In the April 2022 General Conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles extended this plea: “My plea today to our youth, and to you parents and adults who advise them, is to begin your search for happiness by embracing the bounty we have already received from the giver of every good gift.” (Fear Not: Believe Only!)
While serving as Area Mental Health Advisor to missionaries in the Africa West Area and while previously serving as a therapist to students at BYU-Hawaii, I have talked to many who have had suicidal thoughts. Some feel that the stresses, challenges, and adversities of life, or the seemingly emptiness of life and relationships are not worth the effort. Many do not have a plan or the intent to harm themselves, but they wonder what it would be like if they didn’t wake up tomorrow or what if they were in a fatal accident.
When asked where those thoughts come from, the answer is invariably “the adversary” or “Satan” or “the devil.” If he can persuade someone to misuse, abuse, or destroy their body, then he thinks he has thwarted the plan of salvation. He is miserable, he is without a body, and he wants us to be miserable, too.
The good news is that we can fight against those thoughts. We can read, ponder, and anticipate the marvelous promises in our patriarchal blessing. We have the power of the priesthood, the power given us in our temple endowment, and the ability to command in the name of Jesus Christ to cast out the adversary just like Moses. (Moses 1:12-22) And we can always draw on the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Elder Holland stated that “It is precisely because there would be dark days and difficult issues that God promised He would, out of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, guide prophets, give an iron rod, open a narrow gate leading to a strait path, and above all grant us the power to finish the course… So please, please, stay for the whole feast!”
Misconceptions About Suicide
- Talking about suicide or asking someone if they are suicidal is risky because it might put the idea in their head. That is false.
You don’t give a suicidal person morbid ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true. Bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do. Such a discussion helps relieve the burden they are feeling because they finally have someone to talk to.
- People who talk about suicide are not actually likely to attempt suicide. That is false.
Almost everyone who dies by suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore threats of suicide. Statements like “You’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” or “I can’t see any way out” -even if said casually or as a joke- may indicate serious suicidal feelings.
- If a person is determined to kill themselves, there isn’t much that can be done to stop them. That is false.
Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, wavering until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to die. Most suicidal people do not want death; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.
Suicide Warning Signs
- Inflicting self-injury
- Communicating suicidal intent or plan
- Hopelessness, no reason to live
- Isolation or social withdrawal
- Sudden improved mood after depression
- Anger, hostility, aggression
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself;
- Looking for a way to kill oneself;
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose;
- Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain;
- Talking about being a burden to others;
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs;
- Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless;
- Sleeping too little or too much;
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated;
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge; and
- Displaying extreme mood swings.
Incidents That May Precipitate a Suicide Attempt
- New environment
- Loss of a social network
- Loss of relationships
- Pressure academically or socially
- Isolation or alienation
- Lack of coping skills
- Decreased academic performance
- Death of family member or loved one
- Recent humiliation, rejection or trauma
- Victim of bullying or threats
- Family history of suicide
- Family history of child maltreatment
- Recent discovery of a serious medical problem
- History of mental disorders
- Failure to take psychiatric medications
Not surprisingly, the first six items listed above describe a new college student or a new missionary who is away from home, away from family and friends, feeling pressure with the demands of missionary work or college life.
Self-Injury Versus Suicide
Non-suicidal self-injury is the act of deliberately harming the surface of your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. It’s typically not meant as a suicide attempt. Rather, this type of self-injury is an unhealthy way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger, and frustration.
Those struggling with self-injury feel deeply ashamed. They hide their behavior from others. Often self-injury is an attempt to alleviate pain from trauma. It regulates distress. 40% have suicidal thoughts.
Sister Leilani Auna, LCSW, former Director at BYUH Counseling and Disability Services, oversaw the development of a suicide prevention program called You Belong. Most people who struggle with suicidal thoughts feel isolated and alone even if they are surrounded by other students, ward members, friends, and family. We emphasized to each student that they belong, they are not alone, people care. They belong as part of their group of friends, family, classmates, Relief Society, Elders Quorum, as part of the BYUH ohana, and most importantly, as part of Heavenly Father’s family!
How to Save a Life: Act
Be Aware, show you Care, Tell someone, get them some help.
Be your brother or sister’s keeper. Do they appear sad or blue, quieter than usual?
Ask how they are doing. Listen attentively. Even when professional help is needed, your friend or loved one may be more willing to seek help if you have listened carefully to them. Let the person know you care. Voice your concern. Remain calm, not judgmental, not critical. Ask directly if the person is thinking of hurting themselves and if they have a specific plan.
Tell them if they are feeling suicidal to get help. Take them if necessary. Do get professional help immediately, even if your friend is unwilling to accept help. They will thank you later. Resources include counseling services at school or on campus, Family Services, call
the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If they are in immediate physical danger, call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room. Do not leave them alone!
What to Avoid
Trying to cheer the person up. Telling them to snap out of it. Assuming the situation will take care of itself. Being sworn to secrecy.
Be Careful of: Giving advice. Being judgmental. Pretending you understand perfectly.
Suicidal crises do not last forever. Intervention can make a difference and save a life. Even if they get angry, in time they will be grateful for it. Take precautions to consider your own personal safety. Sometimes when helping someone dealing with intense psychological pain, you might be impacted yourself and may want to seek support or counseling for yourself.
Elder Holland concludes: “To any of our youth out there who are struggling, whatever your concerns or difficulties, death by suicide is manifestly not the answer. It will not relieve the pain you are feeling or that you think you are causing. In a world that so desperately needs all the light it can get, please do not minimize the eternal light God put in your soul before this world was. Talk to someone. Ask for help. Do not destroy a life that Christ gave His life to preserve. You can bear the struggles of this mortal life because we will help you bear them. You are stronger than you think. Help is available, from others and especially from God. You are loved and valued and needed. We need you! “Fear not: believe only.”
“Someone who faced circumstances far more desperate than you and I ever will once cried: “Go forward [my beloved young friends]. Courage, … and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad.” We have so much to be glad about. We have each other, and we have Him. Don’t deny us the chance to have you, I plead, in the sacred and holy name of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Master, amen.”