As we cross the halfway mark of 2022, how has life been for you?
The world is chaotic and turbulent - wars are raging, inflation rates are peaking and mental health issues continue to become more common. We watch and grapple with uncertainty in many aspects of our life, and that anxiety can be exhausting and even overwhelming for some of us. For others, we welcome the solitude and the space and time alone to ourselves.
With these added stresses, it’s worrying to see that suicide rates have been on an alarming rise in Singapore, especially amongst youths and the elderly. For the youths, they struggle with navigating the complexities of relationships, academic woes, family stressors and societal expectations based on what they see online or in movies and TV. For the older generation, many grapple with social isolation and chronic illnesses that they suffer from later on in their lives. Throwing in some statistics, a study conducted also showed that searches for purpose in life were associated with increased life satisfaction during adolescence and emerging adulthood.
That leads me to some interesting questions - Why do we exist? How does one hold on to hope amid pain and agony? What is the purpose of one's life? What is a life well lived and a life that dies well? These are just some of the many questions that we receive daily from our clients.
Other studies have also shown that meaning in life can pose as a significant protective factor against suicidal tendencies. Famous neurologist Viktor Frankl found that the meaning of life as a psychological construct is the primary driving and motivating force for any one person. He authored the illuminating book “Man’s Search for Meaning” where he chronicled his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He mentioned that all of us have the free will and choice to search for meaning even in the face of inevitable and immense suffering. Meaning to him is “something to be found rather than given, discovered rather than invented.” Interesting, huh?
Some key aspects to this process have also been religion and spirituality. It shapes our worldviews, and influences the way we choose to navigate the ups and downs of life. Across history and the world, religions have also incorporated elements of life and death, and have exerted an influence on their followers understand, perceptions and behaviours related to suicide.
For more well known religions across the world like Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism, higher levels of religiosity were associated with lower risks of suicide. Generally, suicide rates in more religious countries are also a lot lower than secular countries, which drives many to think that there’s a strong correlation between the two.
Dying by suicide involves a lot emotions and struggles, and many don’t actually want to stop living - they just want to stop the pain. Because of that, it seems like the moral objections to suicide that are existent in many religious beliefs, values and optimism are considered important for those with suicide ideation.
Zooming in to Hindiusm, the Sanskirt term for suicide refers to the words “Pranatyaga or Atamahatya”, which indicates an abandoning life force and is discouraged in Hindu faith. In Islam, the Holy Qu’ran expressly forbids suicide and refers to suicide as self-murder and prohibits it. Most Buddhist traditions assert that suicide is a negative act and should be avoided. By ending their life by suicide, Buddhism believes that it destroys the possibility of realizing the potential for transformation that one can see and this is viewed as a form of weakness in being discouraged by life.
The current view of suicide across Chrisitan denominations remain consistent with the historical perspective that regards suicide as a sin. However, there are debates about whether the individual is in the right state of mind to be considered capable of making a sound decision that qualifies it to be sinful. According to Christian doctrine, when an individual dies, he/she will face judgement by God and only God can decide if the individual will enter heaven.
While there are of course differing viewpoints with respect to religion and their beliefs, these types of topics are just some of the many discussions that the other counsellors and I hold with our clients, when we enter into that space of exploring what’s the religion, faith or form of spirituality that guides them. We invite them to share about their reasons for living and dying, and whether ending their lives would truly end their pain. With clients in suicide grief, we have conversations surrounding where has their loved ones gone to, what can they do to continue life for themselves and how does their faith support them in this journey.
Everyone experiences stress, grief and other kinds of woes on many occasions. Yet, it’s the things that truly bring meaning to our life, and the things that we love, that help many of us to continue overcoming these hurdles, and to take life one day at a time.
Perhaps you could ask yourself this too - What is the meaning of your life?Information Sources:
1. Agoramoorthy, G., & Hsu, M. J. (2017). The suicide paradigm: Insights from ancient Hindu scriptures. Journal of Religion and Health, 56(3), 807–816. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-015-0178-3.
2. Frankl V. The will to meaning. New York: Plume; 2014. (1969).
3. Colucci, E., & Martin, G. (2008). Religion and spirituality along the suicidal path. Suicide and LifeThreatening Behavior, 38, 229–244.
4. Cotton Bronk K, Hill PL, Lapsley DK, Talib TL, Finch H. Purpose, hope, and life satisfaction in three age groups. J Posit Psychol. 2009;4:500–10.
5. Dervic, K., Oquendo, M. A., Grunebaum, M. F., Ellis, S., Burke, A. K., & Mann, J. J. (2004). Religious affiliation and suicide attempt. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161(12), 2303–2308.
6. Gearing, R. E., & Lizardi, D. (2009). Religion and suicide. Journal of Religion and Health, 48(3), 332–341. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-008-9181-2.
7. Linehan, M. M., Goodstein, J. L., Nielsen, S. L., & Chiles, J. A. (1983). Reasons for staying alive when you are thinking of killing yourself: The reasons for living inventory. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 51, 276–286.
8. Lizardi, D., Currier, D., Galfalvy, H., Sher, L., Burke, A., Mann, J. J., et al. (2007). Perceived reasons for living ant index hospitalization and future suicide attempt. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 195(5), 451–455.
9. Shah, A., & Chandia, M. (2010). The relationship between suicide and Islam: A cross-national study. Journal of Injury & Violence Research, 2(2), 93–97. https://doi.org/10.5249/jivr.v2i2.60.
10. Shneidman, E. S., & Farberow, N. L. (1957). Some comparisons between genuine and simulated suicide notes in terms of Mowrer’s concepts of discomfort and relief. Journal of General Psychology, 56, 251–256
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