Part of the natural aversion to suicide is the pain that will inevitably come with it. But when you are in the moment, you don’t care. Pain ceases to become a factor. It’s not simply that you refuse to let it bother you—there is no emotional connection to the thought of pain at all. There is no emotional connection to anything. Because you have already become separated from your body. All logic ceases. All Catechetical training, all natural instincts to survive, are gone. They need a brain to sustain them, and the brain is exactly what has turned against you.
Thankfully, in my first and hardest moment I had a brief realization that I had to live, and nothing bad happened. I told a friend about it, and a few months later when I had recovered he told me that the chance of suicides going to hell was greater than I had thought. At first I was terrified by that knowledge, but later, when I was facing all the same feelings again, that knowledge is what saved me. As much as I wanted to escape earth, the chance of never escaping hell wasn’t worth it.
My college, Benedictine College, has a lot of excellent resources for students struggling with depression. Those of my friends who knew about my depression encouraged me to go to one of our counselors, and the sessions helped me regain a more realistic, less dark view of the world. When I was “on the road to recovery,” we had a guest speaker whose story helped me remember that love, and Love, exist and are worth living for.
I also had a bit of an advantage in my self-recovery because I had studied depression in relation to neuroscience. In high school I took a course on neuroscience, and depression was discussed. I learned about clinical depression, its causes, and its effects. I knew what was going on in my brain, what chemicals were out of balance, and what areas were out of sync. I had also read autobiographies of people with depression and suicidal tendencies, both out of curiosity and to educate myself in case I ever met someone who had it. I never thought I would end up using my knowledge on myself.
But if I had not had that understanding of depression’s scientific aspects, I would not have understood what was wrong with me, I would have felt much more frightened and lost, and my recovery would have been much longer and harder.
Suicide is now the third leading cause of death in people my age. Given that one out of seven people in the world are Catholic, it makes sense that many people attempting suicide are Catholic. It may seem like a terrible idea to tell someone that if they commit suicide they could go to hell, but in the right moment it could save their life. Suicide should be assumed to be a mortal sin so it can be a deterrent rather than an escape.
But if someone does commit suicide, especially a Catholic, do not assume they are in hell. Only God can know what was in their heart at the time. There is still a chance they are in heaven, or at least in purgatory. And if they are, your assumption of their condemnation would mean missing the opportunity to pray for them, to release them from purgatory sooner, and to give them the happiness they were searching for.
Eileen Wittig is a Benedictine College senior. She interned and blogs with C-Fam’s International Youth Coalition.