Most people do not comprehend what would make an individual choose to end his own life.
I once held a gun to my head, finger hooked into the trigger. Had not my roommate unexpectedly walked through the door, I would not be here today.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent studies from 2012 found suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for Americans with someone dying from suicide in the U.S. every 12.9 minutes.
The trend is even worse among our teens and young people: Nearly 16 percent of students in grades nice to 12 report having seriously considered suicide, and 7.8 percent report having attempted suicide once or more in the past 12 months.
Depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide are not topics that we, as a society, feel confident addressing, especially with our teens and young people. Chief among this insecurity is the fact that so many misconceptions exist surrounding these topics. These often result in adults failing to recognize when a young person has begun to struggle with his or her mental health. Worse, these disorders carry serious cultural stigmas that hinder sufferers from reaching out when empathy is sorely needed.
When it comes to mental illness, no one is immune – not even those who pursue lives of hope through the framework of religious belief. In my family, one of my children recently emerged from a season of clinical depression that began so innocuously it took months to diagnose.
Thankfully, my child obtained medical care before the depression worsened into thoughts of suicide. Other depression sufferers are not always so fortunate.
We must have open discussion about this issue. A common misconception is that asking a depressed individual whether he or she is considering suicide will plant the idea of action in their head, and therefore we should not bring it up.
Silence is not a solution. Avoidance of an uncomfortable topic attaches additional stigma to sufferers, making it even less likely that they will voice their concerns. Sadly, many individuals worldwide have entertained passing thoughts about suicide at some point in their lives, no matter their faith commitment or strength of familial and social relationships.
Mental illness is not a sign of moral failure, but a true disease – one that must be treated with compassion.
At the end of the day, the only thing that truly helps people – young and old, anonymous or famous – suffering from depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal thoughts is the willingness of their friends and loved ones to listen.
Cultivating an atmosphere of judgment-free compassion, where mental illness is not seen as a moral failure and educating the public about how these diseases manifest is the only true cure for suicide’s pandemic presence in our nation.
For me, having come back from the brink of a .22 pistol’s cold barrel against my temple, reclaiming my wandered faith in God saved my life.
Today, as a full-time evangelist, I work to share a message that every individual has a purpose in life and can find hope in God, and thoughts of suicide or self-harm are not signs of weakness and sin, but opportunities for others to step in and demonstrate Christ’s healing love. For others that do not subscribe to my same beliefs, I pray that they have the courage to reach out, and that those around them have hearts willing to listen.
Jay Lowder is founder of Jay Lowder Harvest Ministries and the nationally acclaimed school assembly, Crossroads. He is also author of “Midnight in Aisle 7.” Follow him on Twitter at @jaylowder or @jlhministries.
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