This coming week marks one of the more somber social campaigns conducted in our country, but a necessary one nonetheless: National Suicide Prevention Week. For the last decade or so, the suicide rate in the United States has been steadily increasing, and is now listed in our top-ten causes of death.
Certainly, celebrities who die by their own hand garner attention, and there will be plenty of talk and focus this week on the rich and famous who left us far too early. But it’s the 50,000 annual deaths of our neighbors, friends, and family – those who suffer silently – that should call us to vigilance.
Some are veterans who have such wounded souls, no number of medals or commendations will heal them. They are teenagers – bullied, confused, impulsive, lonely – and without the yet-developed ability to understand the finality of their decision. They are those in middle-age who have suffered mentally for years, but the stigma, the lack of proper health care, or the lack of insurance has kept them from seeking the help they need.
They are LGBT. They are exhausted older adults. They are those in constant pain; those who are chronically ill. They are those who, for many and varied reasons, reach a place where an exit door – any exit door – is better than the life they are leading. They are among those you love.
Christian faith has often had a wrong-headed response to this crisis. On one hand, there is this lingering judgment cast on those who take their own lives, as if such souls fall beyond grace. The Catechism recognizes this as nonsense, saying, “We leave judgment to God alone. We should not despair.”
And on the other hand, there is this caustic idea that “trusting God” is enough for the depressed or emotionally ill. But would you tell a family member with cancer to “just pray more?” No, you would take her to an oncologist. Would you tell a person having a heart attack, he should “just trust God?” No, you would immediately call an ambulance.
Should suffering people pray? Yes. Trust God? Yes, if possible. Read the Scriptures? Absolutely. But those considering self-harm need comprehensive and holistic support. They need a therapist, a doctor, possibly some medication, and maybe inpatient treatment.
You see, one can be thankful for Jesus and Lexapro at the same time (Many are!). One can simultaneously reap the benefits of a faith community and a caring physician. It is possible to spend time with a pastor or rabbi, as well as a psychologist or psychiatrist. One can call to God in prayer, and also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
A human being is “fearfully and wonderfully made,” to quote the Psalmist. So, as complex, multidimensional beings, it will often take complex, multidimensional efforts to heal and restore us. Faith can be a tool in that toolbox, but it cannot be the only one, for the stakes are far too high.