The ‘Antidote’ to Loss, Guilt, Shame, Loneliness, Isolation and Resentment

I am a physician specialising in mental illness – a psychiatrist. I have an interest in suicide prevention – see website – the article on ‘Nine steps to halt suicide’.

But today I want to explore a more personal approach from my experience as a physician and Christian. What can we as Christians do when confronted with an individual who is facing suicide?

First let’s look at the problem.

Suicide deaths in Australia are a growing problem.

2004 – 2098 suicides; 2017 – 3128 suicides – a 49% increase

During this time the population of Australia has increased.

2004 – 20.1 million, 2017 – 24.7 million – a 23% increase.

So the growth in suicide numbers has outpaced the growth in population. And this is despite a reduction in stigma regarding mental illness and improved mental health literacy, and the presence of Lifeline, Beyond Blue and Black Dog services.

Only about half of suicides are in an obvious setting of mental illness and substance abuse. So what are the immediate causes?

In my experience they are loss (for example; death of a loved one, loss of a romantic relationship, loss of job or career, loss of money, financial disasters and debt), as well as guilt, shame, and resentment – with all these afflictions leading to loneliness and isolation.

When isolated, individuals take actions that would not otherwise be contemplated – suicide is much closer to the surface than we think. Despair, resentment and self-loathing become all-absorbing preoccupations in the absence of the moderating influence of other human contact. The presence of mental illness and substance use reduces the threshold to take harmful actions against one.

The antidote to loss, guilt, shame and resentment is love, repentance and forgiveness – for oneself and others. In Mark 11:25 Jesus said: “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Or from Martin Luther King Jr: “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” This advice about love, repentance and forgiveness can apply just as much to the individual’s needs as it applies to the person’s attitudes to others who have wronged him or her.

But how can we do this?

Though the grace and example of Jesus, as stated in Ephesians 1:7 “In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”

What does Jesus command us to do?

In Matthew 22:39 Jesus said: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

So how can we apply this commandment when faced with an individual at risk of suicide?

We must apply the approach of Jesus – deal with each person as an equal in the sight of God and approach the individual honestly with love. Overcome isolation – by one to one communication, letting the person know they are an individual fully worthy of your attention and interest. Invite the person into a caring church community, if possible. Take time to listen to the individual’s loss, guilt, shame, and resentment with an attitude of open-minded inquisitiveness. Encourage the person to meet Christ and experience His forgiveness and love. And of course help the person to get appropriate professional help for identified problems.

So for us Christians the antidote for loss, guilt, shame, resentment, loneliness and isolation is the love of Jesus Christ.

Dr Philip Morris