Surviving suicide

SUICIDE … now accounts for 1.5 per cent of all deaths worldwide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24, after vehicle accidents.

"Most people who commit suicide have a mental disorder – anorexia, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder are the most common…" (New Scientist, 25 February 2009).

My sister ran out of a psychiatric hospital in 1981 and straight into the path of a van. She was heard to say that morning "someone is going to die today". I have never been so devastated before or since.

My friend Mike took his life four years ago. I had known his wife, Jo, since the 70s, and Mike mainly since they were married. Mike went through huge amounts of psychiatric treatment, but remained a friend and great character throughout.

Jo, of course, went through agonies over Mike's death, and invited friends to come and remember Mike one evening. She showed us a video called Fierce Goodbye, which is a real eye-opener on this difficult subject. Some of us who shared a suicide bereavement experience decided to keep meeting. So "Survivors" was born.

It has proved to be a lifeline to a number of "survivors" who badly needed to be able to share about their experiences with others who have been there too, and to process the issues and emotions. Suicide can affect deeply many of those who were close to the person who has died: parents, children, siblings, partners, close relatives, friends, colleagues and so on. People need to talk, and to be understood.

We recognised the need to ensure that people had a safety net in case they could not handle their "lid coming off". I have recommended counselling to some, and talked to people who are supporting them, pastorally or simply as friends. Some keep in touch between meetings to support each other – particularly around anniversaries, inquests and other sensitive dates.

We are mainly Christians so far, and that means we meet various views on suicide – from the "suicide takes you straight to hell" line to "God would never damn someone who suffered like that". It has helped to look this issue straight in the eye as well, and while there are no easy answers, there are possible answers – and talking them over does help.

Nevertheless, looking at the subject in the Bible we found nothing condemning – and our church strongly emphasises God's compassion in this traumatic experience. The very word suicide is loaded. Being akin to homicide it immediately makes it sound like a crime. We believe that God can be very closely alongside those who reach that extremity, and we have witnessed it.

Not only do people need to be healed of the trauma of bereavement of a loved one by suicide, but they have an elevated risk of taking their own lives too. So we are truly helping one another to be survivors.

Published 1st September 2009 with tags: broken society services

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