6 Ways to Help Christians Who Are Experiencing Suicidal Ideation
Last month, another well-known person took their life. This time it was a popular Christian leader. His family and church community have been left bereaved and shocked, and shockwaves have been felt throughout the Christian community.
Whenever a celebrity dies by suicide, there are many questions about why they did it and why no one saw it coming. When it is someone of the Christian faith, additional questions are focused on how this could have happened when they profess faith and hope in Christ. How could this happen when they are a believer?
My husband and I are both Christians. In the past, I have struggled with depression and suicidal ideation, and my husband currently lives with these things. Every day he battles his own mind to stay alive. He lives a life of exhaustion, constantly in a fight with the darkness that tells him he is a burden to his family, a disappointment and worthless. Some days he knows this isn’t true. Other days it is only by sheer willpower he holds on.
How does this fit with faith? How can he profess hope in God and still want to die? Is faith not antithetical to suicidal ideation?
My husband and I have talked at length about this issue. His faith helps him hold on, but it also entices him to leave this life of pain to be at peace with his God. We believe that those who die by suicide are welcomed into the arms of God and are given rest, so why would he stay and battle when he could enter that rest?
Faith and suicidal ideation can live side-by-side in a mind beset by depression — just as love for a partner can exist next to a belief they deserve better. It is not surprising the faith we find hope in might also draw people to desire to be with God rather than stay alive and suffering.
So how do we, as believers, counter this desire to leave this life and be with God? Is there any argument that can be used to convince a suicidal believer they should stay alive?
In my experience, arguments to stay alive don’t work. If someone wants to die, it can be difficult to find words that are going to pull them from that place. Their desire to die may not be rational, so many times rational arguments won’t work. So what do we do?
Here are some ideas I have found to be helpful when talking to my husband and other believers who struggle with suicidal thoughts:
- Remind them of the love God does have for them. There is a temptation to veer away from this reminder as the fear is they will then desire to be with God and die by suicide even more. However, the opposite tends to be true. Just as you would remind a loved one of your love for them, reminding them of the love God has for them can give them strength and hope to live another day.
- Pray with them. Help them find words to speak their pain to their God. Help them cry and scream and rage without guilt or fear of being judged. If God exists, then I think God is big enough to handle rage and some bad language sometimes.
- Sit with them in silence and let them just be. Often someone who wants to die just wants someone to sit with them and be there — sometimes just the presence of another person is all they need for that moment. They don’t need you to plead and cry, they just need you to stay by their side.
- Don’t preach at them. Some faith communities believe suicide leads to hell. This is not the way to convince a suicidal person to live. Many times they are already struggling with feelings of worthlessness, don’t make them feel worse!
- You don’t need the answers. It’s OK to say, “I don’t know” when they ask questions about God and suffering. You don’t need to have a Bible verse ready for every question. You don’t need to be a theological scholar or preacher. You need to be a friend. Be honest when you don’t know. And don’t try and defend God — questions around suffering have existed forever and are natural. Getting defensive won’t help the person, but could cause them to feel that they can’t voice the doubts and fears they have. By being honest and saying, “I don’t know,” but encouraging them that you will help them find answers they need if they would like that, will encourage them to keep talking and being open about their pain.
- Get others involved. Pastors and counselors have often been trained in dealing with depression much more than laypeople. Don’t be afraid to take your loved one’s questions to someone who may help point you both in the right direction. And if your pastor or counselor doesn’t react well or help, find someone who does!
Faith and suicide can exist side-by-side, but this doesn’t have to be something scary. A person who has faith and experiences suicidal ideation is the same as someone who has no faith and experiences suicidal ideation — they are both still people who are struggling. Treat them with the same love and respect you would anyone else who was struggling with mental illness. The help is there, you are not alone.
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