I grew up in a suburb of Pasadena, California. Not far from my home is a bridge that spans across the Arroyo Seco riverbed. It is known as Suicide Bridge. In 1919 a man jumped from the bridge, the first suicide of many. Over 150 people have killed themselves jumping off of this bridge over the last 100 years. During my childhood that was all I really knew of suicide, except for the passing of my distant uncle, who hung himself after the death of his wife. I was in third grade.
Currently in the small North Central Washington town where I live, I hear the mention of suicide regularly and, sadly, in my own home. As I reflect on those who have succeeded in taking their lives, I remember the father who was in chronic pain after suffering severe back pain for years. He shot himself. I heard about a local woman who was despondent and hung herself from a tree. Just over a year ago our friends buried their son. He left behind a wife and toddler. At Christmas, my son’s girlfriend consoled her sister whose husband committed suicide after struggling with depression.
I am scared at the number of times “killing yourself” has been brought up at middle school to my twelve-year-old daughter. She cried one night as she tried to console a friend who was being told to “cut herself.” We talked about ways to help and reach out. Later in the school year, rumors swirled about a boy who liked my daughter. She was told he was “unstable,” and had tried to commit suicide after his last girlfriend broke up with him. That was all a fabrication. Valentine’s Day approached, and this boy asked my daughter to be his Valentine. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so she said they could be Valentines. There was an expectation that they were a couple after that. When my daughter finally got the courage to speak up and say she didn’t want to have a serious boyfriend, she was constantly questioned, “You broke up with (name withheld)? Are you going to commit suicide?”
What is this world coming to when the idea of suicide is actively being presented as an option to the youngest of our children? How do we battle the suicide movement?
There are many reasons people decide that life is too hard and they want it over. Anxiety, depression, failure, abuse, and all manner of darkness pound at fragile souls relentlessly. I do believe that despair is Satan’s greatest tool to make a person feel like there is no other option than taking their own life. My faith fills me with the hope that Jesus Christ is the Light that can lift all darkness and heal all wounds, but when a loved one is in a dark place and cannot find a way out, it is critical we do more than pray and rely on our faith. We need to take action in addition to our faith.
How can we help? Dale Renlund says, “Reach out in love and caring for those who have suicidal thoughts, who have attempted suicide, who feel marginalized in any way. We need to reach out with love and understanding. And you do that in concert with health care professionals, with ecclesiastical leaders, with friends and family support.” Paying attention to friends and family members who are struggling is key. It is important to reach out and show love and concern. Don’t be afraid to ask brave questions. Ask: Are you thinking about harming yourself? Do you think about suicide? Are you planning to end your life?
Pay attention to indicators of depression. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline gives these signs to watch for:
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Extreme mood swings
The Washington State Department of Youth and Families offers these ideas to help someone struggling with suicidal thoughts:
- Offer help and listen. Encourage depressed youth to talk about their feelings. Listen, don’t lecture.
- Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
- Trust your instincts. If it seems that the situation may be serious, seek prompt help. Break a confidence, if necessary, in order to save a life.
- Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
- Take action. Remove means, such as guns or stockpiled pills.
- Get help from persons or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
Jeffrey Holland said it best, “Whatever your struggle—mental or emotional or physical or otherwise—do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it! Trust in God. Hold on in His love. Know that one day the dawn will break brightly and all shadows of mortality will flee… Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind.”¹
To those who are in despair, please hold onto hope. Let someone help you. Tell someone how you feel. Help is available. You are not alone.
To those who love others in crisis, keep loving. Keep praying. Keep calling crisis lines, prevention centers, and mental health care professionals. Search for the right thing to support your friend or loved one. Listen. Fight for their lives when they are too tired to do so on their own.
Choose life. Your story isn’t over yet.
Suicide Prevention Resources:
Suicide Bridge image – Karol Franks/flickr
Lost and Found – Greg Olsen