Today’s originally scheduled Sharing Our Voices piece will be shared on Thursday. Today, we wanted to respond to another reader’s recent question:
I was wondering what Mormons believe about suicide.
Answer by Michelle**
The response to this question is going to come in two parts. This week, I will address the question with relation to those who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts or tendencies themselves. Next week, we will address the questions that surround what may happen to those (in an eternal sense) who have committed suicide.
As to the first question, the first thing I want to say is that if you are someone who is considering suicide, please, please talk to someone you trust, be it a family member, a friend, a religious leader, or a professional counselor. Or call a suicide hotline. I urge you not to suffer with this darkness alone. Even though the loneliness and darkness you feel may be consuming you, I assure you that there are people who would want to help if they knew you were struggling. The staff here at Mormon Women have felt a great deal of concern with the thought that someone might be feeling this horrible. For what it’s worth, even we as strangers care deeply and want you to know that you aren’t alone. We know life is hard, but we also know that it IS worth living.
I have had some personal experience with this issue, although it may come as a surprise to some who know me. I remember having suicidal thoughts when I was only a fifth grader (about age 10). It shocks me to think about it, now that I have children who are around that age…such a tender age! It was long enough ago that there wasn’t as much awareness about mental illness, which was part of what drove how I was feeling. For a time during my sixth grade year, I withdrew in significant ways from my life. Always a diligent student, my grades suddenly plummeted. I became detached and aloof. I felt like a burden to my parents and others, and felt broken and different.
I struggled through much of my adolescence as well, although some of that came with the normal stresses of the teenage years.
As an adult, I excelled in college, served as a missionary in a South American country, got a Master’s degree, started a successful career, met my husband, married, and have had three beautiful children. I have continued to be active and involved in my church and community as a stay-at-home mom. But all along the way, I still struggled. I had post-partum depression and other mental health issues still plaguing me off and on during these years.
There have been several times along the way when I have been so weary and so discouraged that I have found myself thinking, “I wish I could be done.” There have been times when life situations have been such (again, feeling like a burden to others) that I have wondered, “Would it be better if I were gone?”
I can tell you that the answer to that question is a firm and unequivocal NO. Even though sometimes I have been full of despair, and have sometimes felt so broken and burdensome to those around me, I have gained a conviction about truths that anchor me through my darker times that have helped me know that life is worth living.
I want to emphasize that sometimes, even the brightest of truths will be hard to process if one’s brain chemistry is not balanced, so please keep that in mind if others’ answers or efforts to help seem like they are doing nothing (mine included). And please consider talking to a professional (and include a trusted friend or family member in the process) to see if medication might be right for you.
Since I cannot offer professional help or guidance about medication, though, I do want to share a few of those spiritual, anchor truths that have helped me along the way — truths that I have learned in part through hanging on through my own dark times.
1. God is real, and He loves me. (He loves you!)
After nearly 40 years of life, I am grateful to have had experiences more numerous than I can count that have helped me know that I have a Father in Heaven who is aware of me and of the details of my life. That isn’t to say that there haven’t been times when I have wondered why answers and help weren’t coming in the way *I* wanted them to come, but over time, I have come to trust more in His love and His plan for me. I am learning to trust more in His timing, too. I have found that whenever there has been a dark period of struggle, as I have not given up and have continued to try to turn to Him in whatever way I could (for me that has been to continue praying, to at least open my scriptures every day), He has reached through the darkness in different ways to help buoy me up, strengthen me, and let me know He is there.
I can’t quite articulate it, but I have also felt there is great power in simply choosing not to give up. Sometimes I have been pushed to what I felt was beyond my limits, but I have learned that sometimes I don’t fully know my own strength — or, better said, the strength that can come when I choose to not give up.
I should add that the help of a wise and faith-filled therapist has helped me learn to understand and feel God’s love even more. Therapy is another option to prayerfully consider as you sort through what solutions might work for you.
Please don’t give up. Whether you feel it or not right now, Father in Heaven loves you and is aware of you.
2. Life is a gift, and it has a purpose. Trials can be for our good.
One way that my dad used to try to help me along was to remind me that “to struggle is the program.” A key element of Mormon doctrine is that mortal life, this earth life, is given to us for us to learn by experience and through facing opposition and even pain.
An analogy I use with my children is that of muscle-building or weight training. It is only through the resistance of weight and the process of working to the point of pain — and actually breaking down muscle tissue — that we are able to build our physical muscles. Our spirits also grow through opposition, through resistance training, if you will.
Just as with physical training, a good physical trainer would not push a person beyond certain limits. A scripture that has given me much comfort over the years is 1 Corinthians 10:13, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Of course, sometimes I have felt that surely, my spirit was to the breaking point, that I couldn’t handle any more! But invariably, at some point or another, I have felt light and strength come — at least enough to know that I could carry on.
I believe that this scripture is also a reminder to, again, do all that I can to turn to God in my pain. It is through His help that we can “find a way to escape” and be “able to bear” our pain.
I appreciate what Alexander Morrison (who has written about depression and mental illness) says about the role of suffering and how suffering can be turned to our good:
I believe our spiritual strength is directly related to the extent to which our souls are stretched. But…[t]here is no intrinsic value in suffering in and of itself. Suffering can wound and embitter the soul as surely as it can strengthen and purify. Some souls become stronger in response to suffering, but others bend and break. As author Anne Morrow Lindbergh wisely noted, “If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers” (“Lindbergh Nightmare,” Time, Feb. 5, 1973, 35). If we are to partake of “the fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings” (Philippians 3:10), we must pay the price of striving with all our hearts to know and emulate Him. That price may indeed involve suffering, but to suffering we must add compassion, empathy, patience, humility, and a willingness to submit our will to that of God.
This concept of opposition is not always easy doctrine. A principle of the gospel is enduring to the end, and that can be hard work! It’s also sobering that along with this doctrine comes the reality that my body, my life, is a gift from God. As such I realize that I have a stewardship to care for it and protect and respect it — even when sometimes it’s my body that is causing me the pain (be it mental or physical or emotional).
These thoughts, especially those from Brother Morrison, tie into my last point.
3. We are not supposed to be able to do it alone. The Savior, Jesus Christ, can help us.
I confess that I do not fully understand how the Savior’s Atonement works. But I do know that as I strive to let Him into my life and try to be more like Him — little by little, line upon line — I feel His strength and help. I feel strength beyond my own to hang on during hard times.
There is a challenge with this for me. I am a perfectionist by nature, and sometimes I have found myself feeling even *more* depressed when I realize how far I have to go to be more like the Savior. I think at times, too, I have tried to change myself and face my challenges too much on my own.
There is no easy answer to this classic struggle between grace and works. I cannot sit back and do nothing and expect that the Lord can help me. He stands at the door and knocks; I must do things to let Him into my heart and my life. Keeping the commandments IS an important part of feeling and finding God’s peace and help.
Along these lines, I think it is worth noting that sometimes feelings of despair can result, at least in part, from making choices that are not consistent with God’s truths and laws. For example, sometimes people may get to a point of wanting to end their lives when they have become trapped in the cycle of addictions to drugs, alcohol, or other things. The road to more peace and strength in such a situation would come not from medication, but from making life changes. Sexual sin can also lead to unhappiness, illness, addictions, and unhappiness.Repentance is a gift from God, not a burden. If you find yourself ensnared by addictive or otherwise unhealthy behaviors, know that repentance is possible and can help you in your journey toward peace.
But again, for many of us who struggle, the pain often comes because of reasons that are not tied to sin (although we all fall short of God’s perfection, of course), but are the result of the weakness inherent in our mortal bodies and/or difficult mortal experiences (illness, death, choices of others, etc.)
I have come to appreciate His grace and mercy more through my particular trials that have come with my mortal journey. I have come to feel that He is so very patient, loving, kind, and compassionate as I seek to turn to Him to help me become a better person and also to hold on through difficult times. I believe He wants me to feel His love, and the more I let Him into my life through giving him my heart and my trials, the more I can feel that love.
And I am coming to believe that understanding all of this is part of what we are here to learn on earth through experience.
In conclusion, I believe the plan of God for our lives, centered on the Savior’s Atonement, is ultimately about hope. When I am feeling hopeless, it is my feeling that I can know with a surety that that is not what God, my Father in Heaven, and His Son, my Savior, want me to feel. And so I am learning to lean on Their love and grace enough to have hope — hope that the light can come when things feel dark; hope that I can become a better person over time with His help; and hope that as I endure the hard times, They will be there with me to bear me up and will, as the Book of Mormon prophet, Lehi, said, “consecreate [my] afflictions for [my] gain.”
When in moments of despair I stop and try to leave a place for these truths in my mind and heart, they can help me see my trials in a different perspective. Sometimes I need to have someone else articulate them to me when I cannot feel their truth myself. It helps me to talk with others who know of my struggles, so they can help me see myself and these truths more clearly. I have to revisit these truths time and time and time again. But I know that as I seek to hold on and turn to God, I *have* felt my spiritual muscles grow as I have held on and kept going, even when it felt like I was at the end of my rope.
And so, I share my feelings of hope, even as I understand something of darkness and hopelessness that can come from depression and from heart-rending trials. For me, knowing that God is there and loves me, knowing that this life is a time of growth and spiritual muscle-building, and learning to lean on the Savior is helping me lean into the headwinds of my life. As I trust in these truths, I continue to find the light of God leading my way.
I hope you can feel that light, too, in your own pain — whether yours has caused you to wonder if life is worth living, or even if it hasn’t. I think we all experience moments where we feel we are at the breaking point. It is at those times that I believe we can find God if we will seek Him, find strength beyond our own.
There is hope. Hold on! And please seek God’s help and the help of caring people around you. Seek until you find more light. It is there. It is real.
Some articles that might be helpful on the topics of suicide, depression, facing trials, and enduring through difficulty are below:
Myths about Mental Illness, by Alexander Morrison
“An High Priest of Good Things to Come” — by Jeffrey R. Holland (one of those talks that I read over and over again)
The Love of God, The Infinite Power of Hope, and The Way of the Disciple by Dieter F. Uchtdorf
(I also wrote recently about his recent CES (Church Education System) fireside talk, where he addressed many topics, including depression and suicide, and shared much powerful doctrine about the purposes of life and having faith and hope)
Be of Good Cheer, by Thomas S. Monson
Come What May, and Love It, by Joseph B. Wirthlin (I had to read this one a few times for the message to really sink in, but it’s powerful)
Hope, an Anchor to the Soul, by James E. Faust
Hope Ya Know, We Had a Hard Time, by Quentin L. Cook
**Please note: The answers in “Ask a Mormon Woman” and reflect the thoughts, perspectives, and experiences of individuals. Although here at Mormon Women, we strive to have our content consistent with the Church’s doctrine and teachings, we do not speak officially for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For official information about or from the Church, please visit www.mormon.org or www.lds.org.
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