Tuesday, March 17, 2009

From the Ensign: "Suicide: Some Things We Know, and Some We Do Not"

Since it's Wednesday I thought I'd get back on my on Ensign articles addressing depression and mental health issues. For the first post, click here, and for the second, click here.

When I was in high school one of my good friends had a dead dad. It wasn't just that his dad had died, rather, he had a Dead Dad. See, a lot of people thought his dad had committed suicide and when people kill themselves the grief process is made even crazier. There are too many complications, questions. It's hard to put it to rest.

By the time this kid and I were friends his dad had been dead for a few years and I don't remember much about what actually happened--I think his death made the local papers--but I do remember the gossip and that's because it was still going on. Years later, people were still talking about what did or did not happen, what that man had or had not done. What the spiritual consequences were for his actions. Lots of people were talking but nobody really knew what they were talking about. It was hard enough for my friend to deal with his father's death, but it was even more difficult with people speculating and whispering and insinuating.

Elder M. Russel Ballard addressed the issue of suicide in his talk, "Suicide:Some Things We Know, and Some We Do Not". The title alone says volumes.

Suicide is on the rise in the United States--especially among the middle aged--which perhaps makes it a more pertinent issue than most of us think. It's a hard topic to broach but Elder Ballard's talk strikes the perfect tone:

I feel that judgment for sin is not always as cut-and-dried as some of us seem to think. The Lord said, “Thou shalt not kill.” Does that mean that every person who kills will be condemned, no matter the circumstances? I feel the Lord recognized differences in intent and circumstances: Was the person who took his life mentally ill? Was he or she so deeply depressed as to be unbalanced or otherwise emotionally disturbed? Was the suicide a tragic, pitiful call for help that went unheeded too long or progressed faster than the victim intended? Did he or she somehow not understand the seriousness of the act? Was he or she suffering from a chemical imbalance in their system that led to despair and a loss of self-control? Obviously, we do not know the full circumstances surrounding every suicide. Only the Lord knows all the details, and he it is who will judge our actions here on earth.

He also quoted several apostles and President Kimball (along with scripture) to establish what doctrine exists. An especially pertinent one came from Elder Bruce R. McKonkie,
Suicide consists in the voluntary and intentional taking of one’s own life, particularly where the person involved is accountable and has a sound mind. … Persons subject to great stresses may lose control of themselves and become mentally clouded to the point that they are no longer accountable for their acts. Such are not to be condemned for taking their own lives. It should also be remembered that judgment is the Lord’s; he knows the thoughts, intents, and abilities of men; and he in his infinite wisdom will make all things right in due course.

I hope you all will take the time to read Elder Ballard's article. It's a hard topic, but hope is always available through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Maybe next time the topic comes up we can offer insight, instead of insensitivity. This was one article I was glad was in the Ensign.

p.s It's the first day of spring on Friday. Hooray!


Kelly said...

Suicide is one of those painful realities that, at least in my life, tended to get ignored and swept under the rug. I had a piano student when I was in high school that committed suicide later as a teen. My mom called and told me about it, but never really told me why or what happened.

As an adult, I was called to teach a Sunday School class just a week after a school friend of several of the teens had committed suicide -- it was all they talked about the first day of class. One of the boys was the teen's best friend and was taking it very hard. Another of the boys had a father who had committed suicide years previously. They all were of the opinion that when you commit suicide you can't go to the celestial kingdom. What they didn't take into account was the mental state of the person at the time of the suicide. That is something we will never know, and only the Lord knows and can judge.

A few years after that, my family had a personally rough couple of months. My oldest son's 7-year-old friend from school died suddenly when he caught some sort of virus and his brain began to swell. Within two hours of the onset of symptoms he was on life support, and eventually died. Then about 3 weeks later, another 7-year-old friend, who had a brain tumor for quite a while, passed away after a great deal of suffering. A month after that, a man down the street from us committed suicide. I like to think that all three deaths were due to some malfunction in the brain.

While all were painfully sad deaths, the hardest to explain and deal with was the suicide. It is so much easier to think of it in terms of a disease that killed the person rather than trying to envision some person getting angry at the whole world and destroying himself or herself deliberately. If only we could train ourselves to automatically think of it as a mental disease that took their life, instead of reacting with anger and contempt and judgment toward the person who committed suicide, I think it would be easier for their loved ones to cope with the loss.

Abel Keogh said...

@ Laura

Elder Ballad’s talk is a great read for anyone who has lost a friend or loved one to suicide. Unless one had firsthand knowledge of why someone killed themselves, the best course of action is realize that there are something we will never know in this life and leave it to the Lord to sort things out.

@ Kelly

Re: If only we could train ourselves to automatically think of it as a mental disease that took their life, instead of reacting with anger and contempt and judgment toward the person who committed suicide, I think it would be easier for their loved ones to cope with the loss.

The anger, contempt, and judgment those who are left behind feel after losing someone to suicide is simply part of the grieving process. Acting that way initially is, in my opinion, being human. At some point, however, we need to put the anger aside take a step back and realize that we probably will never have a full understanding of why that person took their own lives – at least in this life. It’s accepting that fact and knowing that the Lord will judge everyone righteously is what really helps one cope with loss.

Because the reasons people take their own life are extremely complex, rationalizing away suicide as simple “a mental disease” doesn’t help anyone actually deal with it in a healthy manner. Leaning on the Lord and learning how to deal with the anger, contempt, and judgmental feelings that come when hearing someone took their own life is by far a more productive strategy.