Aleteia

Let’s talk about suicide

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We all need to pay attention to the signs, and do something about it.

Every 40 seconds, a person dies by suicide somewhere in the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 29, and it is believed that for every adult who commits suicide, there are 20 more who have tried.

The WHO has concluded, based on statistics, that suicide is one of the leading causes of death in wealthy countries. It also showed that men kill themselves proportionately more often than women: three men for each woman.

Nonetheless, women make more suicide attempts: 67 percent of attempted suicide cases involve women, whereas men are involved in a total of 33 percent. By age range, the elderly commit suicide more often, but young people are those who make most attempts to end their own lives.

Despite these alarming numbers, little is said about this subject. Many believe that talking about it is a bad idea, because instead of combating suicide, giving it attention could encourage people to carry out this unfortunate act.

However, society’s silence could be worse, since most people with suicidal thoughts don’t have anyone with whom they can talk about it openly, and discussing the subject would help them to consider other solutions for their problems, giving them time to reconsider their decisions.

Suicidal behavior is a disorder with multiple causes. It manifests itself in people who are profoundly unhappy — perhaps going through a period of anxiety, depression, or despair — and who believe that there is no other solution.

Various factors influence this behavior, such as serious illnesses, psychiatric problems, and social and family problems (separation, isolation, job loss, etc.). Consequently, we should not believe that suicidal thoughts and behavior only occur in people with mental illness. 

In most cases, people who have suicidal thoughts will show signs of that intention. They will say things like, “I can’t take it anymore,” or “I want to die.” Therefore, it is necessary to pay attention to this kind of language and warning signs, because suicide can be prevented. People who show signs of suicidal behavior must not be ignored; rather, they should be directed to medical and psychological care.

Having laid out this background, it’s necessary to emphasize that we have on hand an important instrument for combating and preventing suicide: faith.

In a study published in 2004 in the American Journal of Psychiatry, a study of people suffering from depression showed that men and women without any religious affiliation made, on average, more suicide attempts throughout their lives. The study also revealed that people without any religion had fewer moral objections to suicide, and fewer reasons to live, in addition to more compulsive and aggressive behavior. Based on these observations, the study concluded that belonging to a religion could be a factor that protects against attempted or successful suicide. Consequently, we can come to two conclusions:

1. It is necessary not to neglect, but to lovingly come to the aid of people who ask for help and have the intention of committing suicide. In addition, it is the task of priests and healthcare professionals to assist patiently those who seek them out and talk about their wish to commit suicide, and try to help them overcome this unhealthy desire, and support those who are alone so that they don’t give up in the face of life’s difficulties.

2. In a secularized world like our own, it becomes urgent to remind people of true moral values, which teach us that the act of taking one’s own life is, objectively speaking, a grave sin. However, from a subjective perspective, no one can say who is saved and who is condemned, since God’s justice and mercy are beyond our comprehension, and it is difficult to know the subjective state of the person, which can mitigate the guilt of this terrible act. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2280-228)

It is necessary to talk about suicide—not to encourage it (obviously), but in order to combat it with all licit means, in theory and in practice. Today and always.

This article was co-written by Vanderlei de Lima, a hermit in the diocese of Amparo in Brazil, and Igor Precinoti, an ICU doctor who specializes in infectious diseases. He is in the doctorate program in clinical medicine at the University of São Paulo, Brazil.

This article was originally published in the Spanish edition of Aleteia.

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