Along with the two celebrities, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, who took their own lives, I was deeply saddened by the terrifying and tragic news that two families whom I know here in South Jersey, lost their loved ones to suicide in the last two weeks. According to a report of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., and about 45,000 Americans die by suicide each year, 7,000 more than a recorded in a 2010 report. And for every person who dies by suicide there are about 25 others who attempt it.
Researchers and the mental health professionals remind us that many of those who die by suicide have been suffering from some form of mental illness including major depression, bipolar disorder and addictions. Some people also turn to suicide to ease their intense physical pain when they see no hope for an end to the pain and the intensity of the pain becomes intolerable.
Suicide is an intensely painful and deeply personal tragedy. Whatever the specific circumstances may be, people who commit suicide experience deep inner turmoil. People who attempt suicide see their lives as hopeless, and as the stress increases and their ability to cope decreases, they believe that they are helpless to do anything about it.
Recently a friend of mine told me that the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness leads to a place of being in a deep dark hole. And they see no light and there is no way out. And seeking help may not even enter their mind and they do not often think of the people around them, family, friends, church, because of their illness. They are consumed with the emotional and maybe the physical pain. And suicide for them then becomes the only way out of this intolerable, hopeless situation.
When I think of what my friend said, about being in that deep dark place, it reminds me of psalm 23:4. “Even though I walk through the dark valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.”
How can we be the presence of the Lord in the lives of those who are in that dark valley of grief, depression, hopelessness and helplessness?
The most important care we can provide for a suicidal person is to help the person to obtain professional help. Besides guiding them to professional help, our concern and compassionate presence is vital. Let the person know that we care, that he or she is not alone. Providing a listening ear and a safe and confidential place to unload the despair, pain, sorrow, grief, and other intense emotions is also important. Our non-judgmental, accepting attitude helps them realize that we care and are concerned about them. During those moments of darkness and hopelessness, we can offer hope by reassuring them that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Let the person know that his or her life is important to us.
VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services is available to assist those with the challenges of depression to remain connected to their church communities while they seek out the resources to assist them in battling this disease.
Individual and family support can be gained through various ministry outreach programs at several of our parishes throughout South Jersey.
For those suffering depression related to age, infirmity and isolation, our senior outreach through clubs and social day centers are made to bring you into a community of like-minded individuals who find the best remedy for isolation is being together in an extended church family. Days can become filled with new friends, great food, enriching activities and fun again.
For all families who recognize a need for help, there are several parishes with Stephen Ministries. These well trained and compassionate individuals, Stephen Ministers, enter into a strictly confidential relationship as friends who offer their ear to listen and shoulder to lean on.
They can assist you in your own struggles with a family member who suffers the pain of depression or can be available to anyone who finds they are deepening into the alley of hopelessness from a loss or tragedy in their lives.
A simple call to 1-888-26VITALity (1-888-268-4825), can connect you with the resources that may help. Our diocese is committed to reach out and help all in need to cope with depression and mental illness in any form, a disease which can so often in our society end in the tragedy of suicide. We cherish all life, the lives of those affected and those who surround anyone who is battling depression.
As always, we recommend you seek the advice of your doctor first. If you feel depressed or experience mood changes, make an appointment to speak with your doctor. Mental illness/depression is treatable and curable. Know that if you ever experience thoughts of suicide, call the Suicide Prevention Hot Line at 1-800-273-8255, and someone will be there to help you through your crisis, 24 hours day, seven days a week.
Father Sanjai Devis, VC is director of Stephen Ministries, Diocese of Camden. Deacon Jerry Jablonowski is executive director, VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services, Diocese of Camden.