Singapore suicide rate is up 10% in 2018. And yet suicide remains a taboo topic. It’s unspeakable, it’s a dirty word. Many Asians find it inauspicious even to mention: ‘Choi!’. There is so much stigma, fear and pain attached. People around me are afraid to talk directly about suicide. My friends and colleagues panic when someone confesses his or her suicidal thoughts. In such an environment, we cannot expect our loved ones who are vulnerable to dare to seek help. The message is: ‘Keep your suicidal thoughts to yourself’.
Imagine yourself sitting down to prepare for a meeting with someone who is suicidal. He has been and is still receiving primary intervention – he warded himself once, received medical treatment for depression and suicidal thoughts, seen psychiatrists and psychologists, and still has ongoing sessions with other step-down care organisations. How would you prepare yourself meet him? Here is my reflection on coming alongside him:
Firstly, I considered what should my approach be? Well, I pray that God will help me be one who is marked by empathy, winsome honesty, genuine curiosity, poise and love. I want God to help me listen well. I don’t want to give life-is-worth-living pep talks, but to really listen well to learn and understand the person’s story. And I want my demeanour to be rooted in gospel i.e. filled with peace, grace, mercy, comfort and assurance as I step into this person’s painful world.
Secondly, what are the possible helpful questions and things to say? Amidst the tributaries of questions to learn about the person, I kept 3 main goals in mind. Firstly, I want to affirm the willingness to talk about suicide e.g. ‘Thank you for sharing with me your suicidal thoughts, I’m so glad you decided to tell me’. Secondly, I want to validate the pain and isolation experienced e.g. ‘I feel sorry and sad to hear that you are hurting like this, it is painful just to hear’. Thirdly, I want to invite the person to tell his bad story so I could understand e.g. ‘What happened that makes you want to die?’ (GSB: Glad, Sad, Bad)
Thirdly, I considered where am I heading with this person? The goal is not just to be able to talk openly about suicidal thoughts. Once we can do that, the door is open for us to talk about about the deep issues of life that the gospel directly addresses. ‘Your suicidal feelings and actions don’t come out of the blue. They have reasons you can discover and understand. Your particular reasons will show you how you’re experiencing, interpreting, and reacting to your world. When you discover your reasons, you will also describe what is most important to you. The loss or pain that makes you feel like your life is not worth living points to the thing that you believe would make your life worth living’ (Powlison in ‘I Just Want to Die’).
There is so much stigma, fear and pain attached to suicide. Frankly, I instinctively cringe when someone confesses his or her suicidal thoughts. To confront death up close is scary. ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us’. In weakness, we approach and be a friend to the suicidal, trusting not in ourselves but God.