“I’m stressed. I hate my life—absolutely hate it. There is no joy, no happiness, no hope, no peace—just misery. I want to know from God what His plans are for me. I’m asking because I’m tired of this. I am not one to give up, but life has found a way to beat me down to the core. If this is what life is about, I no longer want a part of it. Are we born to die unhappy?”
This is the gist of an email we at Beyond Today received. The person is desperately asking for help. Sadly, we’ve received many such pleas for help from people wishing to end their lives. Filled with depression, hopelessness and inner pain, they are reaching out for answers and hope.
And you can be sure that if you’re not personally suffering in this way, someone you know probably is—whether among your family or friends or others in your workplace or church congregation.
Let’s consider the scope of this problem and what can be done about it. Thankfully, the Word of God does provide guidance and help in facing anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide—much-needed help and encouragement for the brokenhearted.
Rising suicides as depression grows
According to the World Health Organization, close to 800,000 people die by suicide every year. For every suicide there are many more people who attempt suicide. It is the third-leading cause of death in 15- to 19-year-olds. Nearly 80 percent of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.
And now, with the global Covid-19 pandemic, rates of depression and suicide are worsening. An April 3, 2020, headline at the Scientific American website reported: “COVID-19 Is Likely to Lead to an Increase in Suicides. The psychosocial repercussions of this crisis could make the tragedy even worse.”
In 2018, more than 48,000 Americans died by suicide and more than 1.4 million adults attempted it, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The same report noted that suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States.
The U.S. National Suicide Prevention Hotline is currently accessible by the 10-digit number 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). Last year, counselors answered more than 2 million calls and more than 100,000 online chat requests. Local crisis lines received another 14 million calls.
For U.S. adults ages 18 to 65, suicide is the fourth-leading cause of death. For those 18 to 24, it ranks third, while for college students it’s the second-highest.
Shockingly, suicide among children is increasing at an alarming rate. The National Mental Health Association reports that among children ages 5 to 15, suicide is the sixth-leading cause of death. Your own kids and their friends may struggle with this!
The Federal Communications Commission is moving ahead with plans to implement a three-digit number—988—to reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, streamlining access to crisis services across the country.
So what’s behind this?
Suicide can be the end result of ﬁnancial reverse, romantic failure, childlessness or the discovery of terminal illness, but the majority of suicide deaths trace back to one major reason—deep, debilitating depression.
Depression is serious, long-lasting despondency and feelings of hopelessness—not just discouragement, sorrow or having the “blues.” Estimates are that one in 10 Americans suffers from chronic depression. The worst forms of clinical depression consume their victims, making them unable to face each new day.
And this was before the recent onslaught of coronavirus. Rodrigo Pérez Ortega wrote on the Science magazine website April 22, 2020 that “New surveys of doctors and nurses in China, Italy, and the United States suggest they are experiencing a plethora of mental health problems as COVID-19 continues its spread, including higher rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.”
Sadly, attitudes about depression keep many who suffer from ever seeking help. U.S. National Mental Health Association ﬁgures show that more than half of Americans think depression is a personal weakness, a sign of failure. Despite years of TV bombardment about depression remedies, four out of five suffering from depression do not seek treatment. The primary reason? They are too embarrassed to seek help.
For men, the concern is often that people will think they are not masculine enough, so they don’t seek help. Emotions are seen as a feminine characteristic, despite being common to all.
Depression claims victims from every social strata, every IQ and every religion. Fame and fortune are no antidotes for the urge to kill oneself. Suicides of the rich and famous make a very long list. Many Hollywood stars have died by their own hand.
Severe depression strikes everywhere, and it’s a big killer.
An age-old problem
While the pressures of modern life have accelerated their frequency, anxiety, depression and suicide also took their toll in ancient times. The overwhelming urge to take one’s own life has afflicted people of every nation, culture, religion and governmental system throughout history.
American clinical psychologist Kay Redﬁeld Jamison points out: “No one knows who was the ﬁrst to slash his throat with a piece of ﬂint, take a handful of poison berries, or intentionally drop his spear to the ground in battle. Nor do we know who ﬁrst jumped impulsively, or after thought, from a great cliff; walked without food into an ice storm; or stepped into the sea with no intention of coming back” (Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, 2000, p. 11).
The Bible relates examples of people suffering depression to the point of wanting their lives to end. It shows that severe depression and related emotional problems can afflict anyone —both those who don’t follow God and those who do.
Probably the most famous example in the Bible of suffering depression and wanting to die is that of the patriarch Job. God allowed Satan to afflict this righteous man with the loss of his family and virtually everything he owned, and then to attack his body with painful boils.
Job, who didn’t know what was going on, was devastated. He lamented: “May the day perish on which I was born, and the night in which it was said, ‘A male child is conceived.’ May that day be darkness; may God above not seek it, nor the light shine upon it . . . Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, who long for death, but it does not come, and search for it more than hidden treasures; who rejoice exceedingly, and are glad when they can find the grave?” (Job 3:3-4, 20-22, emphasis added throughout).
In his misery Job longed for death. Long-term suffering without hope drives many to despair and the desire to end it all.
Others have confronted similar hopelessness.
Consider the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1. She was one of two wives of the same man, Elkanah. The other wife, Peninnah, had children and arrogantly ridiculed Hannah, who was unable to conceive.
As the account tells us, Elkanah “went up from his city yearly to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of hosts in Shiloh . . . And whenever the time came for Elkanah to make an offering, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, although the Lord had closed her womb. And her rival also provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, that she provoked her; therefore she [Hannah] wept and did not eat” (verses 1-7).
Then one year when they had gone to worship at the tabernacle, “she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish” (verse 10). Hannah was indeed very depressed. We know this story eventually has a happy ending, with the birth of her son Samuel. But not all do.
More biblical examples of depression
Later in the same book we see the sad reign of Saul, the ﬁrst king of Israel. He started out well enough—tall, handsome and from a good family. It would seem he had everything going for him. But a series of bad decisions rooted in his pride and a wrong attitude took their toll, and before long Saul sank into the depths of depression.
We’re told in 1 Samuel 16: “But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him. [The departure of God’s Spirit left Saul in a distressing mental and emotional state.] And Saul’s servants said to him, ‘Surely, a distressing spirit from God is troubling you. Let our master now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man who is a skillful player on the harp. And it shall be that he will play it with his hand when the distressing spirit from God is upon you, and you shall be well.’
“So Saul said to his servants, ‘Provide me now a man who can play well, and bring him to me.’ [David, who would later be king, was chosen.] . . . And so it was, whenever the [distressing] spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him” (verses 14-17, 23).
Saul’s disobedience to God led to his being rejected by God. The departure of God’s Spirit left him in a terrible spiritual, mental and emotional state. God’s Holy Spirit helps people to maintain a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). Without it our mind is incomplete. From the beginning, Saul was a man who exhibited weakness in his character, such as needing the approval of men. The removal of God’s Spirit of course made things worse.
Some of God’s own prophets went through very low periods, to the point of wishing they were dead. Elijah is perhaps the best known. He carried God’s judgments and warnings to several Israelite kings, including the despotic Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel.
A high point of Elijah’s life came when God used him to overthrow the 450 idolatrous prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel. This proved not only the power of God but the utter lack of power of the hundreds of pagan prophets. It seems Elijah should have been on top of the world, but he soon sank into the depths of depression after threats from Jezebel:
“And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.’
“And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’” (1 Kings 19:1-4).
Elijah was physically and mentally exhausted, but he also needed to learn a lesson about God’s power and presence, as is found later in the story.
The Bible records other examples. The prophet Jonah suffered frustration, resentment and discouragement over God’s decision not to destroy Nineveh, capital of the Assyrians who were Israel’s mortal enemies, when they repented in response to his preaching. “And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live’” (Jonah 4:8).
Holding on to God’s promises
But there are also biblical examples of a different approach. The apostle Paul experienced many episodes of great suffering, but he had a wonderful way of helping people focus ahead. He pointed people to God the Father and Jesus Christ for strength during trials.
As he wrote: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended [to have taken hold of what Christians ultimately strive for, perfection in God’s Kingdom]; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
While not easy for us to do when severely depressed, Paul shows the importance of always staying Christ-centered and focused on the goal of God’s Kingdom. His epistles are ﬁlled with uplifting encouragement for others.
Here is another example: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:18-19).
To be glorified children—divine sons and daughters—in God’s family, in His Kingdom, is our destiny. And the apostle Paul clung to that encouragement. Paul’s writings have given great comfort, encouragement and inspiration to countless people over the ages. They can for you too. Paul’s example shows that anxiety and depression come not so much from what happens to us as they do from our perspective and attitudes about what happens to us.
Now that’s easy to say, but it can be hard to believe if you’re the one severely depressed! If you’re the person who has lost it all due to the Covid-19 lockdown—either financially or had loved ones succumb to the virus—the pressure may be unbearable.
Clearly, depression can also affect godly people. We see how it affected Job, Hannah, Elijah, Jonah and others. It’s not necessarily a character flaw or a sin that brings it on. Many of God’s servants went through low periods in their lives and sometimes even expressed a desire to die.
However, here is a very important point: Although they may have wanted God to end their lives, they kept going, striving to remain faithful. And as with all God’s servants in Scripture, we must also learn to hold on—to endure even when it seems we can’t. We do this through trusting in God, who will help us.
The teachings of the Bible are where we find hope and encouragement. And what we present here in Beyond Today magazine highlights and expounds on that hope.
Here is a letter we received from a reader in Ireland: “I have left [a particular religious group], finding so many contradictions in their Bible teaching. I am looking and watching your TV programme. I live in Dublin, Ireland, and you haven’t a church near me. I am living alone. My two best friends died this year. Two years ago my niece committed suicide. I am so lonely. I find comfort in your teaching. Thank you so much for your help.”
I point this out to show what we all can do together as people of God—like the apostle Paul and Christ’s other followers—provide understanding, help and comfort from the teachings of our Father in heaven through Christ. We can offer help to others in a hopeless and overwhelmed state of mind. There is a wonderful future ahead!
Now if we ourselves are depressed, we must be sure to seek help, not letting embarrassment hold us back. We need to pray to God and talk to someone else, a friend or a counselor, who can help us or point us where to turn for help. Of course, the biggest help is God.
Is suicide wrong?
The Sixth Commandment tells us, “You shall not murder.” God alone gives life, and it is His alone to take. While we hurt with those who are hurting and despondent, no scripture in the Bible condones suicide.
That said, we should not be quick to judge and condemn people who take their own lives, as many do. While wrong, suicide is often a complex matter. We should avoid the tendency to oversimplify this tragic type of death. Individuals who commit suicide often have been struggling with serious problems such as those described earlier. But taking one’s life isn’t the right way to deal with any trial. As is often said, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
The reality is that severe depression, often compounded by other problems and disappointments, can drive a person to suicide. The mental agony that accompanies clinical depression, or a period of prolonged discouragement, can make suicide seem attractive because the sufferer expects his suffering to end at death.
The hope of the resurrection
But that is not the answer, for it is not the end of the story. Those who die will live again. Those who belong to God the Father, who have the Holy Spirit within them at death, will be resurrected to eternal life at Jesus’ return (Romans 8:11).
And there is still more to come. God greatly desires that all people who have lived, or will live, be in His family if they are willing (2 Peter 3:9).
Those who die in Christ will be in the resurrection at His return, called “the first resurrection” in Revelation 20:5-6. But there is another category—those who died without first being truly converted. Some of these may have believed themselves to be Christians but really weren’t, not having proper understanding and never having made full spiritual commitment to God. They and all who lived and died without a genuine opportunity to be saved will later also be raised to live again among “the rest of the dead” (verse 5), now with the opportunity to live a godly life and be offered salvation.
The Bible reveals that all who died without being truly converted to Christ’s way of life (suicide victims included) will still have their opportunity for salvation. This will be after Jesus Christ has returned to earth and is ruling the world (to learn more about this biblical truth, read “How Eternal Life Will Ultimately Be Offered to All” in our free study guide What Happens After Death?).
But suicide is not an escape or quick solution to one’s problems. When resurrected, those who’ve taken their own lives will still likely have psychological issues to work out. They will still have to deal with their problems, and now with the addition of having to face up to a terrible wrong and the suffering they inflicted on others by that.
Thankfully, God’s desire is for them to turn to Him and be saved. But the things people do in this life will still have consequences in the sense of having to come to terms with them. This could be quite hard, so no one should think of suicide as some kind of golden ticket to the good life of the future. It is not.
Healing today and in the brightest tomorrow
Jesus Christ said He came to heal the brokenhearted and release those suffering from oppression, which includes the crushing weight of depression.
We read this about Jesus in Luke 4:16-21: “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’
“Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”
He did this through His miracles and teachings during His ministry at His first coming. And He continues this work through His people today—even living in them through the Holy Spirit to give them spiritual power. But this work has yet to be completed. It will be ultimately fulfilled following Jesus’ second coming—especially after the raising to life of all who never really had the opportunity to receive God’s salvation in this age.
Knowing this should be very comforting to the loved ones of a person who has died by suicide.
We find this promise also in Psalm 147: “Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful . . . He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (verses 1, 3).
God the Father and Jesus Christ have not forgotten anyone. The brokenhearted, including those who’ve contemplated suicide or even committed it, will ultimately be healed. And here is how the story ends:
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1, 4).
We look forward to that time of awesome healing and restoration. For those who are suffering now, whether in depression and contemplating suicide or in coping with a loved one having been lost to this or some other horrible tragedy, there is light ahead. The brightest day ever is coming, with no more death, sorrow, crying or pain.
But we don’t have to wait until then for help from God. He will bless our lives tremendously today if we respond to Him as we need to. Jesus said He came to bring us abundant life (John 10:10). He also said there are none who forsake their old lives to follow Him “who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time [in all manner of blessings] . . . and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).
Yet He didn’t say it would all be easy. Indeed, we’ve seen how a number of God’s servants in Scripture struggled with depression. Many have been persecuted, and some even martyred. The key to persevering is to keep turning to God and to others for help and encouragement, with continued focus on the wonderful future that lies ahead.
Here is a meme that has been popular on Facebook: “If you rearrange the letters in ‘depression,’ you’ll get ‘I pressed on.’ Your current situation is not your final destination.” So true! We must keep our eyes on God’s plan for us.
And always remember, you’re not alone. God will help you—and He gives us others who will help us too. Receive that help, and be a light to others in darkness. And know that the ultimate dawn is coming.
Yes, Jesus Christ was sent to heal the brokenhearted, to help the depressed, to save the suicidal. May we all continue to pray, “Your Kingdom come”!
Where Do I Get Help?
Most countries have hotlines and support groups for those suffering from severe depression or contemplating suicide.
In the United States and Canada, lifeline assistance is just a moment away at 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK). This National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In Australia, Lifeline is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services. You can reach them at 13 11 14.
For other countries, the I.A.S.P., the International Association for Suicide Prevention, has a website giving hotline and crisis intervention phone numbers across the globe. You can visit them online at iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres.
Sometimes severe depression becomes debilitating and can be life-threatening. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has detailed information that can help a person overcome depression and suicidal thoughts. Visit their website at psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression.
Seeking competent medical advice from a reputable doctor who specializes in depression is very important. Remember, a very high percentage of those who seek professional counseling for depression are able to overcome it or manage it quite successfully.
“He’s Suicidal—What Can I Do?”
When suicide takes a family member or friend, the common reaction is to ask, “What could I have done?” Family members agonize, playing over and over in their minds the last few days and weeks with their loved one, wondering what they could have done differently.
As Kay Redﬁeld Jamison puts it in her heralded study on suicide, Night Falls Fast: “Suicide is a death like no other, and those left behind to struggle with it must confront a pain like no other. They are left with the shock and the unending ‘what ifs’ . . . They are left to a bank of questions from others . . . mostly about why? They are left to the silence of others who are horriﬁed, embarrassed, or otherwise unable to cobble together a note of condolence, an embrace, or a comment; and they are left with the assumption . . . that more could have been done” (p. 292).
Since those with suicidal thoughts often refuse to seek help, mental health experts point out the crucial need for intervention on the part of family and friends. They have to watch for signs of suicidal behavior and seek help, such as mental health professionals and suicide prevention centers, on behalf of those tormented.
The good news is that nearly eight out of 10 patients with depressive illness will improve through treatment, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. And if the patient is receptive to learning what the Bible has to say, he or she will likely experience signiﬁcant help from learning what it truly teaches.
If someone is threatening suicide, take steps to calm the individual and get trained suicide prevention experts involved as soon as possible. Two respected groups, the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association, a Chicago-based support group, and the Mayo Clinic, make the following recommendations:
• Take suicide threats seriously.
• Involve other people, especially if someone is threatening imminent suicide. Call 911 or the suicide hotline [soon to be 988].
• If the person has sought professional help, contact his or her therapist, psychiatrist, crisis intervention team or others who are already familiar with the case.
• Question the person about his or her suicidal thoughts. Be direct—ask if the person has a speciﬁc plan for suicide.
• Reassure the person that the problem can be helped. Remind him or her that help is available and things will get better.
• Don’t promise conﬁdentiality, because you may need to speak to the person’s doctor to protect him or her. Don’t make promises that would endanger the person’s life.
• Avoid leaving the person alone until you can be sure he or she is in the hands of competent professionals.
The goal is immediate intervention—actions to prevent an impending disaster. But a long-term objective is also important. Having a purpose in life is perhaps the strongest antidote to feelings of hopelessness and despondency.
While not easy to do when severely depressed, remember the apostle Paul shows the importance of staying Christ-centered and focused on our final destination, on the goal of God’s Kingdom.
And this can’t be overemphasized: If you think the person is suicidal based on the way he is talking or acting, you need professional help to handle the situation. Get that help as quickly as possible.
Parents of high school or college students who show signs of depression need to discuss these matters openly and matter-of-factly. Parents should encourage their children to feel comfortable in discussing their depression or suicidal feelings and seeking help.
Applying these commonsense recommendations can make a big difference in the life of someone you love. Don’t ignore the problem and just hope it will go away!