"I No Longer Want To Live"
Counselor: Pat Clendinning
Hi. My name is John and I am glad you picked up this tape [CD]. I've been thinking a lot lately about teenagers who get to thinking that they no longer want to live, and I have wondered if all of us maybe at one time or another think about taking an easy way out of some of the problems we have. Sometimes, things get just that frantic in our thinking; yet, we recognize there must be some way short of taking our own lives to take care of this situation. If you have ever thought that your life was no longer worth living or if you have a friend who has thought that kind of thing, this tape [CD] is designed to give you practical help. It is a serious problem. I understand the numbers have really gotten alarming. As many as 14 teenagers a day take their own lives. That is more than 5,000 per year. One survey showed that 1 in 12 high school students in America at least attempted suicide last year. That's scary. But maybe if we know what to do for ourselves or a friend, we can save some lives. And to help with this, I would like to introduce you to a friend of mine, Pat Clendinning. He's a professor and a professional counselor, and he is the kind of person who can talk straight with us and give us some useful suggestions. Pat, why don't you start by telling me why anybody, teenager or adult, would want to commit suicide.
Pat Clendinning: Sure, John, I'd be glad to. The reasons vary greatly. One person who is thinking he no longer wants to live may have a lot of reasons, and another only one or two. A lot of the time the reason is simply disappointment or a feeling of failure. I remember a tenth-grade boy that I'll call Harry. He was dealing with a number of fairly typical reasons a teenager might think of taking his own life. What brought it to a head was that his girlfriend had dumped him, and he thought he would never get over this great catastrophe. After a while, he asked a couple of girls to go out with him, girls he thought he would really like, and they both turned him down. Harry was no different from all teenagers. He wanted to be popular and involved in a social group, and there just didn't seem to be a way to break in. Feelings of loneliness and being rejected just about got to him. This began to affect other areas in his life. He felt inadequate in many ways and couldn't see anything in the future in optimistic terms. On top of all that, he began to do poorly in school and the possibilities of getting into a good college were shaky. If you are the one going through times like this, it can be terribly real and gloomy.
John: I knew this girl a few years older than me who went off to college after being in a private high school. She was really spoiled and her parents had done everything in the world for her but when she got off on her own, she just crumbled. I heard she threatened suicide, but she went to a counselor and talked herself out of it.
Pat: That can surely be a frightening situation when you find you are not nearly as prepared as you ought to be or as you thought you were. You can easily become despondent and that can happen before you are out of high school. There is a despair that sets in if you don't have faith in yourself or in the future. Faith in God helps a lot, of course. It helps you have faith in yourself which creates determination and will power to get everything straightened out and to go on growing.
John: But it isn't easy, is it?
Pat: Lots of times teenagers feel they are so different that they may not ever fit in with a social group. I've heard teenagers say, "I never say the right thing." Or "I never wear the right clothes." Or "My family doesn't live in the right neighborhood." If they see themselves so hopelessly different and don't correct this attitude, they may be candidates for beginning to think about ending their lives. But just the opposite may be true, too. They may see themselves as hopelessly the same and life and interpersonal relationships may become very boring to them. The real problem is that they have lost any meaning in life. They don't see any purpose in it, and they come to feel sometimes that dying is just as meaningful as living. I'm sorry that some teens feel that way. Life is so much fun. It's a challenge to our growth and to our abilities to cope. Yet, some just don't see it that way.
John: Yeah, but don't some people think about ending their lives when they have gotten in trouble with the law or if they are on drugs? Sometimes you can feel that there isn't much future for you and you couldn't face people, your friends, your parents, you know, people at church.
Pat: Right. This is just another case of thinking that you can't make it. But it is also true that many suicide victims and attempters are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs when they take their lives. Or the drugs have given them hopelessness.
John: Why do some teenagers talk about committing suicide?
Pat: Well, one of the signs of thinking of suicide is talking about it. That may be a loud cry for help, help with the inadequacies, help with the loneliness and not fitting in, help with the alcohol problem, help with his/her need for love and attention. That kind of cry usually works. If I threaten to take my own life, there is a pretty good chance that somebody will pay attention to me. A lot of teenagers indicate that even a beating is attention from somebody who ought to be showing love. And a beating is better than no attention at all. But, unfortunately, the halfhearted attempt that is a cry for help is sometimes a success and a life is lost.
John: Could you give me an example?
Pat: Yeah, I remember very well a high school couple who let themselves go too far and became sexually promiscuous. She became pregnant. They both had feelings of embarrassment and failure and thought there was nothing in life for them after this. They honestly faced up to the fact that they were not yet mature enough to be married. Both of them, along with their parents, had lots of serious decisions to make. Now, granted, being pregnant is hard to live down, but even that isn't worth taking a life for. If the girl had ended her own life, she would have also ended the child's life.
John: That would be a tough decision to make and a bad situation to be in. And it would be even worse if they weren't loved by their parents. Now, Pat, my mind is racing ahead. I heard someone say once that suicide was an unforgivable sin. But that didn't make sense with what I knew about forgiveness.
Pat: No, no. The unforgivable sin is that sin where we insult or show contempt for God in some way. Suicide is murder. It's killing one's self. That, obviously, is wrong. Even more than that, it is taking life needlessly. Suicide isn't the only way out. Life is worth living. There are difficult situations that we cause ourselves or that someone else causes for us, and that's bad, but it's not the end of the world. It's better to accept the bad situation and deal with it the best we can and then move on to claim all the abundance of life that Christ wants for us. Suicide takes away all the possibility of seeing God's master plan being carried out. We know suicide is a serious sin and that God's grace is somehow at work.
John: When you say it's taking a life needlessly, you are saying there are other ways of taking care of the problems, right?
John: Even if some of the situations are really bad?
Pat: Of course. There has to be a solution. No matter how tough the problem or how low you feel or how inadequate you think you are for coping with life today and out in the future, there is always something that can be done. 1 Corinthians 10:13 in the Bible is an important verse that every teenager ought to know and remember every day. "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength. But with the temptation will also provide the way of escape that you may be able to endure it." The temptation to take one's own life is matched by God's faithfulness in giving us a solution to the problem. Someone has said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I think the problem often is that the teenager or the adult doesn't see the problem as temporary and he is too impatient to wait for it to work out. But better to learn to be patient than to end one's life. You know, John, there is often a bit of revenge in committing suicide. It may be like saying, "I'll show you" or "You'll be sorry when I am gone." People may be sad momentarily, but they get over their grieving. They stop talking about you every day at school. They stop taking flowers to the grave. Life goes on for them. They move on with or without you, but you are still dead permanently. Look, I know that facing up to the problems whatever they are is tough for all of us. Life is just that way sometimes. But every one of us survives it if we make that choice. Romans 8:26 promises us "Likewise the spirit helps us in our weakness." Like almost everyone else in the world, the teenager who has considered suicide can and will make it, too, by letting the Holy Spirit help. A teenager will develop a lot of character and maturity by surviving it; 6,500 teenagers per year ending their lives is a lot. It is still a rather small percentage compared to the number who have the same thoughts. The others decide that with God's help they can make it.
John: You seem to believe the Bible has lots to say about making it.
Pat: Oh yes, John. One of my all-time favorite passages of Scripture speaks to this. It's Lamentations 3:21-22. Let me read that for you here. "But this I call to mind and, therefore, I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness." God's love is really awesome, John, in providing for all of our needs. Hope is what we need most in despair and loneliness and insecurity and this verse along with plenty of others in the Bible offers hope above all else because God who created us doesn't abandon us. He continues to be interested in us and to sustain us through our lives.
John: What other options do you think the teenager should consider before getting very serious about taking his own life? If he is really discouraged, it's going to be hard to come up with a lot of enthusiasm about anything else. Is there something he can really do, or does he just hold on and hope he grows out of it?
Pat: Well, there are definitely some things that he/she can do.
John: Like what?
Pat: Well, some teenagers have considered suicide just because they made a couple of D's in courses or because they were turned down twice by the same girl for a date. Those teenagers were evidently very low at that point, but those are things that could have been overcome. They are not worth nearly as much as a life full of potential. I counseled with a high school senior at the point of suicide because his parents had decided he wasn't smart enough to go to college. He had made a couple of D's and a good many C's, so they said they were not going to waste their money on him. He was really bent out of shape because he thought he knew why he had made those grades and could do better. As we talked, he decided that he would go without their help and began to look at possibilities for paying his own way. He turned around the thought of taking his own life, saw a challenge in it, and he not only made it through college, but you know he became a very successful businessman. Sometimes, of course, the person really is a C student anyway. Knowing that, you don't have to put such high expectations on yourself.
John: What about getting turned down by someone?
Pat: Well, as for being turned down by the girl twice for a date, the third time might be the charm. Or, more importantly, perhaps she just isn't the right girl, anyway. Certainly, no one girl or fellow is worth a human life. Or perhaps there are things the boy can do to make himself more eligible so that it's more likely that he will get a positive response from a very nice girl. These are permanent solutions. They are things that equip us not just for this one crisis but other crises in the future. Social skills or study habits are lessons that can be learned and are examples of really permanent solutions. Lots of times the teenager will grow out of a particular problem. What helps is the effort that is made to develop skills, learning how to cope or getting out to take the initiative to do something about one's loneliness. If relationships with parents have been a part of the desperation, work on those relationships. Sit down with parents and talk about what you'd like to achieve. If you can't do that, talk with your youth minister or a favorite school teacher or some other responsible adult. That's really a permanent solution. Also, it's important to recognize that you are a valuable, worthwhile person in the eyes of God.
John: Now let me guess. You have a story about that.
Pat: Yep. I remember a very attractive girl named Mitzi who was always down on herself. She thought she'd never be happy or amount to anything. Life just held no promise for her, but she tried to get in a habit of being more positive. She learned that no one could take away from her the fact that she was made in the image of God. She came to accept the fact that she might not be the most popular person in her school, but that might be because she had held to her high standards, which is right. Honestly admitting that there were people who cared for her, she found that there were people with whom she could be friendly. And it's the same with us. There is one other thing that is very important. I don't want to sound like I'm preaching to you here, John, but any teenager's faith will help him/her over almost any kind of hurdle.
John: So, then, is being a Christian a guarantee you won't have suicide thoughts?
Pat: No, no, no. It's not, but the Christian has more reason to live, more resources to call on to ward off the scary loneliness that all of us have sometimes. Psalms 71:5 in the Bible says, "For thou, O Lord, art my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth." He can be the hope of any teenager, John, and you can trust in Him so that you don't have to face alone the frustrating consequences of life being as tough as it sometimes is. If you are not a Christian, I would say your first step ought to be to talk with your youth minister, with your pastor, or some Christian you know who can explain the way to Christ as your Savior and Lord.
John: I agree with you there, Pat. That's the thing that has kept me from a lot of depression and hopelessness.
Pat: And it should, John. One of the greatest benefits of being a Christian is that we have a hope in Christ. Hope not only for today, but for eternity as well.
John: Well, Pat, those options for the teenager who is thinking of not wanting to live sound very realistic to me. But what about the girl I mentioned earlier? I'll give her this tape [CD], of course, but how else? Should I send her to a counselor, a psychiatrist, a pastor, or whom? I know I wouldn't be able to handle it. I'm not a counselor.
Pat: That's right, but don't sell yourself short. You are the one to whom this person is talking right now, and like it or not, you are the counselor until she gets to someone else. I think you or any other teenager, John, could do a good job if the person will listen at all. Let's face it; if this is their thought, then they have trusted you with it. It might be much easier to talk about it with you than with a professional, and perhaps much easier to take your practical counsel than a professional's. I'd give it a try.
John: OK. But how do I go about it?
Pat: Well, just believe that you can be God's instrument and pray that you can remain calm, listen sensitively and answer as practically as you possibly can. Ask God to prepare this person's heart that he/she would listen and follow the right steps. Next, mentally check out your own attitude. Be caring and accepting, but not judgmental. Many people feel judged at times and some have good reasons for it. Remember that sometimes little things have accumulated or seemingly grown out of proportion until it's almost impossible for people to get a handle on it themselves. And that's where you can help them to see some hope in their circumstance. Get the person to talk, really talk. Ask her/him to tell you what's been going on to make your friend feel this way. You want them to review the facts and hopefully realize that there are other solutions. If you are ever felt this way, tell them so. Find out if they are really serious about this. Help them to look at the other options that we have just been talking about. If he/she is still persistent about thinking of suicide, never make light of it. Don't say things like "Oh, I don't think you'd ever do anything like that," or even "Well, it's not so bad; you'll probably feel better tomorrow."
John: Yeah, but if this person is that bad and she may have said yesterday "I'll probably feel better tomorrow" and she didn't.
Pat: Yeah, that's right. Give hope, encourage. Emphasize that you are a friend that she can count on. And that she has other friends. Emphasize the need to involve the parents and seek their help. Or go to a counselor. Emphasize the sacredness of life and the seriousness of the way that he/she is thinking. I knew a high school senior who offered to go with a friend to talk with his parents or with his youth minister. The fellow thinking of suicide laughed at it at first, but then took him up on it. If your friend doesn't give you any indication of changing her mind, or still seems to lean toward suicide, I think it would be good to say very emphatically, "What you are saying is scaring me. I'm worried about you. You must get some help. Whom do you want me to tell?"
John: But what if all this is a secret?
Pat: Well, John, this is not the time to worry about breaking confidences. If nothing else helps, saving a life by breaking a confidence is more important than keeping your word. If your word has been given, just say "I'm sorry, but this is too important for me to keep your secret. I'll have to go back on my word unless you promise me that you will tell your parents immediately."
John: How do you know if it has reached a dangerous stage:
Pat: Find out if you can how they are thinking about taking their life. It's most serious if they have a plan. Even more serious if they have secured the equipment, that is, if they have bought the gun and they have got bullets or they have the rope or the poison. That's alarming, John. It's serious if they have begun to give away valuable possessions and if they have already written a note or they have decided on a time to do it when the parents are away from home. Listen for any of these clues or anything else that is very suspicious.
John: This is pretty heavy.
Pat: Oh, yeah, and what you need to do here is continue to pray that God's Spirit will work in this person's life and heart. Encourage in every way you can, but make it realistic. Hollow promises are what she has already heard, and she knows this will not do the job. Telling her everything is going to be great tomorrow is just something you cannot guarantee, but you can guarantee to continue to pray for her, to be her friend, and to talk regularly with her. To help her work out anything that is within your power, do it. Act positively to help save a life and to help this person get on to a more positive course and using all the potential that God has endowed her with.
John: Well, that's what I'd call a crash course in suicide counseling. But it all makes sense. I ought to be able to do that. It sounds scary mostly because it is a serious situation.
Pat: You are right on that score. It is serious, and I hope that you will never have to use it. But better to know some danger signs and what to do than to know nothing about it. It's always worth a try to save a life. There is one other thing. Stay with the person until she has followed through on the agreements. You can say very forcefully, "You promised me that you would do this so I am going to call you tonight at 10:00 and I am going to ask if you have done it." Or something that I do, John, is to ask the person "Will you promise me that you won't do anything about taking your life, no getting out a gun or anything else unless you call me first? Promise me that." If you have shown that much interest in the person, the chances are pretty good that she will do it. Other than that, see that the person follows through with whatever she said. Going to the counselor or whatever she said she would do, there is a continuing responsibility over the long haul. Your friend needs an anchor to know that there is someone who cares. To our friend listening to this tape [CD], I would like you to know that there is through faith in Christ a life that is exciting, meaningful, and worth living. Keep reminding yourself of that. Let me encourage you to get into church and find friends in the youth group. Is that enough said, John? Anything else?
John: Well, I don't think so. I'm having a weird mixture of feelings right now of being scared, of being sorry for someone who has so many troubles that they would even think about doing this, but yet, understanding it in a way at least, and a feeling of gratitude that there is a God we can believe in who will make all of this unnecessary. Thanks for being so helpful.
Pat: Well, John, you are welcome. And to you, our listener, hang on to that knowledge of God's goodness and grace and the hope that we have in Him. Let me leave you with a kind of promise from the Bible. "Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ will Himself restore, establish, strengthen, and settle you." (1 Peter 5:8b-9, 10b)