Reverend Bob Flanagan (right) at AFSP’s Advocacy Forum
While I was working as a chaplain at a psychiatric hospital, I was asked to counsel a patient who wanted to end her life. I met with her for many weeks. We sat in a small empty room and were accompanied by an aide who was present to make sure the woman did not try to harm herself right then. She felt pulled toward death. Her brain wanted to stop.
Some people believe that suicidal thoughts reveal a person’s ambivalence toward living. But “ambivalence” is often not a strong enough word. Sometimes, the brain hurts so much some people feel an urgency not to live any longer and feel compelled to act. Thanks to work of researchers, though, we now know suicide is preventable. Even so, there are extreme cases, like my patient’s, that remain difficult to treat. We have much more to learn about why some people are so determined to end their lives, and I support the work of the AFSP to help make sure more is learned.
My faith tells me that God wants us to live full, vibrant lives—that is, “to have life abundantly.” Because suicide is preventable and research is progressing, more and more people may receive the treatment they need to help them regain abundant life and learn what faithful living is all about. For too many years, some religious people believed that suicide was a sin. But just as we don’t believe that a heart attack results from sin, neither should we believe that suicide results from sin. The desire to end one’s life comes from a hurting, broken brain. Although, God does not want people to end their lives by suicide, God will not abandon those who are in such deep pain that they do.
At its best, faith is about caring for the hurting and broken and helping people heal and restore themselves. I don’t know of any better work that a person of faith can do than help someone overcome the darkness that surrounds suicidal thoughts and actions.
Reverend Bob Flanagan is an author, educator, and priest. He has worked with AFSP for the last five years in the Boston area and northern Connecticut. Currently, he serves on the State Advocacy Committee for the Northern Connecticut chapter and is a Lead Field Ambassador.
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