Why So Many Suicides?
BRUCE’S father had been a successful businessman all his life. Earlier, his marriage to Bruce’s mother had broken up and he had married a younger woman. But he still showed an interest in his children, at one time trying to start a business with them. Then, when he was in his 50’s, his life changed dramatically. One of his businesses failed, and suddenly he was deeply in debt. He checked into a hospital for a few days but would never tell anyone why. Then his young wife left him. And he committed suicide.
Bruce comments: “I really wish I could have done more to help him. Picking up and starting again financially in his late middle age must have seemed just too much. And the thought of getting older, being alone and starting to live in pain—he could not see any point to it at all.”
Unhappily, this tragedy is not unusual today. In the United States alone, statistics reveal that in just one year 27,294 men, women and children deliberately killed themselves. Besides this, some say that for every successful attempt at suicide, at least ten people try to kill themselves and fail.
Yet around the world, under the most distressing conditions, people fight hard against death. Sufferers of painful sicknesses, prisoners with long sentences, those who live in deep poverty—for the most part they all struggle to stay alive. Why is it, then, that some who may not be in such a bad situation physically try to end it all?
The question becomes more difficult to answer in lands where people claim to be Christian. The Bible teaches that life is sacred, a precious gift from God. (Psalm 36:9) Death is an enemy, and Jehovah God, with great effort and sacrifice, has opened up the opportunity for us to gain life everlasting. (John 3:16) And yet even in so-called Christian countries increasing numbers of people kill themselves, or try to do so. Why? What kind of pressures can make a person’s most precious possession—his life—become a burden so that he wants to throw it away?
“Desperation . . . hopelessness . . . hurt . . . I was overwhelmed by everything.” Thus a woman who impulsively took an overdose of drugs describes what drove her to attempt suicide. A doctor who has dealt with suicidal patients adds: “They often feel worthless, helpless or hopeless. And they may have strong feelings of guilt.”
Thus in many cases people are pushed toward suicide by negative, deadening emotions that get out of control. Often the key to the problem is hopelessness. The would-be suicide just cannot see anything ahead. There does not seem to be any point in going on.
What causes such hopelessness? Doubtless many people are overwhelmed by their circumstances, as Bruce’s father was. One group in the population that appears particularly vulnerable to this is the elderly. Dr. Nathan S. Kline, a specialist in the study of depression, states: “Old age presents a special kind of loneliness, and the suicide rate climbs progressively with age.” (From Sad to Glad, by Nathan S. Kline) But there can be other causes.
Hopelessness, Guilt and Depression
For example, guilt can be a very difficult emotion to live with. When someone has done something seriously wrong his conscience can torment him, particularly if his sin has harmed someone else. King David of the ancient nation of Israel described how guilt affected him: “There is no peace in my bones on account of my sin. For my own errors have passed over my head; like a heavy load they are too heavy for me.”—Psalm 38:3, 4.
Guilt feelings because of a bad conscience have led some to feel that they have no future, and, therefore, decide to take their own life. Thus one young man committed fornication and then shot himself. He explained in a suicide note that he did not want to bring any more reproach on others.
Some feel hopeless because they are emotionally scarred. They may be permanently affected by a bad experience that they can never put completely out of their mind. One such person was a young woman who had been incestuously abused by her father when she was a girl. Although she was now an adult her feelings of guilt and worthlessness brought on by this experience were so strong that she attempted to kill herself.
Others may feel hopeless because they suffer from major depression and cannot believe they are going to get better. It is difficult for those who have never experienced serious depression to realize just how devastating it is. It is not just a ‘low period.’ We all get those from time to time. Rather, it is a deep emotional distress that hangs over the sufferer constantly whatever he does and wherever he goes. There seems to be no escape.
It is not unusual for those suffering such depression to think of suicide. One woman who experienced devastating depression said that, at the time, she had to be very careful. While she was taking a bath, the thought would come to her: “It would be so quick to slip my head under the water and it would all be over.” Or she would be walking along the road, see a car coming toward her and think: “Oh, it would be so easy!”
People who suffer depression also may have strong feelings of guilt. Why? One Christian woman who suffered major depression felt guilty because she could not care for her family as she once had and thought she was preventing them from doing the things they wanted to do. And she felt that God had taken his spirit away from her because she had no peace of mind or joy. (Philippians 4:7; Galatians 5:22) It was only with the greatest effort that she was able to speak about Jehovah God at all. Many have the same experience, some even thinking that they have committed the unforgivable sin.
Perhaps it is not difficult to understand why some with such negative feelings finally wonder whether it is worth carrying on. However, these are not the only things that drive people to attempt to kill themselves.
Other Reasons for Suicide
Certain psychologists believe that some suicide attempts are endeavors to get attention. The would-be suicide is crying for help, as it were. He may even be trying to punish someone else—the same kind of thinking that children show when they say: “You’ll be sorry when I’m dead!”
Sometimes, too, it is felt that the suicidal person is trying to influence those around him. For example, a girl whose boyfriend leaves her may make a halfhearted suicide attempt, hoping to force him to come back to her. Or an elderly parent may attempt suicide to try to force her grown-up children to stop ignoring her and spend more time with her.
Such examples give an idea of the kind of pressures that may be involved. The situation is made more difficult by the fact that the sufferer often keeps his problems to himself. He may present a calm appearance to the outside world, but inside he is seething with tensions. Under such pressure it only takes a little event, a trigger, to cause a suicide attempt.
Thus a man may attempt suicide after losing his job. Or a teenager may do so after seeing the disappointing results of an exam, the death of a pet, the loss of a boyfriend or a girl friend, or after learning that a favorite teacher is leaving. Such things are not really the cause of the suicide attempt. They are merely the “last straw,” the final indignity in a long series of pressures.
A woman whose teenage daughter attempted to kill herself was absolutely shocked when it happened. But later she learned about the secret pressures that can affect teenagers. She says: “Now I know how much turmoil a young girl can have. Things were too much for her to handle and I was too busy with other things to help. Now I am trying to get to know her better, talk with her more, be closer to her. And it is working. My daughter now laughs and jokes with me just as she used to before it all happened.”
A Way Out
Suicide is never justified. But to those suffering emotionally, it may sometimes seem tempting, like a quick way of ending the agony. However, Jehovah, whose Word tells us that life is sacred, offers help to those under such pressure. The Bible promises: “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” That scripture is speaking of the allurement of “injurious things,” such as idolatry and immorality. (1 Corinthians 10:6, 13) Nothing, however, is more injurious than suicide. Hence, there is also a way out for those tempted by this. Jehovah has provided help both through his Word, the Bible, and through the Christian congregation.
[Box on page 5]
Has Someone Committed Suicide?
Then the survivors need a lot of support. They will probably feel confused, guilty, and they will be wondering what they should have done to prevent the tragedy. They need to be helped to realize that probably nothing could have been done if the victim was really determined to go ahead and end his life.
Similarly, it is fruitless to speculate on what future a person has who has committed suicide. Only Jehovah and his appointed Judge, Jesus Christ, can say what was in the heart of a person who ended his own life. The important thing is to put the tragedy behind one and commend the dead one to Jehovah, the “Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort.”—2 Corinthians 1:3.