We cannot imagine the moment of death and what is in the person’s heart, so it is with hope that we entrust them to our merciful Lord. Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
CCC 2282 …Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.
CCC 2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.
As we consider the impact of suicide on those who hear about those who have died, we must consider how we can act in a preventative manner by building communities of HOPE. And thus I share this reflection.
“Community” is suicide prevention.
“Prayer” is suicide prevention.
“Time” is suicide prevention.
“Meaning” is suicide prevention.
“Faith” is suicide prevention.
No numbers, statistics or a proliferation of “warning signs” are enough to put a stop to the increasing epidemic of suicide among young people. But here’s one statistic: suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens (11% according to CDC) nationwide. We don’t really need the statistics to know something is wrong. Many of us know people, both young and old, who have committed suicide.
But I do not want to write about the deaths. I want to write about LIFE. What gives hope to our young people? What will help them resist the urge to drown themselves in drugs and alcohol which shuts down the ability to reason?
Faith is what gives me hope and I know that is true for every person who takes faith seriously. But we can’t impose faith. We can’t give a shot to put it in the blood stream. What we can do as parents and community members is to model faith.
And we need to give our kids the gift of silence. Because God can only enter in the silence!
Our kids are bombarded by noise and they believe they can’t detach from it. But ten minutes of quiet before Mass—no ear buds, no conversation, no cellphones—is a start. It gives them an opportunity to slow down. Let them know they can talk to God. Anytime. Any place. He is always there. And Jesus is totally accessible. Because he walked on earth and suffered more than we can imagine—and yet conquered darkness and death—he gives us constant encouragement—if we will simply pay attention.
Kids wonder if there is any real meaning or purpose to life. They look here and there, according to what their friends suggest. And the current worldly recommendations are anonymous sex and partying with sex, drugs and drinks. That recommendation is mind numbing and eventually, it’s a killer. But there is a true purpose and meaning to life: God made us to know him, love him and serve him and then to be happy with him forever in eternity.
That’s what the Catholic Church has been saying for centuries! We are restless but we can find rest. We are hopeless but we can find hope. All we need to do is immerse ourselves in learning about God; try our best to acknowledge him; and give of ourselves to others. There is comfort in that assurance.
I met a ten-year-old girl recently who is assembling bags to hand out to homeless people. She is inoculated against suicide because she is already looking beyond herself to offer hope to those in need.
A senior citizen I interviewed recently said she remembers when our towns were real “communities.” “People looked out for each other. If a neighbor was in trouble everyone helped.” What she pointed out is that we have to notice what’s going on in other people’s lives. This is not being nosey. It is being neighborly.
When we as adults show concern for others, we inoculate kids against suicide because they recognize the joy in helping others. I remember one time when I was a teenager—we looked across the gully behind our house and saw that the people over there had left their car lights on. My mom looked through the phone book to find the number for those people. We knew the name but didn’t know them really. Mom called them. To my self-absorbed teen brain, that was too much. “Mom, leave them alone. It’s their problem,” I said, thinking somehow that being kind was the same as being intrusive. I was sure they were probably leaving again soon and just left them on for a minute. But the people who answered the phone were deeply grateful and that was a teen lesson!
How many times does it subtly register that we haven’t seen so-and-so who used to be at Church every week? We know it, but we forget it. What if, instead, we called? “Is everything OK? We haven’t seen you lately.” What a gift that is. Especially when the call comes from someone you only know superficially. Now the veneer is off and something true and good is revealed—someone cares.
When any of us are hurting, the things we need most are: the assurance that someone cares; the urge to pray (if it is already a habit then it will happen), and time to wait out the darkness. Our kids need to hear that “time heals.” If they know we care and they pray and then sleep and get through a few more days, the dark clouds will begin to lift and they will see light.
A Community Of Meaning-filled Faith, Offers up Requests and Time. In that there is COMFORT.
I know that depression is a dark hole that is hard to climb out of and in many cases requires professional help. Thus the warning signs for depression and suicide are good to be aware of. But as faith-based communities, there is also this COMFORT that we need to offer to our young ones and to each other. We need to pay attention. Pray hard. Give of our time. And instill a solid faith.