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
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.”
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. ◊
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Resources for Suicide Prevention
In the US:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
A free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
In the Philippines:
(02) 804-HOPE / (02) 804-4673
2919 (toll-free number for Globe and TM subscribers)
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.
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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 •