Day for Life in 2009 looked at the pastoral dimensions of the difficult and sensitive subject of suicide. It highlighted why the Church believes that every life is worth living and explored the reasons why people contemplate suicide, including acute mental illness and the possible spiritual factors involved. It also pointed towards the support that the professional services can bring and to help to reduce the stigma often associated with mental illness and depression.
With a particular focus on raising awareness of the vital role played by families and a supportive parish community in sustaining those who may be struggling to cope. The day aimed to help reduce the number of myths associated with mental illness, depression and suicide – emphasising the importance of encouraging people to seek professional help if they are troubled by persistent suicidal feelings.
The Church believes that life is worth living
Life matters. It is a precious gift to be cherished. Our fulfillment and destiny come from a living relationship with Jesus Christ through faith, nourished by the sacraments and the support of the Church community.
“I have come to give you life to the full” (John 10:10). He invites us to ask him for this Life. The message of the Gospel is that, whatever has happened to us, and whatever we have done, we can never be separated from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Pain, even tragedy– are never God’s last word. Someone may feel that life is so painful or hopeless that it is not worth living. But with appropriate help and support these feelings do subside. “Suicide should never be romanticised, promoted or encouraged. On the other hand, attempting suicide is typically the act of a desperate person and it should be greeted with compassion rather than with blame” (Cherishing Life, 181).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (n.2283)
Why some people think about suicide
Suicidal thoughts are not uncommon but most people don’t act on these thoughts and feelings of despair. For some, these thoughts and feelings may happen after experiencing a bereavement, relationship breakdown, the loss of a job, financial pressures or following emotional or sexual abuse. For others, it is a profound fear that they will be unable to cope with whatever has disturbed their peace of mind. Sometimes these thoughts occur without any apparent reason. People with serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and clinical depression or people who are dependent on drugs or alcohol are more likely to try to take their own lives. They may need specialist, and sometimes intensive medical and psychosocial care either in hospital or in the community. Sometimes they may have little insight into their condition and urgent specialist help will need to be requested by a family member, friend or colleague.
What to do if you are concerned about someone with suicidal feelings
Some people who are terminally ill or severely disabled may feel their life is no longer worth living, even that they are a burden to their family. Others fear that they will experience great suffering in dying. What is needed is a response of love and care by family, friends and the wider community and the assistance that good palliative care or rehabilitation can offer. Assisted suicide is not the answer; its availability would only compound any sense of hopelessness and undermine the absolute value of every human life. Assisted suicide is illegal, and a change to the law would place pressure on vulnerable people – including those who are elderly, disabled, depressed, terminally or chronically ill – to request assisted death. Sometimes suicidal feelings may arise from a sense of loss or abandonment by God, worthlessness, a lack of meaning in life and an inner emptiness. Or it may be an overwhelming sense of guilt, or of low self-worth, of insecurity and purposelessness. Prayer, opportunities for spiritual conversation, the sacrament of reconciliation and the support of family and the parish community are very important. If you are concerned about yourself or someone else with suicidal feelings then phone the Samaritans or consult your GP.
0845 90 90 90 (UK)
1850 60 90 90 (Ireland)
Your local parish and parish priest will be able to offer pastoral and social support. Serious mental disorders will require psychiatric and multidisciplinary care, and/or skilled counselling.
Details of further resources and support can be found on the Samaritans website samaritans.org