“Knowing ‘Enough’ about Suicide,” Ensign, September 2019
I came face-to-face with suicide for the first time when I was 15 years old.
One of my best friends, Sasha (name has been changed), called me on an ordinary school night as I thumbed through a textbook. When I picked up, the line was nearly silent, except for faint sniffling.
“Sasha? Are you okay?”
Sasha had a troubled home life. She also had depression, which compounded the despair she felt daily. In the weeks leading up to the phone call, Sasha began making increasingly disturbing comments:
“I don’t know how much longer I can take this.”
“I just want to make the pain stop.”
“No one would even care if I disappeared.”
The night she called me, I knew that she was losing the battle.
“I’m calling to say I love you and goodbye,” she said through tears.
I froze. Heavenly Father, I need you now, I prayed.
The Spirit flooded my body and my mouth filled with words that Sasha needed to hear at that exact moment. Miraculously, she listened. I expressed how much she meant to me and how precious her life was, even if she didn’t recognize that right now. I told her that she had a Savior who loved her.
As I spoke, I ran across the hallway to my mom’s bedroom. “Call the police,” I mouthed. I kept Sasha on the phone until law enforcement arrived at her home and took her to a medical facility. The first time she called me from a hospital phone, I worried that she would be upset with me for calling the police. But she wasn’t. Yes, she felt disoriented at the hospital, but she also felt a sense of stability and safety.
Eventually, Sasha began to heal. We both learned the truth of this counsel from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “Whatever your struggle, my brothers and sisters—mental or emotional or physical or otherwise—do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it! … Though we may feel we are ‘like a broken vessel,’ as the Psalmist says, we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter. Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed.”1
Before that traumatic night with Sasha, I knew little about depression, self-harm, and suicide. I came to learn that many of my friends and family members experienced mental and emotional pain. I also learned that no two cases of suicide are the same. Some people cautiously confide in a close friend about their considerations; some make suicide attempts as a cry for help; and some never show any signs before they take their own lives.
As painful as each of these scenarios is—both for the person contemplating suicide and for their loved ones—there is help. Through heaven-sent counsel and professional resources, we can know how to help a struggling loved one, how to heal as a “survivor” when our loved one leaves us behind, and how to find peace in the doctrine we know.
I wish I could say that the phone call with Sasha was the last of its kind, but it wasn’t. Over the next few years, I received other goodbye phone calls from several other people I love. With each of them, I began noticing common warning signs: They told me they didn’t see life getting any better. They told me that they felt invisible, that no one would notice if they disappeared. These statements sent alarms blaring in my head. I wanted so badly to ask if they were considering suicide, but I was worried it would offend them. Or I thought if I brought it up—said that ugly s-word—I would somehow plant an idea they hadn’t already considered, further pushing them to self-harm. Now I know that this fear is based in a myth and that it’s best to ask about suicide directly. The beginning of that realization came one quiet morning as I was reading the Book of Mormon.
In 3 Nephi 17, the resurrected Christ visits the Nephites and asks boldly, fearlessly, poignantly, “Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner?” (verse 7). I looked up from my scriptures as waves of personal revelation washed over me. Jesus wasn’t afraid to ask people if they were afflicted in any manner, so why was I?
Research has found that openly discussing suicide fosters openness, healing, and prevention. I learned that as I asked the hard questions, I could help my loved ones feel understood—that there was hope—and that together, we could seek out professional and spiritual resources for healing.
Many people feel embarrassed to talk about mental illnesses, like depression, as though this affliction were more shameful than other diseases. And because many people feel shame for considering suicide, they hide their suffering, further compounding their feelings of isolation. Christ takes a different approach, though: “Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy” (3 Nephi 17:7). As I developed the courage to ask my loved ones directly if they were hurting—particularly if they were considering suicide—I could “bring them hither” to the Great Physician for spiritual healing.
Because I had seen suicidal warning signs from friends with depression, I assumed that suicide was something that could be predicted and prevented in every circumstance. I imagined depression as a thick, black rain cloud that slowly gathered over a person. Suicide seemed like a lightning storm that erupted from the clouds; it was devastating, but at least you could see it coming.
One chilly December night, I got another phone call. This time, it was from my mom. Her voice was so thick with emotion that she could hardly get the words out. “Uncle Mike is gone,” she said. My chest tightened as she continued. “It was suicide.” What? My uncle didn’t seem depressed. He was Mr. Personality, the life of the party, larger than life. We never saw the sky darken. We never even heard it rumble. Silently and suddenly, he ended his life. His loss felt like a bolt of lightning from a cloudless sky.
Some people aren’t very close to extended family, but I was. Uncle Mike was the one who fixed my broken bicycle, who came to the rescue when the car broke down, and who teasingly threatened the boys I dated. Since the time I was born, Uncle Mike was always there, and I always felt safe and loved when he was around. As I sat on the couch with my weeping aunt—a new widow—their home, which felt like a second home, suddenly felt so empty.
In the days following my uncle’s death, I felt like I was drowning in heavy, unfamiliar emotions. I bottled anger about the unfairness of it all—that my uncle would deliberately leave us so totally and so tragically. The next moment, I felt enveloped anew by grief. I clung to the pain and confusion of it all. I thought that if I let go of those feelings, I’d be letting go of him. In the days and weeks following his passing, I almost felt guilty when something made me smile or laugh, as though I had to prove how much I loved Uncle Mike through constant mourning.
I wracked my brain for warning signs and ways that I could have helped. I should have told him that I missed him when he skipped Sunday dinners. I should have thanked him more for being such a positive role model in my life. Maybe if I had hugged him just a little longer, he would’ve felt more loved.
I only began to experience relief from my grief as I turned to Heavenly Father and to Jesus Christ. I had been taught since I was a child that death is not the end but a necessary step in Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation. I knew that Jesus Christ had overcome death through His miraculous Resurrection, and I knew He promised that all men and women would likewise rise from their graves. I knew that because of priesthood power and temple ordinances, families could be together forever.
But when I was thrown into the furnace of my afflictions, I had to say to myself something similar to what Bonnie L. Oscarson, former Young Women General President, said, “We have a knowledge of these things, but do we believe them? If these things are true, then we have the greatest message of hope and help that the world has ever known.”2 In the moment that it counted, I felt a powerful reaffirmation that I did believe in Jesus Christ and His promises. I knew He didn’t expect me to carry the loss on my own. Just as I felt His power healing me individually through His Atonement, I felt that same power collectively binding up my family’s emotional wounds and helping us feel peace again.
Many of us who have lost a friend or loved one to suicide are tormented by the “what ifs,” the “I could haves,” and—the biggest for me—the “whys”: Why did he do it? Why didn’t he tell anyone (as my other friends had)? These questions are difficult to bear, particularly since many of the answers won’t come in this life. Our reassurance of and faith in God’s loving mercy must sustain us until clarity and understanding come.
President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught:
“Obviously, we do not know the full circumstances surrounding every suicide. Only the Lord knows all the details, and he it is who will judge our actions here on earth.
“When he does judge us, I feel he will take all things into consideration: our genetic and chemical makeup, our mental state, our intellectual capacity, the teachings we have received, the traditions of our fathers, our health, and so forth.”3
From Jesus Christ’s teachings, I have felt comfort and hope in the spaces where there were once looming questions. I know that a perfectly just and merciful Heavenly Father will be the one to make the eternal decisions regarding those who have died by suicide; I don’t have to carry a load of worries and speculations.
While I still don’t fully understand why my Uncle Mike took his own life or if someone could have saved him, I know that in the end, all will be made known; more importantly, all will be made right. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained, “Some blessings”—and I might add answers—“come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come.”4
My mission president’s wife always used to say, “God loves broken things.” The Lord Himself affirmed this truth when He taught us to give Him “a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:8). Knowing that helped me be okay with figuratively falling to my knees beside the Savior in Gethsemane—allowing myself to hurt for a little while before begging for peace. I knew God didn’t enjoy seeing me suffer as I watched suicide threaten those I love; but He did desire to help His daughter grow through something painful. He did allow me to struggle with some unanswered questions, worry, and grief so that He could bind me back up and make me someone better and stronger. And as difficult as it was, I love Him for giving me an opportunity to see a heart-wrenching topic, suicide, with spiritual eyes and firsthand experience.
Three years after my uncle’s passing, I stood in the sealing room of the temple, holding my new husband’s hand as our family and friends hugged us one by one, whispering congratulations in our ears. When my aunt, Uncle Mike’s wife, reached me, she held me close and whispered, “I just want you to know that your uncle is aware of you. He loves you so much and he’s proud of you.”
We both cried and hugged, with hearts full of gratitude for eternal families. Instead of feeling the pain of the night when Uncle Mike died, I felt the Lord’s promise of the Resurrection pierce my soul: “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4). I have hope that despite his tragic, final decision in mortality, my Uncle Mike is spiritually learning, repenting, and healing—just like all of us.
I still don’t know everything about suicide. But through personal revelation and Spirit-filled conversations with my family, I have learned some important things about those who consider it, attempt it, and carry it out. I know that if I suspect that someone is having suicidal thoughts, I can “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (Doctrine and Covenants 81:5) by asking direct questions and seeking immediate help. I know Christ can swallow up the negative emotions surrounding suicide—the pains of depression, the suffering of family members left behind, and death itself. And I know that I have a loving Heavenly Father who is overseeing the details that I don’t understand. Until the day that the Lord will “reveal all mysteries” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:7), that knowledge is enough for me.