My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Recently the issue of suicide has been brought to our attention and its rise in America has become troublesome. Anthony Bourdain, the famous travel chef and author, and Kate Spade, a well-known fashion designer, both committed suicide during the same week. These high-profile people brought attention to the rising suicide rate in the United States.
According to research, 45,000 Americans took their lives in 2016, a 25 percent increase from 1999. Experts worry that this trajectory reflects a breakdown in social bonds as well as a lack of understanding of suicidal people and their sometimes indirect calls for help.
First, it is important that we listen to relatives, friends and acquaintances when they speak about taking their own life. It may be caused by depression or mental illness, or just frustration. However, every mention of suicide must be taken very seriously. This is not something that we can easily dismiss. These statements about suicide may be a warning sign or a call for help. This is certainly true with our teenagers. The rising rate of suicide among teenagers, up by at least 70 percent between 2006 and 2016, is another concern for us. It seems the Internet and the availability of the methods of how to commit suicide has influenced many of our depressed and troubled teenagers to take their own lives.
The position of the Church on suicide certainly has changed over the years, as our understanding of the issues surrounding suicide has evolved. There was a time when a person who committed suicide was denied a funeral Mass. In the last generation this has changed, realizing that most people who commit suicide are not competent and certainly not morally responsible. From a social work perspective, suicide was at one time listed as the ultimate sign of mental illness. Again, attitudes have recently changed through the movement for assisted suicide or personal choice or freedom to end one’s life. This newly found method of ending life when confronted with incurable or lingering illness is something we face now.
Suicide is certainly the wrong method for dealing with life’s troublesome issues. Life is a gift from God and none of us are entitled to take away our own life or to deny the continuance of life to others, even if it be considered an act of mercy. God’s love reaches beyond our limitations of human coping. God’s love never fails us even if someone were driven to commit suicide. Most probably, those contemplating suicide are in the midst of a spiritual crisis. This can sometimes come from a denial of eternal life and God’s goodness, as well as His ability to reward us for the good that we have done in our life, and to treat us mercifully for whatever sins we may have committed. We need to understand God’s abundant mercy, not so that suicide may be considered more easily. Rather, it is that suicide is to be avoided because God’s mercy will find a solution to the issues we face if we reach out for psychological and spiritual assistance.
There exists, fortunately, in our society a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) and Crisis Text Line (741741), as well as many local suicide prevention assistance programs. Most recently, Catholic Charities is trying to make our mental health practitioners and our spiritual guides more aware of the circumstances when people might consider suicide and give them an opportunity to seek the support necessary.
Life is a journey that is never clear, nor whose duration do we know. It is in God’s hands when the journey of life ends and we put out into the deep mystery of eternity. It is God who calls us, it is not a call of our own initiative. Please join me in praying for those who are contemplating suicide, that they will have the support and assistance of those who can help them to see the eternal value of life and find other means of coping and dealing with the problems of life.