Article appeared in Awake! May 2008
Each year millions of young people attempt to take their own life. Thousands succeed. Because of the prevalence of teen suicide, the publishers of “Awake!” feel it important to discuss this topic.
“Let me die. I am better off dead than alive.” Who said those words? Someone who didn’t believe in God? Someone who had left God? Someone whom God left? None of the above. The speaker was the devout but distraught man Jonah.* (Jonah 4:3, Today’s English Version) The Bible doesn’t say that Jonah was about to take his life. Nevertheless, his desperate plea reveals a sobering fact—at times even a servant of God can be overwhelmed by anguish.—Psalm 34:19.
Some youths feel such intense despair that they see no reason to continue living. They may feel as did 16-year-old Laura,# who states: “For years, I have had recurring bouts of depression. I often think about killing myself.” If you know someone who has expressed a desire to end it all—or if you have considered that idea yourself—what can you do? First, let’s take a closer look at why such a thought might occur.
Behind the Despair
Why would anyone consider taking his or her own life? A number of factors could be involved. For one thing, we live in “critical times hard to deal with,” and many adolescents feel the pressures of life with great intensity. (2 Timothy 3:1) Then, too, human imperfection can cause some to harbor deeply negative thoughts about themselves and the world around them. (Romans 7:22-24) Sometimes this is because of mistreatment. In other cases, a medical issue may be involved. Significantly, it is estimated in one country that more than 90 percent of those who did take their life were suffering from some type of mental illness.%
Of course, no one is immune to adversity. Indeed, the Bible says that “all creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain together.” (Romans 8:22) That includes young people. In fact, youths can be profoundly affected by negative events, such as the following:
The death of a relative, friend, or pet
The breakup of a romance
Mistreatment (including physical or sexual abuse)
Granted, sooner or later virtually all youths encounter one or more of the situations listed above. Why are some better equipped to ride out the storm than others? Experts say that youths who want to give up the fight feel utterly helpless and hopeless. In other words, such youths believe that there is nothing they can do to improve their plight, and they see no light on the horizon. “Quite often,” Dr. Kathleen McCoy told Awake! “these youths do not really want to die. They just want the pain to stop.”
No Way Out?
You might know someone who ‘wants the pain to stop’—so much that he or she has expressed a desire to end it all. If that is the case, what can you do?
If a friend is distressed to the point of wanting to die, urge that person to get help. Then, regardless of how he or she feels about it, talk to a responsible adult. Don’t worry about ruining your friendship. By reporting the matter, you show that you’re a “true companion,” one who is “born for when there is distress.” (Proverbs 17:17) You may well save that person’s life!
But what if you yourself have had thoughts of ending it all? “Reach out,” urges Dr. McCoy. “Tell someone how you’re feeling—a parent, another relative, a friend, a teacher, a minister—someone who cares, who will take you seriously, listen to you, and help other important people in your life hear what you need to say.”
You have nothing to lose—and everything to gain—by talking out your problems. Consider a Bible example. At one point in his life, the righteous man Job said: “My soul certainly feels a loathing toward my life.” But then he added: “I will give vent to my concern about myself. I will speak in the bitterness of my soul!” (Job 10:1) Job was in despair, and he needed to talk about his pain. You may find some relief by confiding in a mature friend.
Christians who are distressed have an added resource—congregation elders. (James 5:14, 15) Of course, talking about your problems won’t make your problems disappear. But it might help you to put them in perspective, and the support of a trusted confidant may be just what you need to work out some practical solutions.
When undergoing distress, remember this: No matter how dire a situation may seem, in time things will change. The psalmist David, who was no stranger to adversity, said in prayer: “I have grown weary with my sighing; all night long I make my couch swim; with my tears I make my own divan overflow.” (Psalm 6:6) Yet, in another psalm he wrote: “You have changed my mourning into dancing for me.”—Psalm 30:11.
The most important form of communication is prayer
David knew from experience that life’s problems ebb and flow. True, some may seem overwhelming—at least for now. But be patient. Things change, often for the better. In some cases, problems might be alleviated in ways that you couldn’t have predicted. In other cases, you may discover a way of coping that you hadn’t considered. The point is, distressing problems will not stay the same forever.—2 Corinthians 4:17.
The Value of Prayer
The most important form of communication you can have is prayer. You can pray as did David: “Search through me, O God, and know my heart. Examine me, and know my disquieting thoughts, and see whether there is in me any painful way, and lead me in the way of time indefinite.”—Psalm 139:23, 24.
Prayer is not a mere crutch. It is real communication with your heavenly Father, who wants you to “pour out your heart” to him. (Psalm 62:8) Consider the following basic truths about God:
He is aware of the circumstances that contribute to your distress.—Psalm 103:14.
He knows you better than you know yourself.—1 John 3:20.
“He cares for you.”—1 Peter 5:7.
In his new world, God will “wipe out every tear” from your eyes.—Revelation 21:4.
When the Problem Is Health Related
As mentioned earlier, suicidal feelings are often rooted in some type of illness. If that’s the case with you, do not be ashamed to seek help. Jesus acknowledged that those who are ailing need a physician. (Matthew 9:12) The good news is that many conditions can be treated. And treatment may help you to feel much better!
The Bible promises that in God’s new world, “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’” (Isaiah 33:24) In the meantime, do your best to cope with life’s challenges. Heidi, who lives in Germany, did just that. “At times, my depression was so intense that I just wanted to die,” she says, “but now I have my life together again, thanks to persevering in prayer and receiving treatment.” The same can be true for you!^
* Similar expressions were made by Rebekah, Moses, Elijah, and Job.—Genesis 25:22; 27:46; Numbers 11:15; 1 Kings 19:4; Job 3:21; 14:13.
# Names in this article have been changed.
% It is important to note, however, that most youths who have a mental illness do not commit suicide.
^ For more information on coping with feelings of distress, see the series “Help for Depressed Teens,” in the September 8, 2001, issue of Awake! and the series “Understanding Mood Disorders,” in the January 8, 2004, issue.
TO THINK ABOUT
It has been said that suicide doesn’t end your problems; it merely passes them on to someone else. How is that true?
To whom could you talk if you experience intense anxiety?
More articles from the “Young People Ask” series can be found at www.watchtower.org/ype
A NOTE TO PARENTS
In some parts of the world, suicide among the young is disturbingly common. In the United States, for example, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 25, and during the past two decades, the suicide rate among those between the ages of 10 and 14 has doubled. Those most at risk include youths who suffer from a mental-health disorder, those who have a family history of suicide, and those who have attempted suicide in the past. Warning signs that a youth may be thinking of taking his or her life include the following:
Withdrawal from family and friends
A change in eating and sleeping patterns
A loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable
A marked change in personality
Drug or alcohol abuse
Giving away prized possessions
Talking about death or being preoccupied with subjects related to it
Dr. Kathleen McCoy told Awake! that one of the greatest mistakes a parent can make is to ignore such warning signs. “No one wants to think that something could be wrong with their child,” she says, “so some parents go into denial. They tell themselves, ‘It’s a phase’ or ‘It will pass’ or ‘She always was a bit dramatic.’ That’s dangerous. All threats should be taken seriously.”
Do not be ashamed to get help for your son or daughter if he or she suffers from severe depression or another mental disorder. And if you suspect that your teen is thinking about ending it all, ask him about it. The notion that talking about suicide will encourage the act is false. Many youths are relieved when parents bring up the subject. So if your teen admits to having thoughts of suicide, find out if a plan has been devised and if so, how detailed it is. The more detailed the plan, the more urgently you need to intervene.*
Do not assume that the depression will lift on its own. And if it does seem to lift, do not think that the problem is solved. Some experts say that this is the most dangerous point. Why? “A teenager who has been severely depressed may be too immobilized to act on suicidal feelings,” says Dr. McCoy. “When the depression lifts, the teen may have enough energy to go through with it.”
It is indeed tragic that as a result of their despair, some youths consider ending it all. By being attentive to the signs and responding to them, parents and other caring adults may “speak consolingly to the depressed souls” and prove to be like a place of refuge for young ones.—1 Thessalonians 5:14.
* Experts also warn that households with potentially lethal prescription medication or loaded and accessible firearms are particularly at risk. Regarding the latter, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention notes: “Although most gun owners reportedly keep a firearm in their home for ‘protection’ or ‘self defense,’ 83 percent of gun-related deaths in these homes are the result of a suicide, often by someone other than the gun owner.”