Two weeks ago, I invited Dr. Rachele Jan Lobino-Enojada to be our resource speaker at the Minority Care International weekly study forum on the topic of “Suicide Among the Youth.” There were around fifty students, all young college students, all eager for the exchange of thoughts and emotions that took place. Some of the students shared that classmates had committed suicide. After Dr. Lobino finished her talk, we conversed on topics that interested the young people with the question arising, “Why do people kill themselves?” What I observed during the conversation is that students need to see authentic life and a new way to live life.
Sadly, the answers I heard were about petty and confined aspects of life. Because a guy broke up with my friend or she broke up with him, the individual committed suicide. She is fat so that is why people bully her and make her want to end her life. He felt that he is not loved so he killed himself. Even the reason that because her parents did not get her a new gadget, she contemplated commit suicide. The student is gay or lesbian and the family did not agree with this life style, so he or she was depressed and wanted to die.
The new generation peaks at life through the small window of their prison cell, thinking that they understand all that is life. When I ask students, “What does life mean to you?”, they looked at me as if there was a slide of bacon coming out of my nostrils. Most of this generation’s minds have become dull with the distractions of modern life, they feel uncomfortable reaching inward that far and bringing out that much of themselves, or they do not feel curious about life anymore. Life for this new generation has to be all about fun; if life is not fun, then it is not worth living, whatever fun means to them. If they post their picture online and do not get any “likes” or less “likes” than they anticipated, that makes them depressed. If they send ten text messages to different friends and get less responses, they conclude that no one likes them. Such a life is very self-centric and ego driven.
That is why suicide could become an urgent problem in the Philippines. But few if anyone is noticing this silent killer. Suicide rates have increased in both males and females. Studies show that the number of suicide cases and students with mental illness has gone up drastically in the last couple of years. Urgent attention is needed to address this increase. It is very hard to understand why someone who has a full life ahead, is endowed with gifts, appears beautiful, and has so much potential, commit suicide when a bright future is just starting to beckon to them. We do not know one single reason why people end their lives, because experts are never able to talk to people who kill themselves. They only talk to people who are contemplating committing suicide or who survive an attempted suicide.
Some people who commit suicide have mental health problems, life stressors, addiction, depression, financial difficulties, loneliness, low self worth—all which result in feelings of despair and hopelessness. Among the youth, bullying and bashing can cause suicides, especially through social media, which connects people around the globe, but provides a platform for abuse of others as well. Some talk about wanting or planning to commit to suicide or might give clues; others do not. The decision to kill himself or herself might be made just minutes or hours before the act, so that intervention is not possible.
Suicide is defined as a death deliberately initiated and performed by a person with the full knowledge or expectations of a deadly outcome. It is selecting a permanent solution to a possibly temporary problem. Each person is unique and every suicide, like every person, is different and that may lead a person to move from one emotional state to another at different rates. Depression is commonly blamed for many suicide cases, but most people suffering from depression do not kill themselves and not all suicide victims were depressed. According to psychiatrist Dr. Rachele Jan Lobino-Enojada, a mix of social and biological accounts for the rise in the number of suicide cases and youth with mental health issues. Dr. Enojada argues that young people today tend to be more disconnected despite the Internet’s supposedly opening up the world to everyone. With Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, and other forums, there are just too many things to do, too many things to prove, and young people today tend to be very pressured, very stressed, living extremely stressed lives and tending to be socially disconnected. They are connected online, but they do not seem to have a trusted friend. Youth do not understand the difference between “friends” on social media and true friendship and belonging, needs that really matter.
Relationships at home may not be good, possibly because many Filipino kids have parents who work overseas. Some of them experience increased busyness themselves.
The relationship between religion and committing suicide has been an important question for centuries. Studies have reported mixed results. However, some research shows that rates of suicide attempts and suicide ideation are lower among persons who have religious affiliation, but that affiliation does not protect against the risk of suicide. Because spiritual belief and practice tend to help people feel a greater sense of connection, of hope, and of meaning in their lives, believers tend to have more purpose for living. By contrast, those who commit suicide do not have hope, meaning in life, or a purpose for living. It does not mean that religious people do not have thoughts of suicide of ending their lives; after all, pastors, renowned clerics, as well as sons and daughters of pastors have committed suicide.
Suicides have been known throughout history. They were known and discussed in the ancient civilizations. It has been in the Muslim faith, the Jewish faith, the Christian faith, and even in the Hindu faith. However, sacred texts of Muslims, Christians, and Jews clearly prohibit self-killing. Often in ancient times, suicide did not have the same negative connotations as it does today. For example, self-killing was part of the ancient Japanese honor code and noted in Asian culture. Suicide in correct circumstances constituted a noble death. Because Socrates was charged with corrupting the youth, he chose to drink hemlock rather than to flee from Athens and be guilty of disobeying the law. In the case of war if the leader were captured by the enemy, he would kill himself, rather than be dishonored by the enemy, which constituted a noble death. Some of the instances of self-killing found in the Bible indicate a cultural view of a noble death. For example, when Saul was wounded on the battlefield, he ordered his armor-bearer to kill him, a contradiction to the commandment not to commit murder, but to Saul a sort of honor killing. Of course, Judas hanged himself, prsumably out of remorse for his betrayl of Jesus. The Quran makes it clear that human life is sacred. Life cannot be taken without justification, and the right to life is inherent in the tenets of the Muslim faith, but that does not mean Muslims do not commit suicide. For the Christian faith life itself is a gift from God, and He created us in His image, and, thus, we are obliged to care for that life.
Even biblical prophets who asked God to take their lives (Moses, Job, Elijah, and Jeremiah) did not commit suicide.
Currently, Western European residents appear to be placing less important on God and religion and have less confidence in religious institutions with the result that spirituality has waned. But in Asia traditional faiths, such as Buddhism and Confucianism by focusing on individual spirituality rather than collective spirituality, gain social support and moral guidance. However, in the Western world secularization and individuals’ religion have caused a weakening of community trust of local churches, and this decreases the protective nature of religious institutions and their participants thereby removing a force against suicide.
People who want to commit suicide should ponder and realize that he or she is not the only one in this world who is affected by calamity and hardship. Harships are a part of the natural order of things and hardly anyone is exempt from them. Both in literature and in biblical text there are examples, namely the prophets like Job, who are the righteous people characterized in part by never complaining or committing suicide, but instead accepting the calamities. If a person handles a trail well and is patient, he or she develops patience, a virtue, and that in turn helps to deal with the next problem in a way that best suits that person and the people around him or her. Because patience is an exercise of self control that shows an ability to handle life when times get tough, it also results from the individual’s ability to look outside of himself and to handle the roughness of life well. Therefore, having patience demonstrates that a person has a high moral standard in life and a strong character. But with the new generation, there seems to be no sense of patience because they can have access to information within seconds; consequently, they want what they want and they want it now. Unlike Job, this generation has no virtue of patience, and life runs on a set schedule. They want immediate gratification. When things are not there and have not been provided on time, they become impatient and feel depressed, lonely, isolated, and even unloved. Then they begin to think that they lack a place to live in this world and put an end to their life, disregarding all the good things that have happened to them.
Nowadays many pastors, imams, and leaders of faith based groups have begun to say that such and such a person will definitely go to heaven or hell. I believe personally hell is not useless and heaven is not cheap. Hell teaches us to avoid it even though that avoidance may cost a great deal. Ultimately, no one other than God has any control. God judges his children individually, on the basis of His perfect knowledge of that person’s intentions and conditions. God gives life and takes life. It is true that suicide is strictly forbidden in Christianity and Islam because it is an affront to God. It is like a person saying to God, “You have given me a life and I am taking it away,” or “I don’t like the life you gave me and now I am control of my life and I will end it.” People who willing end their life to escape the suffering and pain of this world make a mistake to think that by ending their lives and all their sorrows, their problems will end. The next life may be worse. If they believe God, then they should know that God gives life, including its suffering and its problems, and only He should take it, but if they do not believe in God, then that is a different issue. By committing suicide, they have only begun to have their troubles. Suicide does not solve a person’s problems, but makes them infinitely worse.
When people commit suicide because of a mental disorder, depression, or some other severe form of anxiety, they are not in full control of their senses. I cannot say how God will judge such a person, but I trust God’s mercy, because He does not deal unfairly with anyone.
Anyone who reads the noble book can see the simplicity of this world we live in within the book. This world is a testing ground to see who is the best in faith that may reap the rewards in the life hereafter. According to Christians their citizenship is in heaven not here. Accepting that this world is full of heartbreak, tragedy, pain, and injustice, they also know that for the same reason that God did not let his children suffer forever on this world, He created death, but death according to His will and timing. He is the one who decides when and how his children should die to return to Him.
Depression and suicide are common maladies these days, but killing oneself is never the answer. Nothing is more precious than life itself; all humans must trust in God no matter what problems befall them. An excellent example of trusting in God’s will and decrees can be found in the story of Job. Job had everything. He was a wealthy landowner with a wife and many children. He always obeyed God and his tongue always remembered God. However, the devil was very jealous of Job and wanted to destroy him although Satan had no power to harm Job except under God’s will, and that will allowed Satan to see Job’s faithfulness for himself. Even though the devil tempted Job not to obey God, God knew that Job was faithful. The devil destroyed all of Job’s wealth, took his property, and caused a building to collapse on all his children killing them. In addition, he gave Job a severely painful skin disease, which caused people to shun him. All he had left was his faith in God. Through all of this, Job did not blame God, kill himself, or even ask to be spared his torture, which lasted for several years. He continued to have patience and trusted God.
Life is an unending succession of moments, and often it is a struggle; sometimes we have joyful moments that make our hearts soar and then at other times we have sad moments that plunge us into sadness and worry, perhaps even despair. However, when we lose control over our emotions, we can easily fall into despair. God tells us not to despair and especially not to despair of His mercy. An awakened curiosity and an earnest desire to understand life and what its purpose is means to find and lead a good purpose-driven life instead of running away from it or cutting it short of our own volition. It is often said that the darkest part of the night is just before the dawn of a new day. It takes whole community to help prevent suicide among the youth
(Dr. Aland Mizell is with the MCI, SETBI and a regular Mindanao Times.You may email the author at:firstname.lastname@example.org)