If a friend is thinking about suicide . . .
This page attempts to answer:
• Is it normal to want to just die?
• Will these feelings go away?
• Why do I feel like I want to kill myself?
• Why do people want to kill themselves?
• Is there something wrong with me?
• Am I just depressed?
• What should I do if a friend talks about suicide?
• What about euthanasia (mercy killing)?
How I walked back from the ledge
Do those who commit suicide go to heaven?
“I can’t do anything with my hair!” Judy heard Terri, her sixteen-year old daughter, complain Monday morning.
“Maybe you could get a perm over spring break, Honey. Dad’s already left for work and I’m running late, so have a good day at school,” Judy called as she gave her daughter a quick kiss on the cheek and hurried from the house. “Oh, your lunch money is on the kitchen counter.”
When Judy returned home that afternoon at 5 pm, Terri’s school bag and lunch money were still on the counter. Before she had time to wonder where her daughter was, the phone rang.
“Hi, Mrs. Davis. This is Steve. Is Terri there?”
“No, maybe she’s out running. It’s such a beautiful spring day.” But a quick glance around the family room revealed that Terri’s running shoes were exactly where she had kicked them off the night before.
“Oh, I was just wondering since she wasn’t in school today.”
Judy’s heart began to pound as hung up the phone and rushed to her daughter’s room. Her nightshirt was tossed on the bed, but the clothes she had picked out for school were also there too.
“Charlie,” Judy nearly shouted to her husband on the phone. “Terri’s missing.”
Charlie, too, began to panic. “It’s not like Terri to not leave a note if she’s going to be gone.”
When Charlie pulled into the drive way, he noticed that their third car, “The Bomb,” was missing also.
As Charlie walked toward the front door, he glanced into the garage. There was “The Bomb” with all the dash lights on.
Judy noticed Charlie’s frightened expression. “Stay here, Judy. I think I found Terri.”
As he opened the garage door Charlie was nearly overcome by the exhaust fumes. There in the back seat, slumped over, was Terri.
Charlie pounded on the top of the car and screamed, “Oh my God, no! No!”
“When I touched her she was cold and hard. I knew she had been dead for a long time,” her father recalls as we sit talking with a tape recorder and a plate of chocolate chip cookies between us.
“This is a picture of Terri.” Charlie proudly, tenderly takes an eight-by-ten photo down from the wall. Judy and Charlie Davis speak about the suicide of their daughter with determined, controlled emotions. During the past five years since Terri’s death, they have spoken at numerous highschools—including Terri’s own school—about the growing problem of teen suicide.
Down times are normal
Judi takes a sip of coffee and a deep breath. “We just thought Terri was going through the normal ups and downs that typical teens goes through.”
Charlie agrees. “Looking back we can see the symptoms of depression, but at the time—and even now—it didn’t seem to be more than the normal stress of adolescence.”
In the first book of this series, I spend several chapters assuring teens that adolescent changes are “normal, healthy and temporary.” So, times of depression are a part of that hormone-driven roller-coaster.
Even saints like Moses, Elijah, and Jonah went through periods of extreme depression and, yes, suicidal thoughts! (Check out Numbers 11:10-15, 1 Kings 19:1-5, and Jonah 4:9).
Down times are temporary
Judy warns teens that “death is so final. If you take your life, you’ll never go to your junior-senior prom, you’re never going to go to college, you’re never going to see your friends get married. That’s it. There’s no coming back. So I tell students, ‘Try to make it through the next week, or the next day, or even the next hour.”
If you’re thinking about suicide, consider this: Suicide is a permanent “solution” to a temporary problem. (I’m speaking here of the emotional state as being temporary. Obviously terminal illness or chronic disability are permanent. I address those issues in another article.)
No matter how bad you feel now, it’s probably only temporary. Most down times last only a few hours or days. A very few last a month or more. So, be encouraged that with some outside help, feelings of depression don’t have to be permanent.
You will, without a doubt, have high days and low days in your life. But mostly, there will be ordinary days. You know the ones where you just go through the motions of school, homes, or church. They’re not bad days, but they’re nothing to write your e-mail “buddy list” about.
There are “low days” on the calendar. Most suicides occur on Monday. There are other days that we are prone to depression: the week before school finals, term paper deadlines, the first and last day of classes (depending if you love or hate school). February 14 can be low if you don’t have a valentine or a date for the big school party. Anniversaries of a loss or tragedy can bring low days back each year; often in living color and stereo sound.
There are certain times of year when suicides happen more often. November seems to have the most suicides of any month. It looks depressing when days are growing colder and nights are growing longer. Upcoming holidays often emphasize family problems or breakups (you won’t be together or you won’t be looking for a present for the special person this year.)
Even a girl’s monthly “cycle,” sickness, high and low air pressure, seasons of the years, or even eating pepperoni pizza before bed can also affect our moods.
But a thirteen-year-old girl provided this note of hope on her survey:
- Death is not something to fear, but it’s not an easy way out of life’s problems either. We should strive to overcome our problems, then we become better people in the end.
There is hope.
Down times can be overcome
The prophet Isaiah had some down times, too. He wrote:
[God] gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:29-31).
Down times (even occasional thoughts of ending it all) are normal ingredients in life. It may take some time to get over the feelings of hurt and disappointment, and that’s tough because we live in an “instant” society: instant drinks, microwave popcorn, and fast food. Sometimes we think our emotional state should change in thirty seconds or less.
“Just add a little alcohol or drugs to taste” our friends may suggest. Even some churches offer instant recipes: “Just pray about it and all your problems will instantly disappear.” But none of these instant cures work.
It’s true that the only one who can help us endure and overcome bad times is God. He is powerful and able. But He isn’t a vending machine or a magic wand that will just “make it all better.” He is there to go through our low times with us, not to make the low times disappear.
Down times may be a sign of physical exhaustion
The cure for down times or depression may be as simple as getting caught up on sleep! Here’s part of a letter from a teen named Brad:
Last year I was really hopping to keep up. I had a full schedule of accelerated courses, I was in the choir, in the school play, had a paper route, was the youth group treasurer, and trying to keep honor-roll grades.
About January, I was physically and emotionally wiped out. I couldn’t care less about anything. I just sat there like a zombie. I felt nothing. I gave nothing. I was getting depressed.
When I finally told our youth sponsor about my schedule, she said I probably didn’t need to go to a doctor or the minister. I just needed to go to bed.
Anyway, to make a long story short, I got out of several of those things and began to get more sleep each night. What a difference!
In a month’s time, I bounced back and was full of joy that I hadn’t felt for so long a time.
Down times may be a sign of spiritual emptiness
Sometimes what we call depression is actually the emptiness we feel when God is left out of our lives. You may want to skip ahead to chapter 18 to read how God wants to help in this area of your life. You will be amazed what a difference it will make!
And remember, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—that you’ve done that God won’t forgive if you ask him.
Fifteen-year-old Matt (not his real name) forgot. Here are two actual letters he wrote to his high school and to his brother:
PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING TO THE HIGH SCHOOL KIDS!!
Now everything is a big joke. Parties, Drugs, Booze and fun. Well stop and look where you are going. I laughed at the warnings too and now look where I’m at. Dead!!! You that heard me preach saw how God changed my life. He can change yours too!! When he does, You better not turn back. Discipline yourselves now!! Draw near to God through Jesus Christ now!!! If you don’t begin practicing obedience and self-discipline now, you may some day find yourselves hopeless. It’s your choice. Everyone of you who are messing with Drugs can see how it’s affecting your true care and love for anyone but yourselves. For your own sakes. Stop now before it’s too late. Jesus Christ cares about YOU! He wants YOU to choose Him. Don’t forsake him. Draw close to Him and OBEY him.
Don’t rebel against your teachers and elders Michael. Work hard in school now. If your friends think you are a chicken if you don’t misbehave don’t worry about it. STAY AWAY FROM DRUGS AND ALL THOSE E.S.P. AND OTHER THINGS YOU ARE MESSING IN. REMEMBER THE THINGS I SPOKE TO YOU ABOUT WHEN I WALKED CLOSE TO GOD. REMEMBER HOW I CHANGED. God can change you too Michael. He can give you the peace you didn’t have at home. Get close to Him and STAY THERE!! Discipline your mind while your still in school. Don’t run wild like all the other kids.
GOD FORGIVE ME FOR NEGLECTING YOU AND FOR BECOMING SO COLD!! TAKE CARE OF MICHAEL AND MOM. HAVE MERCY ON MY SOUL. AMEN.
After finishing these two letters, Matt shoved the barrel of a .22 rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Don’t make Matt’s mistake. There is help—and forgiveness—available to you and your friends.
How can you stop someone from committing suicide?
Be aware of the following warning signs that the problem is greater than normal ups and downs:
- • Mood swings
• Signs of depressions such as lack of concentration; deep-rooted boredom; withdrawal; eating too much or too little; lack of energy; self-criticism; negative thinking; feelings of guilt; shame, fear, or helplessness; rebellion; over-confidence; lack of fear or death.
• Problems at school.
• Problems communicating.
• Any sudden change in behavior. A sudden improvement in attitude may mean he or she has made the decision to commit suicide and now feels a sense of relief or control.
• Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
• The giving away of personal property.
• Self-destructive behavior.
• Talk about suicide, particularly specifics of how it will be done.
Know what to do if someone close to you talks about suicide:
• Always take talk about suicide seriously.
• Assure your friend of your concern and love. Also remind your friend that feelings of depression are normal and natural and can be overcome with proper help. Try to convince him or her that suicide is a permanent “solution” for a temporary problem.
• Don’t promise to keep secrets about suicidal talk or attempts if your friend won’t seek help on his or her own.
• Offer to go with him or her to talk to a professional.
Know what to do if your friend makes specific plans to commit suicide:
• Tell the person you are not going to leave him or her alone and are calling for help.
• Call 911, the police, a suicide hot line, the mental health clinic, your pastor or youth worker, or call 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
• Don’t leave the person alone until professional help arrives. Don’t try to handle the situation yourself. And don’t put yourself in any unnecessary danger.
If you have had long-lasting feelings of depression or thoughts of suicide . . .
Talk to a professional. Your first stop should be your family doctor. He or she can help you find out if there is a physical cause for your depression. Researchers have discovered that chemical imbalance in the brain often is the cause of clinical depression. Prescription drugs often easily correct the problem. It’s no more a disgrace to take antidepressant drugs than to take insulin or blood pressure medicine.
If you need emotional help, your pastor, youth director, or school counselor may be able to help you. If they can’t they will refer you to others who can. Always remember: there is hope!
And remember, too, that down times are normal, they’re temporary, and they can be overcome with the right help. You don’t ever have to be overcome. Believe it!
If, tragically, a friend of yours or someone does end his or her life, it’s easy to feel that you somehow let that person down, or that your could have done more to keep him or keep from doing it. Judy and Charlie agonized over what they could have done to avert Terri’s death. Such feelings of responsibility are normal—but seldom true.
Can a Christian commit suicide and still go to heaven?
Suicide is a personal choice made by the person who commits it. Only that person is ultimately responsible for his or her actions—or are they? Many health care professionals believe that suicide is an irrational act—sort of a “temporary insanity.”
If this is truly the case then the haunting question of “will a Christian who commits suicide still go to heaven?”seems to be answered. We are judged on the basis of our ability to make rational decisions. And as we’ll discuss later in chapter 18, we don’t go to heaven because of our “good deeds” or go to hell because of our “bad actions.” Heaven and hell are determined by our decision to accept or reject Christ‘s offer of pardon.
However, if a person willfully and rationally decides that they, not God, have control of their own life and death, then that would seem to be the ultimate rejection and idolatry—making one’s self god.
It’s a tough call, but we can be assured that God will treat each person with a careful balance of justice and mercy.
© James Watkins from my book The Why Files: Is There Really Life After Death.
Photo: Kulli Kittus