Episode 99: The Truth About Suicide and the Gospel

atonement divine worth mental health natural man May 29, 2023


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Just a warning about this post. Hopefully the title made you aware of what I will be talking about and if this subject is too triggering for you, you do not need to listen any further. But if you or someone you love needs help right away, use the national mental health crisis line by dialing 988 on your phone to be connected to a trained therapist in your area 24 hours a day 7 days a week. 

This week’s topic is an often taboo subject in the church and around the world. But it is one that is near and dear to my heart. About 6 years ago, I had my first loss to suicide that was close to me. My coworker died by suicide and it was a devistating situation all around. Since that time, due to the location of where I work, suicide intervention has become a daily part of my work. 

I have taken on work in my community to decrease the loss to suicide by becoming an intervention trainer where I teach classes to others on how to help and intervene. I also run our counties suicide prevention coalition. I am passionate about this subject and couldn’t miss the opportunity to bring awareness to the subject this month as I am addressing mental health through the lens of the gospel. 

There was a wonderful article in the Liahona in 2016 that really outlined the impacts of suicide all over the world. The article said,

“Over 800,000 people end their lives by suicide each year worldwide. That means someone in the world is ending his or her life every 40 seconds. The actual number is likely even higher because suicide is a sensitive matter and illegal in some countries and therefore underreported. Directly or indirectly, suicide affects a large segment of our society.”

Also I want you to know that the church has great information about suicide on their website. There are many misconceptions surrounding suicide and my hope is that through some of these statements that the church has put out that you might change your perspective of suicide in a way that brings more hope from the Savior into your life or your loved ones lives. I think the one thing that brings me hope in situations of suicide is that Savior can succor all who are affected. He knows all the intricacies around every situation and knows exactly what is needed. One of these statement reads,

“Sadly, despite our best efforts, suicide is not always preventable and it leaves behind deep heartbreak and emotional upheaval with unanswered questions for family and loved ones who need nurturing and support. Nevertheless, peace can be found amid such deep pain and anguish through our Savior, who “descended below all things” “that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” 

One misconception I want to clear up is, INDIVIDUALS WITH THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE WANT TO DIE. This is not true. On the church’s website it says the following in regards to that misconception.

“Most people who have thought about suicide do not want to die; they simply want to find relief from the physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual pain they are going through. Even righteous people like Paul have “despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8) when they felt weighed down and in deep distress”

The natural man inside of us can take hold and really create a barrier to seeing life with an eternal perspective or even with any hope at all. The natural man can create realities that aren’t true but feel real to the one experiencing them. However, no one wants to die.They just want solutions that help with the despair they are feeling.

The other misconception I want to clear up about suicide is, SUICIDE IS SELFISH. I hear this so often when I talk with individuals. They say that suicide is selfish or that someone is selfish for even thinking of suicide. I loved the response the church website gives to this misconception. They said,

“Although it is wrong to take one’s own life, a person who does so may not be responsible for his or her actions. Only God can fully understand and judge the situation. Elder M. Russell Ballard said: Obviously, we do not know the full circumstances surrounding every suicide. Only the Lord knows all the details, and he is who will judge our actions here on earth. When he does judge us, I feel he will take all things into consideration: our genetic and chemical makeup, our mental state, our intellectual capacity, the teachings we have received, the traditions of our fathers, our health, and so forth. When someone takes their own life, only God is able to judge their thoughts, their actions, and their level of accountability. Suicide need not be the defining characteristic of an individual’s eternal life”

 I love this compassionate response to a situation so many people have put a black and white label on for years. Suicide and suicidal thoughts are so much more complex than we can even know. The wonderful news is that we have a Savior as an advocate who knows ALL sides to every situation and can help be a just and compassionate advocate. 

 Now that we have a better view about what the church teaches around suicide, I want to give you some resources to help in situations when someone is having thoughts of suicide. These are very difficult situations that you may find yourself. Always remember, you do not need to handle it on your own. There are resources readily available to help you.

 In all the classes I teach about suicide intervention, one of the main points of training are to hear the invitations people are giving you about their thoughts of suicide. For many reasons, people are not open and direct about their thoughts of suicide. However, as I talked about earlier, people do not want to die, they just don’t know what else to do with the suffering they are feeling in their lives. So someone may be giving you an invitation in a more subtle way and you don't want to miss or dismiss their invitation. You want to be alert to knowing what those invitations are so you can openly and directly ask about their thoughts of suicide. These invitations can come in the form of what you see, hear, sense or learn about someone that can make you think suicide could be on their mind. What you see, hear, sense or learn about someone can save a life. 

 So let me go over some of the most common invitations people give when they are having thoughts of suicide. This is not an exhaustive list, just ones that you might likely encounter. Let start with what you might see a person doing if they were thinking about suicide. When someone is having thoughts of suicide you might see them withdrawing more, caring less about things they used to care about, starting or increasing their abuse of substances like drugs or alcohol or not taking care of responsibilities like they did before. Keep in mind, NOTO EVERY PERSON exhibiting these behaviors is having thoughts of suicide, but it is always good to check in and see. Think of these invitations also as changes you have seen and not just behaviors that have always been present. 

Another type of invitation is things you hear people saying that make you think they could be talking about suicide. So things like, I feel like such a burden, I have brought so much shame, I feel so alone in this, nothing matters any more. Now there can be more than this but listen for thoughts of hopelessness. Which leads into another type of invitation that is similar which is a sense that you get from that person. For example you get a sense that they are desperate to solve something, a feeling of loneliness even though they are around others, deep sadness, intense regret or even a sense of not feeling anymore or a numbness. As you get a sense for these invitations, and you get a feeling that it could be suicide, then that is the Spirit indicating to you to act on helping this person. 

The last type of invitation in situations that you might learn about someone that could lead to thoughts of suicide. One of the leading situations where suicide is involved is abuse. These situations are very difficult and a lot of support is needed. Another situation can be rejection. Rejection of a job or a relationship can also be very difficult and can leave people feeling very hopeless. Also, a loss of a loved one either due to suicide or not. You need to also be aware of someone has had a history of thoughts of suicide in the past. This can be an elevating risk factor.

Again, this is not an exhaustive list. However, anytime you are thinking that someone is giving you an invitation, it is alway best to check in and ask directly if they are having thoughts of suicide. Make sure you ask in a way that doesn’t come out judgemental or that you are telling them not to have thoughts of suicide. Also, reassure them that it’s ok that they are having thoughts of suicide and you can connect them with someone who can help. The following information also came from the church's website.

“You may feel concerned about asking a person directly if they are thinking about suicide, but doing this can help the person feel comfortable talking to you and show them that you love them. You also give them an opportunity to express thoughts and feelings about something they have been keeping secret. These types of conversations do not increase the likelihood that the person will attempt suicide. You could ask: “Are you thinking about hurting yourself? Do you have a plan to take your life?” Then practice good listening skills. Be prepared with contact information for crisis resources in your area if the person needs help immediately.”

If someone tells you yes they are having thoughts of suicide, it is best to connect them with someone who is trained is assessing the level of risk that person is at. Get them connected with resources to help. Every community has different resources, but one resource that is in every community in the nation is the National Mental Health Crisis Line. At the other end of this line is a trained therapist in your state ready to help. You as the caregiver can call and talk with the therapist 24 hours a day 7 days a week WITH the person that is having thoughts of suicide. If someone tells you they are having thoughts of suicide, don’t just give them the number. Call it with them and see what the next steps are and help them walk through those steps together. They are already overwhelmed enough with life. They need someone to help them walk through these steps. Remember, asking someone if they are having thoughts of suicide does not give them the idea if they weren’t already thinking about it. Nor does it harm them if they really aren’t having thoughts of suicide. It just gets everyone on the same page. I hope was insightful and helped you understand suicide in a deeper way through the lens of the gospel. I want you to be able to help loved ones who are struggling or even yourself.

There is always hope in the Savior’s enabling power of the atonement. Keep working through Him to find that hope for yourself and those you love.


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