By Joy Hinman
They speak out — telling of the need for love and understanding, not rejection and hopelessness. They tell their stories of the struggles of mental illness and suicide attempts – now resigned to a life-time of medication to manage their disease. Speaking out helps throw a light of awareness on how we as a society can help forward mental health and peace. These stories are from Canada, but they could be from anywhere in the world.
And no matter where these voices arise, more and more others are mobilizing to help them find solutions….
World Suicide Prevention Day this week focused on bettering the lives of mental illness sufferers. International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and World Health Organization (WHO) co-sponsored the 11th anniversary of World Suicide Prevention Day . Their facebook page invited awareness and participation from a wide social media audience. It gives some startling information. “… suicide is a major public health problem in high-income countries and is an emerging problem in low- and middle-income countries. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the world, especially among young people. Nearly one million people worldwide die by suicide each year. This corresponds to one death by suicide every 40 seconds. The number of lives lost each year through suicide exceeds the number of deaths due to homicide and war combined.” “A large proportion of people who die by suicide suffer from mental illness.”
World Suicide Prevention Day tries to educate and to raise awareness about mental illnesses that often lead to suicide attempts or death — and about ways to treat these problems. The WHO report suggests long-term education as one way to change society’s cultural attitudes, prejudices and the stigma attached to mental illness – by the public and healthcare professionals alike. The need is great.
Individuals often struggle alone. So do some groups who should be more noticeable such as war-traumatized veterans with PTSD. See http://nursetopia.net/2013/08/30/22-veterans-commit-suicide-everyday/ With the hope of stemming the tide of suicides — funds are being sought to produce a movie titled “THUNDER ROAD ” (Astoria Productions) . Its goal is to raise public and government awareness of the suffering from war-related mental wounds — for the purpose of preventing self-inflicted deaths.
Natural disasters, too, have affected people with PTSD. In Sri Lanka, many urgent efforts were made by mental health professionals following the grief and losses of the devastating 2004 Tsunami. And there was another healing force already at work. Mahlet Endale, psychologist and suicide prevention coordinator from Emory University, witnessed the benefits of prayer and meditation on mental health following that Tsunami. https://blogs.emory.edu/spiritedthinking/2013/08/26/psychologist-sees-benefits-of-prayer-meditation-on-mental-health/ Endale discovered a powerful stabilizer for mental health and suicide prevention already in place for the many who had established spirituality and faith practices – prayer and meditation – in their lives. Endale says “Taking a ‘time-out period’ dedicated to concentrating on a higher power provides a much-needed respite from the concerns of modern daily living, … plus focusing on something other than self is associated with improved mental health.” In particular, Endale cites studies showing the specific benefits of prayer or meditation on mental wellbeing, providing among other things:
• Deep relaxation;
• Inner calm;
• Help in solving problems and developing insight;
• Better concentration and patience;
• An outlet for releasing anger and easing stress, grief and fear;
• A way of accessing one’s creative potential.
Similarly, a study of Native Americans (of the USA) linked health and well-being with native spirituality. — “We did observe a strong and persistent protective association between cultural spiritual orientations and suicide attempts…” http://www.turtleisland.org/healing/suicideandspirituality.pdf
In October a suicide prevention conference will take place in Winnipeg, Canada, to create “New Pathways” for suicide prevention. Although the conference theme focuses on trauma, the organizer’s home page offers hopeful ideas - “You can make a difference” and “Hope and Resiliency at Work and at Home”. It suggests to me that deepest cure will come by addressing the patient’s need to feel loved, useful and valued – no matter what tough times they have gone through.
Hope and resiliency along with things such as feeling loved and valued can be found in strengthening family and community ties, finding purposeful work , and when an individual finds and builds a strong spiritual foundation. Turning to a higher power whether called “God, Allah, or Creator,” helps the individual feel a connection with a spiritual source. And it can strengthen a life-preserving sense of self-worth. I love what a 20th Century health researcher and Christian healer, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote a century ago as if she were speaking specifically about this very problem: “The poor suffering heart needs its rightful nutriment, such as peace, patience in tribulation, and a priceless sense of the dear Father’s loving-kindness. (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures p. 365).
World Suicide Prevention Day is an opportunity for all of us to reach out to those we know who might be struggling. It paves a path for us to offer them a touch of the priceless sense of being loved, useful and valued.
Joy Hinman is a Christian Science practitioner and spokesperson for Christian Science in Alberta. You can read more about her on the Contact Us page