It was a rare, poignant moment. A few days ago we were having lunch with our college senior son when he carefully dropped the word that his older brother could use some support. He had just lost his friend to suicide. Not only a friend, but he was the keyboardist in their indie band and a neighbor in the same apartment complex. What made it more difficult was the fact that our older son was the first to discover him and needed to make the report to the authorities.
Among family, friends and the community of local musicians there has been an outpouring of comfort to all affected by this tragic incident. It isn’t easy dealing with such events, but it would be devastating without the stabilizing encouragement and humanity of others.
This is not the only case of this nature that I have personally experienced this past month. And, fortunately, there are many people working to counter such occurrences.
It is international Suicide Prevention Week and this past Monday was world Suicide Prevention Day. The United Nations’ World Health Organization and the International Association for Suicide Prevention (founded in Austria) were both established more than a half-century ago.
According to these organizations,
“Suicide is an international problem and a major public health concern. Suicide claims approximately 1 million lives worldwide each year, resulting in one suicide every 40 seconds. There is an estimated 10 to 20 suicide attempts per each completed suicide, resulting in several million suicide attempts each year. Suicide and suicidal behavior affects individuals of all ages, genders, races and religions across the planet.”
“Risk factors remain essentially the same from country to country. Mental illness, substance abuse, previous suicide attempts, hopelessness, access to lethal means, recent loss of loved ones, unemployment and vulnerability to self-harm are just few examples of risk factors. Protective factors are also the same in all corners of the world. High self-esteem, social connectedness, problem-solving skills, supportive family and friends are all examples of factors that buffer against suicide and suicidal behaviors.” *
So, it appears that we know many of the human causes of suicide and we know many of the interventions that would protect individuals from taking their own lives. Certainly those who reach out to the apparently depressed, or lonely, or addicted to support and care for them, value them, provide strategies to solve what disturbs their thought, are ways of countering the “risk factors”. But can we advance the “protective factors” one step further to a healing factor?
I find strength in dealing with these situations from a case where a man, a miscreant and outcast from society, who dwelt in a graveyard and was found to be suicidal and uncontrollable, was completely healed of his “risk factors”, “voices”, mental disturbance. One individual made the difference in his life by approaching him without fear, by not accepting his apparent condition as unsolvable, by giving him a sense of identity that did not include the negative societal labels, by providing hope and spiritual purpose. The man healed was Legion, and the individual who gave him a better sense of life was Christ Jesus.
I’m grateful for all those around the world who give their lives to diminish this difficult challenge of preventing the elements that seem to engender suicide. And I am deeply encouraged by the loving example of the master Christian that helps us see through the illusive nature of the suicidal condition to grasp the solid, stable idea of man given to life, right where a life might have been taken.