Reaching Suicidal People

by James Rudy Gray

James Rudy GrayEvery person who ministers to others should be sensitive to the individual who demonstrates suicidal thoughts and/or behavior. Suicide, unlike other problems we deal with, is an exit from life that cannot be repeated.

According to Norm Wright, 10 percent of people who commit suicide do so for no apparent reason; 25 percent are mentally unstable; 40 percent commit suicide on impulse; and 25 percent commit suicide after thinking it through. About 80 percent of those who commit suicide have given indicators that suicide was in their plans, feelings, or thoughts.

What can we do when we suspect a person is suicidal? A wise course of action would be to help that person get some professional counseling right away. Intervention is obviously an important key.

In trying to determine if a person is suicidal or not, we should pay close attention to some clear indicators. Some professionals refer to suicidal people as "dependent-dissatisfied" persons who continually demand, complain, insist, and control. A suicidal person may show strong signs of inflexibility and lack the ability to adapt. However, some people who have committed suicide show none of those characteristics.

Determining the difference between a cry for help, as often seen in attempted suicide, and suicidal tendencies can be a daunting task and one that usually requires keen insight, sensitivity, experience, and specialized training.

Suicidal thinking is not genetic and is different from depression, although depression may be involved. Suicidal persons generally need reassurances of self-worth and can alienate others with hostile dominant demands. They often expect others to make decisions for them or do for them what they could do for themselves. There appears to be either a hopeless or helpless feeling that dominates a suicidal person's perspective.

There are some suicides recorded in Scripture: Abimelech (Judg. 9:534), Samson (Judg. 16:28-31), Saul (1 Sam. 31:1-6), Saul's armor bearer (1 Chron. 10), Ahithophel (2 Sam. 17:23), Zimri (1 Kgs. 16:18), and Judas Iscariot (Matt. 27:3-10).

A coroner once was trying to comfort a grieving mother whose son had just taken his own life. He said he had just completed some training dealing with suicide and shared with the mother that "at the time of suicide, the person is not in his right mind." Later, that same mother heard a preacher condemn suicide at the funeral service for her son. She was left with greater pain instead of some degree of comfort.

As people helpers, we must be sensitive to the situation revolving around suicide. If we can provide positive and helpful intervention, we must act. If a suicide has already taken place, we must be God's instrument to speak His truth and offer comfort to the people who grieve. In that time of deep emotional pain, we do not need to preach but we do need to connect and show concern. We may be able to share the great hope we have in Christ Jesus.

How can we help a person we suspect may be suicidal? Apart from referral to a professional trained and experienced with suicidal clients, we can listen to the person's story with as few interruptions as possible. We can also build a bridge of caring and confidence-building with the person. Time becomes our friend in this process as we move forward in identifying the presenting problem and work toward uncovering the primary issues.

Suicide is a tragedy. It is an exit from life that affects so many other lives. We should take all threats of suicide seriously. Some who threaten are suicidal. Others are crying out for help. In either case, we are dealing with a volatile situation that requires wisdom.

When we suspect suicide may be in the person's thinking, we should provide the best kind of help in the most effective way we can. Our source of strength is God's Spirit and our concern is for the person in his time of difficulty and crisis. If we cannot do anything more than show concern, sometimes that can be enough to stop a terrible mistake.

James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the
National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the
American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors
Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.

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