In my struggles with depression there have been times when I wondered if the world would be better off without me. These thoughts and feelings are not only common with depression, but they are one of the 9 symptoms the DSM 5 uses to diagnose major depressive disorder. The DSM says, “Recurring thought of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without specific plan, or suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.” Having a religious background, there was always the question of what happens to people who commit suicide in the back of my head.
There are definitely some extreme ideas out there in the religious world about individuals who take their own life. Let’s pause and think about this for a little while. . . In order to get to the point where you want to take your own life, your view of reality has likely been distorted. Are you really thinking clearly? Would you even entertain the thought if you were? The answers to those questions, for me at least, are no.
Elder M. Russell Ballard gave an address entitled, “Suicide: Some Things We Know, and Some We Do Not” in the October General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and I feel that he made some amazing points.I would love to share those with you here.
Elder Ballard relays a story about an older gentleman confined to his home. Elder Ballard says, “This good brother felt his earthly life no longer had any value, and he wanted to join his beloved wife. . The more he thought about death, the more appealing it became to him. . . as he thought about the release he would find through death, his mind became muddled. He. . concluded that taking his own life would solve his problems.” One thing that I have heard professionals say is that having too much time to think is a bad thing for those suffering with depression. Just as this story illustrate, the more the man gave thought to death the more it seemed like the right decision.
Elder Ballard was approached by the family who said, “‘There is no hope for dad now, is there? All the good things he did throughout his life don’t matter anymore.'” This is a concern held by many in the religious community. There have been many statements by religious leaders over time. Some of which have been rather strong such as one made by President George Q. Cannon of the first presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He said, “Man did not create himself. He did not furnish his spirit with a human dwelling place. It is God who created man, both body and spirit. Man has no right, therefore, to destroy that which he had no agency in creating. They who do so are guilty of murder, self-murder it is true; but they are no more justified in killing themselves than they are in killing others. What difference of punishment there is for the two crimes, I do not know; but it is clear that no one can destroy so precious a gift as that of life without incurring a severe penalty.” This may seem a hopeless statement, but it does not confine those who take their own lives to what the LDS community calls the Telestial kingdom, or hell.
Another general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Persons subject to great stresses may lose control of themselves and become mentally clouded to the point that they are no longer accountable for their acts. Such are not to be condemned for taking their own lives. It should also be remembered that judgment is the Lord’s; he knows the thoughts, intents, and abilities of men; and he in his infinite wisdom will make all things right in due course.” The Lord is the only one who knows our hearts. This quote gives me such hope for those who were struggling so much that they felt to go to this extreme. The Lord is and always will be a just and fair judge. A person who lived a life filled with good in the sight of the Lord will not surely be condemned because of an act committed in such a clouded state.
Elder Ballard concludes, “Suicide is a sin—a very grievous one, yet the Lord will not judge the person who commits that sin strictly by the act itself. The Lord will look at that person’s circumstances and the degree of his accountability at the time of the act.”
Of suicide, Elder Ballard said, “The act of taking one’s life is truly a tragedy because this single act leaves so many victims: first the one who dies, then the dozens of others—family and friends—who are left behind, some to face years of deep pain and confusion. The living victims struggle, often desperately, with difficult emotions.” I encourage anyone who knows someone struggling with these thoughts or is struggling themselves to read this wonderful talk. It is given in a way that illuminated so many things for me.