A Catholic Perspective on Suicide and Depression

A few weeks ago, I attended a funeral.  It was the funeral of a young woman, loved by so many, who had come to the conclusion that her life wasn’t worth living.

It was a tragedy.  Her uncle, who also happened to be the priest presiding at her funeral, said it best, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this”.

He was absolutely right.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  That’s not how her life was meant to end.  She was loved by so many.  Her life had infinite value.  There was so much good left to do.

And the question remains, How did she not know how loved she was — how did she not know how important she was to her friends and family and to God?

I know this family.  I always remark how strong they are in their family identity and their love for each other.  They are a Catholic family, through and through.  There is no doubt that she was showered in love.

So how did this happen?

The truth is, we won’t ever fully know what this sweet young woman was thinking.  The reality is that she probably wasn’t thinking very clearly at the time.

It’s hard to be a young man or woman in today’s culture.  Honestly, it can be hard to be an adult in this culture.  It’s hard to face our own sadness, our own inadequacies or feeling that we don’t quite belong.

The culture isn’t helping young people to deal with these struggles in a healthy way.  It doesn’t help when you have a wildly popular series like Thirteen Reasons Why, which glorifies teenage suicide.  It’s been marketed predominantly to teenagers.  It’s not helping.

And social media isn’t necessarily helping kids to be any happier, either.  When you are following the “highlight reels” of other people’s lives — with all of the sad stuff purposefully left out — it doesn’t exactly help an “ordinary” teen living an “ordinary” life feel better about their own lives.

We’ve reached a point in history where our eyes are pointed at screens instead of at each other — where  meaningful human interaction is beginning to take a back seat to voyeurism.

It’s a wake-up call to all of us.  Time to get our noses out of our devices and look around for those in need.

It’s time to start living life, not just watch it lived out on our screens.  It’s time to start loving, to let people know they’re not alone in their struggles, and that many other people have experienced these same struggles.

We can’t just blame social media or netflix or the lifestyles of the rich and famous or bullying for suicide.  Frankly, suicide has been around for a long time.

As a young girl, I attended a very conservative Calvinist school.   There was this guy there who seemed to have it all together:  good-looking, well-liked, and from a good Christian home.  One day, we got word.  He had taken his own life.

I remember my shock, thinking to myself, “why would he take his own life?”  Couldn’t he see how amazing he was?”

Going to that funeral a few weeks back, it brought up all the same questions.  Seeing the love that her family and friends had for her — it hit straight to the heart.

Their faith was enlightening their response to this tragedy, and there was hope.

But the question in everybody’s minds seemed to resonate with those I experienced as a child, “How could she not see how amazing she was? How could she not see that she did measure up — where did we go wrong?”

As an understanding of suicide and depression is growing, we in the Church know that there is no cut and dry answer to what happens to a person after they kill themselves — but there is hope.

Honestly, we can’t know the heart of anybody before they die, so it’s best to presume they need our prayers.

There was a point in time, when you couldn’t have a funeral for somebody who committed suicide.  It wasn’t meant to add pain to the family — it was about a lack of understanding on depression and mental illness.  Times have changed.

Times have changed as our understanding on depression and mental illness has changed.

We now know that depression is a reality, that mental illness can actually cause a person’s thinking to be so altered that they may not be sound of mind in their most desperate moments.

We have learned that in the case of suicide, we have to rely on the goodness and mercy of God. We have to walk in faith and hope.

And this hope has roots in our understanding of purgatory — the state of purification that happens in a soul, so that we can enter into heaven.

Think about it.  Few of us die ready to live out perfect charity in heaven, and heaven wouldn’t be heaven if it was full of a bunch of selfish, uncharitable people.

So God, in His mercy, gave us purgatory.  A place of purification.  A place that can do the work that we weren’t willing or capable of doing in this lifetime.

It’s a bit of a mystery, but the Church says it’s real and it’s a manifestation of the mercy of God.

But purgatory is not like a day at the spa.  There have been accounts of people who died and returned from purgatory to testify that the pains of purgatory surpass any of the pains known on earth.

These testimonies aren’t part of official doctrine on purgatory, but they can offer insight into the very real possibility that you’re not ending your suffering by dying — you’re only increasing it’s depth, intensity, and duration in Purgatory.

St. Paul tells us that, when judged, each man’s work will be tried.  And sometimes a righteous man’s work fails the test and  “He will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15).

Fire hurts.  It is painful.  Purgatory is not an easy out — not at all.

And there is a balance.  We need to make it clear to our friends and family that we should never, ever put God’s mercy to the test — it’s not worth that risk!  

We’re not doing anybody any favors by pretending that Hell doesn’t exist, because it does exist.

But if we have a loved one who has made that choice, to take their life, we have no choice but to beg and plead on their behalf for God to meet them in their last moments and extend His hand of mercy to them.

We need to ask Mary, their mother, to plead on their behalf.  We have to fight for them!

The Church offers us the resources and it’s blessing to fight and pray for these souls.  

We need to offer the Mass, the highest form of prayer, for them.  We need to accept that some people are so much out of their minds that they may not be fully culpable for their choices in a moment of crisis.

We need to take that hope and never, ever give up pleading their cause.  That’s what love requires of us.  We are the body of Christ.  We have to do our part.

And we must resolve to be there for people who are struggling with sadness and depression.  We must resolve to pray for them and reach out to them and fight for them, when they just aren’t capable of fighting themselves.

We need to recognize that there’s an enemy who wants them dead.  That enemy is the devil.  He fears the good that they could do in this world.  He will do all in his ability to deceive them, just like he did to Adam and Eve.

Let’s not forget that the devil even had the audacity to tempt Jesus to take his own life, by hurling himself off of a cliff.  He didn’t present it as suicide, but rather as proving the power of God.  How utterly clever of him.

That’s why we must prepare our kids for even this temptation.  And then we have to entrust them to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Do it when they’re young, but it’s never too late to do it.

I’ll end with the remarks made by the previously mentioned priest at his own niece’s funeral:

“I am speaking especially to the young people here today. Please raise your hand in answer to these questions.
Who here is sad?
(He raised his own hand, along with the whole congregation)

Who here has ever felt depressed?
(His hand and most hands went up)

Who here has ever felt like maybe the world would be better off without me in it?
(His hand went up, along with most hands)

Who here feels like we’re better off without her?

(No hands, the sound of quiet weeping)

Who here has ever said, ‘Fine’, when asked how you are? (All hands)

Don’t say fine. How about, ‘I’m sad, I’m frustrated, I’m angry’? If you say that to us, we’ll say, ‘Tell me more’. Stop saying, ‘I’m fine’.

Nothing you say can make us love you any less. Nothing you say can make us love you any more. We love you for who you are.”

Your life is precious.  My life is precious.  Sometimes we need to be reminded of that — not just in words, but in actions.

Sometimes we need to give our full attention to the people we love, to hear what they need to say, and to remind them of their worth.

There’s a battle going on for their souls.   It’s time to engage in that battle.

Linking up with Kelly.

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6 thoughts on “A Catholic Perspective on Suicide and Depression

  1. I raise my hand along with the priest and those of the congregation.
    Your post is well written, thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Paul! Sometimes it’s just nice to know you’re not alone — but also so good to realize that we often fail to see just how amazing we really are! God bless you!

  2. My heart is heavy when I read this because too many believe the whispers of the greatest liar of all times, Satan. This is a global problem. When (my husband) was in Ireland last month he discovered that the youth there are ending their lives in large numbers, enough to make the news. I cant help but feel all this fake friendship world of social media has cut people off from authentic love…from the touch and sight, smell and warmth one got from a real friendship. I see it also as an attack on good, strong families. Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, etc. What better way to disturb and cut such a deep wound in a family then a sibling, a daughter, a son, or a mom or dad taking their life? Destroy from within. Mom says the final battle will be for the family…I’m with you…it’s time to know who we’re fighting and fight back! This is a war for souls, to rob us of our peace and joy, to distract from God and His promise to love us to the end. He is with those who take their lives, they just have to grab His hand at that last moment. That’s just my thinking. I love you, Megan

    1. Megan,
      I love that image of Jesus grabbing somebody’s hand at the last moment. I tend to agree with you, especially because we know that depression and mental illness can make clear thinking really difficult, if not impossible, especially in moments of great distress.

      And yes, to the importance of the family, and yes to our need to engage in this battle. Yes’s all around!

      love ya.

  3. This is so beautiful and so needed. Thank you for using your God-given talents and love for others to share truth with the world!

    1. Thanks Adi,
      And the truth be told, young people really need to have a handle on this situation — because you all are probably in closer contact with those who are most at-risk and can offer good counsel to them.
      Have to say, seeing strong young women like yourself give me great hope!

      God bless!

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