In his recent book ‘Bruised and Wounded’ Catholic priest Ronald Rolheiser says,
“Most persons who die by suicide are locked inside this kind of private room by some cancerous wound through which we cannot reach and through which they themselves cannot reach. Our best efforts leave us still unable to penetrate that private hell.”
Is it true that people who are suicidal are unable to request help and those who want to help are shut out?
In April 2013 Kay Warren, co-founder of Saddleback Church lost her 27-year-old son Matthew to suicide. Matthew was a kind, gentle compassionate man who suffered from mental illness resulting in deep depression and suicidal thoughts.
Kay Warren says.
“I remember the first time I allowed myself to wonder if Matthew was going to make it. I wanted to extinguish the thought as quickly and unbidden as it had come, as if somehow by my even considering the terrible thought it could make it happen.”
Many parents or partners know the person they love could die. They see the effects of mental illness or addiction. They recognise the self-destructive behaviours. They feel the pain and desperation, and other distressing emotions. They witness the despair and hopelessness. They are aware of the cumulative evidence suggesting the person is losing control of their life
Kay Warren knew what a struggle it was for her son to hang on to life. She says,
“I knew Matthew could die. For years we lived with the knowledge that any given day could be THE day he couldn’t fight any longer.”
People contemplate suicide for many reasons including pain, loneliness, rejection, abuse, depression, guilt, helplessness, and hopelessness.
Often times, people consider taking their life because they are unable to find any reason to make living worthwhile. They think their problems are unsolvable and they feel completely out of control.
But are people who are suicidal unreachable?
Ronald Rohlheiser writes of the feelings of inadequacy and desperation that may overwhelm those reaching out to someone who is suicidal. He says,
“When dealing with our loved ones, we sometimes find ourselves helpless, without a strategy and without energy, shut out because of someone’s fear, woundedness, sickness, or loneliness.”
On occasions, parents are advised by professionals, family and friends to disengage emotionally – to choose “compassionate detachment” toward their loved one. It is considered a sensible pathway to protect oneself.
This is an insensitive and uncaring response that might work in a professional setting involving counsellor/client relationships but not where self-sacrificing love is present. It is in a parent’s nature to care for their hurting child. It is love which ignites a compassionate response, accepting of the possibility of being hurt and scarred by the experience.
It is difficult to understand what motivates someone to attempt suicide.
What we do know is this:
• Not everyone who makes an attempt on their life wants to die.
They may view their actions as a way of gaining attention, a cry for help, or a way of communicating their distress to others. What they fail to grasp is that every form of suicidal behaviour is a serious, potentially fatal problem. People die whether it was their intention or not.
People acting this way want our intervention. They want people to recognise the magnitude of their pain and commit to walking with them through the dark and difficult times. They want to get their life back on track and regain the confidence and hope needed to pursue the life they want to live. This is not an unreachable dream.
• People who survive a suicide attempt are often grateful for the opportunity to live again.
It is a well-established fact that nine out of ten people who attempt suicide and survive will not go on to die by suicide at a later date. Although it may seem contradictory it is also true that the most consistent predictor of suicide is past attempts. People who survive a suicide attempt need proper care and help including a review of mental health services and treatment plans. It is the beginning of a long process.
Here are the responses of three women who survived a suicide attempt.
I have learnt that suicidal thoughts are to be taken seriously. They are an early warning system, showing me that something about how I have been living needs to die. They force me to acknowledge my vulnerability. They remind me of the need to connect with another human being who receives me without judgment, without fear.
I wish I could say that I am now immune to the risk of suicide, but it is not that easy. I will continue to share my story and serve on task forces that serve to address this issue. But there are no guarantees, only that I am committed to finding a way forward through the pain of this world and being a support to my peers who also struggle with schizophrenia.
My story doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending where the thoughts of suicide are gone forever and I live happily ever after. What I think makes my story useful is that despite all the things that didn’t work out so well, all the treatments that failed, one thing was fluid throughout; I had people who made the difference. It was the human connection that kept me living.
Their powerful stories illustrate that people who survive a suicide attempt are thoughtful and intelligent and their voices need to be heard. They have a unique insight into the suicidal mind; they understand the nature of the struggle they face daily, and they know what empowers them to move on with their lives.
They need people who understand, who are non-judgmental, and who are accessible. Above all, they need people who will never accept that they are unreachable.