“I was bullied in school, abused verbally and physically at home to the point I broke. I got high, drank and let boys take advantage of me because I was so starved for attention. So I started a tally, began cutting my wrists for every boy I let take advantage of me. The cuts stopped at 37. That night I looked at myself in the mirror and called myself names over and over. Eventually I started cutting my thighs as a way to shift focus from mental pain to physical.”
You have just read a portion of an email from a high school girl named “Angel”* who I met in Georgia on a night she had hatched a meticulous suicide plan that was to be completed.
Multitudes just like her are silently suffocating in a bubble of regret, guilt and depression they do not know how to escape. The past, impossible to understand, is too difficult to face and the future is viewed as nothing more than an inescapable, hopeless, never-ending torture chamber.
I walked the same grueling trail when I was 21 years old – a time when my greatest fear wasn’t dying; it was living. A painful season when it appeared more unreasonable to just exist than it did to put a gun to my head.
I’m not sure about you but the continuous contacts we receive like Angel’s never cease to squeeze my heart and tear ducts. The faces and stories fill my mind. Some bring encouragement because the victim found peace and purpose while others only make me ponder, “Why?” Why they couldn’t find refuge, a friend who could see the impending tragedy? Or most needed – the peace offered through Christ.
Suicide is a pandemic that affects the young and old, rich and poor, Christian and non-Christian. No one is immune. Pastors, staff and ministry leaders need to be aware of the telltale warning signs of those in danger.
There are six critical signs that are often exhibited before one takes action to end his or her own life:
- Depression/uncharacteristic moodiness. One of the main contributors to suicidal tendencies is the onslaught of depression. Many fight this battle in silence. The key to breaking the code is through providing an open line of communication and access to professional help. Many times the solution can be as simple as a medical prescription.
- Aggression. Unusual bouts of rage, uncontrolled anger and attacks on others are red flags. Often these outbursts are a cry for attention or help. Regrettably, they seldom accomplish the intended results of the offender. While they hope for others to console or reach out to them, the opposite reaction of isolation or rejection is often the response they receive.
- Alcohol, drug or prescription medication abuse. A person who usually doesn’t partake of these vices or uses them sparingly and who is suddenly using or indulging is an indicator of someone looking for an escape.
- Isolation or withdrawal. Disconnecting from family and friends can be a sign of trying to unplug from reality or life.
- Threats. Many suicides were preceded by “calls for help” that were misunderstood as someone just trying to get attention. Comments like, “I wish I wasn’t alive,” “I just don’t want to go on,” or “I wish I had never been born” should be taken with extreme caution.
- Tragedy. The loss of a loved one, family member, close friendship, or girl- or boyfriend can be overwhelming. Especially for teens or those fighting emotional instability.
We all need to be compassionate and on alert. If you know someone at risk, keep an open line of communication with intentional interaction that includes listening, accessibility and sympathizing. Dedication to prayer and displaying the love of Christ brings supernatural results and spiritual healing, but the use of professional counselors, rehabilitation or prescriptions should also be considered. Ultimate healing comes from the hand of the Great Physician, no matter what form it takes.
“Angel” is a great example of the power of Jesus that I have personally witnessed in not only her life but also the lives of multitudes of others. Her email ended with the following words: “I planned on killing myself that night. I believe God sent you to help me find salvation through Christ. And now because of this truth I can say, ‘I am Angel, no longer a person who is suicidal but a person who is a follower of Jesus.”
Jay Lowder is a full-time evangelist and founder of Jay Lowder Harvest Ministries, an international organization based in Wichita Falls, Texas. He is also author of “Midnight in Aisle 7.”