In Japan where I grew up, society exalts suicide as an honorable act. Most Christians, however, condemn it as a sin.
Suicide remains almost impossible to predict, although it is highly related to age, drug and alcohol use, depression, bipolar disorder, crisis, and the availability of guns. In North America, the suicide rate remains at 1% of all deaths. Among pastors, the rate of attempts is probably lower due to moral teachings against suicide. However, the rate of suicidal thoughts is probably much higher due to a higher rate of depression. So suicidal thoughts and tendencies remain a very serious problem among some pastors and their children.
Suicide rates grow increasingly higher for the aged. I don’t consider myself aged, but about 40% of all suicides occur in those over age 60. The rate triples for those over age 75 and rises to six times higher for white males over age 80. Missionaries who fail to retire well probably run a higher risk of suicidal thoughts. The loss of a meaningful ministry can aggravate feelings of hopelessness. This website includes information to help pastors as the transition into retirement. If you are withing five years of retirement age, please obtain a copy of Finishing Well: Retirement Skills for MInisters. This book will guide you through the transition process, itself a high risk for depression.
A 1990 study showed that 8% of American high school students had attempted suicide in the previous year, and 27% said they had considered it seriously. Attempted suicide remains the most common cause of hospital emergency room visits among those under age 35. The rate of suicide for 15-19 year olds quadrupled between 1950 and 1988. Dr. Ilardi notes that the high Omega-6 ratio from beef products compared to the Omega-3 from fish products possibly accounts for some of the higher incidence of depression.
Depression and bipolar-related suicide
Thirty to 70% of all suicide victims suffer from depression or bipolar disorder. And more than two-thirds of moderate to major depressive individuals suffer from suicidal thoughts. Depression is easily diagnosed. According to the American Psychological Association, depression is an illness characterized by a depressed mood and the presence of four or more of the following (SPACEGIS) symptoms for more than two weeks:
- S—sleep disturbance (insomnia or hypersomnia)
- P—psychomotor retardation/agitation
- A—appetite change or weight change
- C—concentration difficulty, such as difficulty in making decisions
- E—energy loss
- G—guilt or excessive worthlessness
- I—interest or pleasure in usual activities is lessened or lost
- S—suicidal thoughts
With the latest advances in research, depression is more preventable than ever before and remains very treatable. Please refer to Rebound From Burnout: Resilience Skills for Ministers to nurture a lifestyle that prevents depression and burnout.
When someone in your family suffers from five or more of the above symptoms, please take them to your physician right away for a more in-depth assessment and medication. Since most antidepressants take 3-4 weeks to start working, start taking the medication as soon as possible before getting to the point of recurrent suicidal thoughts. If the medication seems to have side effects, let your doctor know. Other types of antidepressants can reduce those side effects. Regardless, if you suffer from the symptoms, take the medication. The side effects are always less harmful than suicide!
Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Drugs and alcohol stimulate depression and suicidal thoughts. About half of all suicides involve drugs of some kind, and more than two-thirds of those involve alcohol. While alcohol use remains a taboo in many Christian churches, it still remains culturally acceptable in many parts of the Christian world. Without taking sides on a political and cultural issue, alcohol remains an uncontested physical depressant. The more one consumes, the more depressed the person will eventually feel. So as use goes up, depression goes up. And if your family shows a history of alcoholism or ADHD, please avoid it like a plague. It can quickly turn into something worse than any plague.
The Availability of Guns
Anyone who tries to commit suicide needs the means. In the States, suicides occur more frequently in those locations where guns remain easily accessible. In one study, homes with the presence of a gun showed a five-times-higher incidence of suicide. In comparing Seattle, Washington, versus Vancouver, B.C., the suicide rate in Seattle (with guns) remains significantly higher than Vancouver (without guns).
Personally, I love to hunt and shoot guns. However, allowing guns to remain in a home with adolescents or with a depressed or bipolar individual simply fails to make sense. If you live in a home with adolescents, lock up your guns (with trigger locks installed), and throw away all ammunition until you need it for hunting. Your children may not tell you about their suicidal thoughts out of a fear of losing face. Eliminate the easiest means of suicide—guns and ammunition. The same advice holds true for any home with a depressed or bipolar adult—eliminate the guns and ammunition. You can’t eliminate all the means, but you can eliminate some of the easiest ones.
Sometimes a crisis occurs that jars our equilibrium and puts almost everything in question. For instance, the death of a child or close family member, personal divorce, loss of job and ministry, a total loss of face, or a life-threatening illness can stimulate a crisis of faith and put us in a position in which we feel like we cannot cope with life any longer. For missionaries, personal and family crisis perhaps represents the most common threat of all those listed above. When (not if) you find yourself in a sudden crisis, your margin of resiliency plays a huge role in recovery.
Social support plays a role that is equal to all the other resilience factors put together. Unfortunately, missionaries often lack social support for a variety of reasons. Without social support, however, they have no outlet to discuss their crises with others. And without feedback from others, they suffer injury to their self-esteem. Negative interpretation sets in and coping skills falter.
Social support plays a huge preventative role. Once a crisis occurs, it is much too late to try to develop a social support network. At that point, we find ourselves at war with ourselves and the world. In this “come as you are” state, we quickly use up our meager margin of resilience and lean on others to provide emotional support. Without others available to hear our pain and offer emotional support, we risk succumbing to the crisis at hand.
- Pursue the lifestyles outlined in Rebound From Burnout: Resilience Skills for Ministers to prevent suicide and to pursue a healthy ministry.
- Know the symptoms of depression.
- Go to a physician immediately for assessment and medication if the symptoms of depression or bipolar disorder seem evident.
- Eliminate guns and ammunition from those who might use them inappropriately.
- Develop a support team of close confidents with whom you can share your joys, pains, and sorrows.
© 2013 Nathan Davis