Given a Desire to Live
MARY suffered from clinical depression as well as some other health problems. However, she was not isolated from her family, nor did she abuse alcohol or drugs. Mary’s case well illustrates the point that not all risk factors need to be present for a serious suicide attempt to take place.
For a time it seemed that Mary would become another statistic testifying to the efficacy with which older people end their lives. For days she remained in a coma, unresponsive, in the intensive care section of the local hospital, her vital signs flickering. Her distraught husband, John, was rarely far from her side. The doctors warned John and the family that Mary might not survive and that they could expect her to suffer permanent brain damage even if she did pull through.
Mary was visited daily by a neighbor, Sally, who is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “I urged the family not to give up hope,” says Sally. “My mother, who is diabetic, was in a coma for weeks a couple of years ago. The doctors told our family that she would never survive, but she did. I would take Mary’s hand and talk to her, as I did with my mother, and it seemed to me that I could detect a feeble response.” By the third day, the response was stronger, and Mary seemed to recognize people, although she could not speak.
‘Could I Have Prevented It?’
“John was so terribly guilt-ridden,” says Sally. “He was sure that it was all his fault.” This is a common response to the suicide or attempted suicide of a loved one. “I reminded him that Mary was being treated for clinical depression. She was sick and could not help being depressed any more than he could help being physically sick.”
Those whose loved ones commit suicide are often tormented by the question, What could I have done to prevent it? Alertness to warning signs and risk factors may avert an attempt. But if not, remember that you are not responsible for another person’s self-destructive act. (Galatians 6:5) This is especially important to remember in those cases where the suicidal family member deliberately seeks to inflict guilt on others. Dr. Hendin, quoted earlier, notes: “It should be kept in mind that fatal suicide attempts are often made by people who are hoping to influence or manipulate the feelings of other people even though they will not be around to witness the success or failure of their efforts.”
Dr. Hendin goes on to point out: “In the case of older people who are suicidal, there are often grown children as well as siblings or marital partners whom the patient wishes to influence, control, or force to assume a more protective role. The demands of the patient are often impossible to meet, the patient is often uncompromising with regard to them, and suicide attempts that are not serious are often followed by attempts that are.”
Family members in these circumstances may feel that they are truly under extreme pressure, beyond their strength. Yet, never forget that Jehovah God raises up the dead and that this might well include our loved ones who because of depression, mental illness, or despair took their own lives.—See “The Bible’s Viewpoint: Suicides—A Resurrection?” in Awake! of September 8, 1990, pages 22-3.
While suicide cannot be justified, it is comforting to remember that the future prospects of our loved ones rest with a God who fully understands that weaknesses and frailties could push one to such desperate action. The Bible says of Jehovah: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, his loving-kindness is superior toward those fearing him. As far off as the sunrise is from the sunset, so far off from us he has put our transgressions. As a father shows mercy to his sons, Jehovah has shown mercy to those fearing him. For he himself well knows the formation of us, remembering that we are dust.”—Psalm 103:11-14.
A Happy Outcome
For two days Mary teetered between life and death, but she survived. Gradually her mind cleared, and John took her home, to a house with all medicine safely under lock and key. Mary now has regular follow-up visits with mental-health social workers and says that she is unable to explain or even remember the dark compulsion that so nearly cost her her life.
Now Sally, John and Mary’s neighbor, has a weekly Bible study with them. They have learned from the Bible that the very problems that seem so insoluble, especially to older ones, will be solved by God very soon. “Of course, by itself, a Bible study is no panacea,” explains Sally. “You have to prove to yourself from the Scriptures that these promises are real, and then you have to apply what you learn. But I think John and Mary are getting a real hope for the future.”
If your future looks bleak and you would like a real hope, why not get in touch with Jehovah’s Witnesses? Let them prove to you, as they did to John and Mary, that there are no problems that God cannot and will not solve in the near future. No matter how bad things may look right now, there is an answer. Please consider with us the sure hope for the future that has provided many with a renewed desire to live.
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Risk Factors and Warning Signs
“Risk factors for suicide among older persons differ from those among younger persons,” observes The Journal of the American Medical Association. Those risk factors include “a higher prevalence of alcohol abuse and depression, greater use of highly lethal methods, and social isolation. In addition, older persons . . . have more physical illnesses and affective disorders.” The book Suicide, by Stephen Flanders, lists the following risk factors, any of which deserve attention.
“Researchers report that 50% or more of those who kill themselves have a history of serious depression.”
In some studies, even people who did not seem depressed were much more likely to be suicidal if they had no hope for the future.
Alcoholism and drug abuse:
“It is estimated that between 7% and 21% [of alcoholics] kill themselves, compared to less than 1% of the general population.”
“Studies reveal that members of a family touched by a suicide are at a greater risk for committing suicide themselves.”
“Fear over physical decline, leading to possible institutionalization, can be enough to precipitate a suicidal response among some older people.”
“The loss may be tangible, such as a mate or friend, a job, or a person’s health. It can also be something intangible. Examples include self-worth, status, or a sense of security.”
In addition to these risk factors, Flanders’ book lists the following warning signs that should never be taken lightly.
Previous suicide attempt:
“This is the single best indicator of possible suicide.”
Talk of suicide:
“Statements such as ‘They won’t have to worry about me much longer’ or ‘They’d be better off without me’ are examples of obvious threats.”
“Such behavior includes making a will, giving away prized possessions, and making arrangements for pets.”
Personality or behavior change:
When this is “accompanied by expressions of worthlessness or hopelessness,” it can be “a sign of depression severe enough to lead to self-destructive behavior.”
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Survivors often need help to cope with a mate’s suicide