Confronting Suicide

by Theresa M. Shaltanis

I don’t have a question, but I have an observation that may help others. My 17-year-old son lost his best friend to suicide earlier this year. In the days following that tragedy, well-meaning friends and family questioned (judgmentally, it seems to me) how a teenager could reach such a point of hopelessness. They commented that “kids these days have no direction.” I want readers to know how proud my husband and I were of the love and support our son and his friends gave—and continue to give—to each other and the family who lost their son. In many ways they modeled for their school and for adults in the community what true Christian care can look like in a time of grief.

Thank you for sharing what has clearly been a very difficult time in the life of your community. It can be hurtful when others make insensitive remarks following such a tragedy, or speak disparagingly about “kids these days.” Yet, the prevailing view among sociologists of Generation Y-ers, or “Millennials,” is that they are idealistic, optimistic, and flexible, and have a growing reputation for service that we have not seen since the 1940s. Your son and his friends certainly reflect these qualities as they pull together to be the hands and feet of Jesus at such a vulnerable time.

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24. Untreated depression is the number-one cause of suicide, and the presence of other mental illnesses and/or substance abuse can increase the risk. No age or ethnic group is immune from depression or suicide ideation—including Christians. A devoted Christian once told me that of all the pain he had known in his life, including painful chronic medical conditions and severe family distress, his greatest anguish was with major depression. At times he felt disconnected from God and that his life did not matter.

For those who contemplate suicide, death may appear to be the only release from their pain. Because of their own despair, they cannot comprehend the grief their death will bring others. Loved ones often share that they “didn’t see it coming,” as intentions are kept under wraps and the departed one’s mood appeared peaceful or more hopeful prior to suicide.

Among key symptoms of depression and suicide risk are a sad mood, statements about not wanting to be here anymore, and a general attitude of giving up. More information is available at the National Institute of Mental Heath Web site: nimh.nih.gov. In addition, many local communities offer a 24-hour suicide-prevention hotline. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline telephone number is (800) 273-TALK (8255).

Questions for “Family Counselor” come from readers and, after steps are taken to assure confidentiality, from contacts made with Lutheran Hour Ministries. Send your questions to “Family Counselor,” The Lutheran Witness, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295. Please include your name and address. 

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