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 their last few days and weeks with their loved one, wondering what they could have done differently.
As Jamison puts it: “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.”
Since the suicidal 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 ten patients with depressive illness will improve through treatment with medicine and therapy, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. And if the patient is receptive to learning what the Bible has to say, he will likely experience signiﬁcant help from learning what it truly teaches. In John 8:32, Jesus Christ said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
Knowledge is power, says Jamison, who recommends that family and friends of the suicidal educate themselves about clinical depression and its effects, the ways to treat depression and the courses of action to be taken.
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 National Suicide Prenvention Lifeline (800) 273-8255
• 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. God has a purpose for every human life, and we’ll discuss that in a moment. (To ﬁnd out more about it, be sure to read our study guide Why Were You Born?)
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.
Realize also that this person may need hospitalization until the suicidal crisis has passed.
And the crisis may not be over just because the person shows some improvement.
Jamison advises a contingency planning meeting involving the suicidal person, family members or friends, and the therapist to decide on future courses of action should the person again become suicidal. Jamison advises parents of high school or college students who show signs of depression 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.