God & Religion, Depression & Suicide

trigger warning: depression, suicide

The recent suicide of a young Filipina artist has been publicized through a post on Facebook. The post compiles an image of her last artwork (which depicted an apparent suicide), some of her selfies, and screenshots of her Facebook posts that expressed feelings of loneliness and pain, words about depression, and thoughts of death and suicide. [I am not sure whether it’s appropriate to link the said FB post here. I decided against it. May she rest in peace.]

The news about her suicide was disturbing, but what disturbed me even more were the comments on the post. I KENNAT. I feel like I want to say so many things about the issue, but at the same time it’s difficult for me to find my tongue in the face of all the comments I just read.

My blood needs to cool down first.

*breathe in, breathe out* – repeat prn

Okay.

I cannot detail all the comments here, but I read enough to see that the majority of them centered on this: God and religion, in relation to depression and suicide.

*breathe in, breathe out*

Before I go on, context: The Philippines is mainly a Catholic/Christian nation. Christian faith here is strong and alive and kicking. On the other hand, awareness and understanding about mental health issues are low, although I guess it’s fair to say that it’s steadily (albeit slowly) growing.

Now back to discussion: God and religion, in relation to depression and suicide. Many comments were either directly stating or subtly alluding that lack of faith in God, or failure to feel God’s love (or something to that effect) is the cause of depression and suicide.

“If only she called on God in her darkest hour, this wouldn’t have happened…”
“God is the cure to depression…”
“She let herself be swayed by the devil…”

Then in response to those comments, of course there was backlash.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about; shut up.”
“If you’ve never been through depression, you’ll never understand.”
“The ignorance!”

And the word war raged on, as it often does in social media, especially when it comes to such touchy subjects as mental illness and religion.

Okay, first of all: I have nothing against Catholic or Christian faith. I am a Catholic.

Secondly, here’s the thing about mental illness, specifically depression. There’s a wealth of studies that show there are a number of factors that may cause or trigger it—genetics, brain chemicals, brain structure, hormones, physical illness, drugs, diet, parent-child relationship, childhood trauma, recent trauma, learned behaviors, distorted patterns of thinking, lack of social support, media influences, poverty, wealth, failure, success, marriage, divorce…do you see where I’m going with this? Depression may develop as a result of any one of those, or a combination of those factors. Indeed, we may even throw in “lack of faith in God” as one of those factors.

There may be a single factor, yet undiscovered, that underlies all cases of depression. Or the factor/s involved in the development of depression may be different for each person. As much as we have a lot of theories about it, the bottom line about what really causes depression is this: NOBODY KNOWS.

Also, while many cases of suicide are preceded by depression, there are even more cases of depression that don’t end in suicide. So what really triggers a person to go over the edge and end his/her own life? Again, we could enumerate a long list of possible factors here, and argue all we want about them. But the bottom line? NOBODY KNOWS.

Or at least, for both depression and suicide, nobody knows a single answer that would be right for every single case. We like to have one simple answer for everything, but life is messy and there’s never one simple answer that would apply every time. Not even God. There, I said it.

I’m not saying this to also wage war against those who say depression and suicide are caused/triggered by failing to seek God’s help or not having enough religious faith. To some extent, that point may actually be valid in some cases. Some people really are saved from the dark clutches of depression and suicide by their faith in God and by feeling God’s love in their lives. However, this is not true for all cases. There are also those who don’t believe in God and yet don’t fall into depression, don’t feel compelled to end their lives, and continue to be well-adjusted, productive members of society.

Let’s just put it this way. It’s totally OKAY to believe that having strong religious faith and acknowledging the transformative power of God’s love can heal a person from depression and stop him/her from dying by suicide. Again, this may be true for some, and we should know how to respect the truth in that instead of jumping into judgments about the ignorance of people who hold that as true.

What is NOT okay is to impose that belief on everyone else, to insist that it’s really the explanation or the answer in every single case of depression and suicide, and to insinuate that those who have depression or who died by suicide are faithless, godless people who would’ve all been happily living if only they listened to God instead of the devil. This is one line of thinking I cannot—I repeat, I KENNAT—bear to condone. Please. People with depression or suicidal tendencies are and can be helped by things other than religious faith, such as by medications, psychotherapy, social support, and practically whatever they find helps them uplift their mood and see a reason to stay alive.

“And then I began thinking about all the ways people make themselves better. I’d started off as a medical conservative. I thought there were a few kinds of therapy that worked, it was clear what they were — there was medication, there were certain psychotherapies, there was possibly electroconvulsive treatment, and that everything else was nonsense.

But then I discovered something. If you have brain cancer, and you say that standing on your head for 20 minutes every morning makes you feel better, it may make you feel better, but you still have brain cancer, and you’ll still probably die from it. But if you say that you have depression, and standing on your head for 20 minutes every day makes you feel better, then it’s worked, because depression is an illness of how you feel, and if you feel better, then you are effectively not depressed anymore. So I became much more tolerant of the vast world of alternative treatments.” ~ Andrew Solomon, a writer who’s battled depression

With that, I end this long post/rant. We’re a long way from understanding the nature of mental illness, but that shouldn’t stop us from having compassion for those who have it, and from trying to help instead of being quick to judge. ◊

›  »  •  «  ‹

Resources for Suicide Prevention

In the US:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
A free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

In the Philippines:
Hopeline
(02) 804-HOPE / (02) 804-4673
0917-558-4673
2919 (toll-free number for Globe and TM subscribers)
http://www.ngf-hope.org/contact-us/
A 24/7 suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in emotional crisis and in need of immediate assistance.

If you’re actively suicidal, please reach out to someone or read this.

For other international resources, please click here.

›  »  •  «  ‹

This entry is part of my undertaking a 30-day challenge Matt Cutts talked about at TED2011. The premise is to “think about something you’ve always wanted to add to your life and try it for the next 30 days.” I am challenging myself to post one blog entry a day for 30 consecutive days.

Today is Day 23.

About the Author •

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30 thoughts on “God & Religion, Depression & Suicide

  1. When it comes to suicide, not in general, but of a specific case, I really don’t like putting my thoughts there. I don’t like judging based on raw evidence. I think one can never fully understand what it feels like walking on the shoes of that person. So I just feel sorry for the poor soul.
    The world we live in sympathizes when a celebrity or anyone who is not high-born commits suicide.They can so emphatic with the noble ones despite their luxurious life and all their sins.
    On the other hand should a commoner commit suicide, everybody loses their minds. they will then talk about how it was a coward’s way out. They could be really mean.

    That was my thought.
    P.S – I don’t support suicide, Life is precious. I’ve always been there for people with depression.
    Thank you, for writing on such an interesting topic.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I actually had this experience before where I was called something I cannot remember just because I posted somewhere between the lines that I am depressed. It’s because we’re Filipinos, we cannot be sad all the time because hey, we’re on the most cheerful country ever, right? It’s kind of sad and traumatizing to be honest, I saw the account of the girl you wrote about, such a talented soul. Thanks for posting this, keep them coming I’ll be reading. Always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your thoughtful sharing. Yes, there seems to be an unspoken rule that we’re not allowed to be sad or depressed, because we’re supposed to always “look on the bright side.” Unfortunately, depression is still seen as the fault of the person experiencing it.

      Thanks for reading. 🙂

      Like

  3. I really appreciate your thoughts. I have not heard of the case of the Filipino girl, and it is very sad. My father-in-law and my brother both committed suicide within the last 15 years, my brother less than a year ago. Plus I knew a kid in a church youth group back in the ’80s who took his own life. No one saw it coming. We just never know.
    I have been close to it so many times in my own life. And it had nothing to do with whether I had faith in God or not. I am a Christian, but I have never been able to stand how some ignorant people in the the church community who know nothing about mental health issues continue to treat people who have them. Thanks again for your post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your generosity in sharing your own experiences. We do need more people speaking out about this, to better inform the public about what it’s really like grappling with these issues. It’s difficult to challenge views, especially when religion is involved, because religion goes deep with people. I guess the challenge is for us to keep the conversation going with sensitivity, guided by the search for truth rather than the need to be right about things.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I really liked this post, and you are so right: nobody really knows. I struggle with suicidal thoughts. I have for years. I also have a strong Christian background. It’s helped me at time. Other times the judgement of my friends and church members only makes it worse by making me feel like a failure and an outcast. I can’t explain the depression. It comes on like a passing storm. Something can trigger major depression, like simply driving by an old place were memories were made. Other times I can pass without much of a thought. I can’t always feel it coming on; it can hit all at once and it can vanish like the darkness at sunrise. I wish people could acknowledge our ignorance and simply show a bit of compassion. More people go through this than anyone knows. They are afraid to talk about it; they feel there is no place to turn. No hope. Then it’s over and everybody’s posting on Facebook and crap wonder why a person gave in. Quite often, it is religion that forces us to wear our smiling masks and hide the hurt. But they can’t handle it alone. In the dark moments it is hard to sense God. Perhaps God is not there. Perhaps God is disappointed or angry. All thoughts depression can stir. Maybe the best thing anybody can do is listen and care.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience, and for affirming what I wrote here. I wasn’t sure how accurate they were to other people’s experiences.

      Your reply couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve been struggling to write about suicide (there have been incidents close to where I live), and wondered to myself whether I should really be joining the conversation. What you shared here made me realize that yes, maybe we should really be talking about this more, even though the subject is hard and sensitive. If we can get the word out more, then maybe more people would also listen and care.

      Like

      • Yes you should write and be involved. It’s a tough subject, but its a needed one. The problem isn’t just suicides anymore. Although that is is a problem enough. Some are no just depressed, they are angry. Some are no longer content to just hurt themselves. It’s a big problem. Compassion and sympathy would go a long way in helping, but people are afraid of talking about it.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Great Piece, depression is a serious illness, suffered last year, unfortunately in my country there are hardly Suicide centers you can reach out to, it’s obvious we still don’t take depression seriously, In fact the common mindset is that depression is this exotic white man’s disease so when a person is depressed its difficult to get help, most times, you’ll get more ridicule than help…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing that, Rhack. So sorry to hear you’ve had to go through that–depression is difficult enough even without society’s ridicule. What you shared sheds light on the still-prevailing stigma against mental illness. We need to continue keeping the conversation about mental illness going, so that more people understand and more help will be available to those who need it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. A very interesting read indeed and an equally important issue that’s been highlighted.

    Personally, I believe that having a black-and-white mentality is just one of the many ways by which a person confines themselves; here doesn’t always have to be a single, fixed solution to every problem.

    I’m not against religious solutions to help deal with mental illnesses (I, myself, am a Muslim). Nor am I against medical and psychotherapeutic (disclaimer: I may have just made that word up) solutions to help deal with mental illnesses.

    Like yourself, what I AM against is 1/ forcing either of those onto others, and 2/ suggestions/accusations of lack of belief or trust in God. You either have some sort of physical illness which you should get sorted out or you don’t trust God enough to solve your problems and you depression (for example) is completely your fault. That’s a VERY black and white mentality.

    A more pragmatic approach for those who are part of a particular faith group: combine both the religious and medical solutions. The world has many means within it – use them.

    True knowledge is to be liberated, not to be bigoted.

    At the same time, knowledge of your own ignorance is the greatest knowledge of all; it means that you’ve acknowledged that there is so much more we can learn about the world and each other in order to discover who we are and how we can improve to make our community a better one 🙂

    X

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very insightful and a well-written reply, indeed, Khadijah! That’s true, a black-and-white mentality isn’t helping us move forward to any resolution or helpful strategies for these issues. As you pointed out, we need open-mindedness more than restrictive thinking. It’s a great suggestion that we can find middle-ground by utilizing both religious and medical/psychotherapeutic (yes, there’s really such a term, hehe!) solutions — again, whatever works!

      Thank you for reading and sharing your insights! 🙂

      Like

    • Thanks for sharing that! It’s a good read. One’s perception of God, as well as the beliefs and habits one’s religion inculcates, are indeed big factors in considering whether religion helps or harms mental health.

      Like

  7. I had a friend who committed suicide, and even though a good Christian at one time, he still struggled with life a lot. The whole battle of earning a living, he had a son who knew he cheated on mommy at one time, and another son died of leukemia. I think he just got tired of the battle to the point he felt overwhelmed and completely wore out. Couldn’t face another day of work. Naturally, he had drifted pretty far from God before he did it. He came home from a job he didn’t like, enjoyed a meal with his wife and kids, they said he seemed happier than normal, then got up from table, went to bathroom and ended it all, just like that. Unfortunately, one of his sons had to check on him in order to prevent his mom from seeing it. Obviously, whatever we may believe, this is not what God wants for his creation. But when things get so dark, we simply don’t think straight. It is a very dangerous condition for someone to be in. I know your job can’t be easy, when you consider what might be at stake. But must be very rewarding when you actually help someone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing that. I think it’s incredibly important we hear these stories, of real people, with real struggles. You nailed the idea with, “But when things get so dark, we simply don’t think straight.” Indeed, some people have struggles the intensity/difficulty of which we could only guess at but never fully grasp. And I think that’s exactly why we should not be quick to judge others for not being a good Christian or for not believing in God enough, etc., if they’re struggling with mental health issues.

      Like

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