Inside the Mind of a Christian Who Struggles With Suicidal Thoughts

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By Peter S. Chamberlain, CP Guest Contributor
April 9, 2013|12:32 pm

Suicide is not "the unforgivable sin." When one good family of five lost two sons – both of whom had needed and received some psychiatric help for what was believed to be organically based clinical depression – to suicide in succession, some members of the church we attended then, with ill-informed, rigid, and judgmental views and biases about suicidality and suicide, mental illness, etc., wanted to remove the father from his position as a lay leader, but the very knowledgeable pastor and some of us knowledgeable in such things stopped that. Their daughter somehow escaped being impelled toward suicide, thank God. Too many people who should know better exhibit virulent bias, prejudice, and stigmatization against the mentally ill and particularly anyone who has attempted, much less committed, suicide. A retired engineer, military officer, and CIA agent, in whose home we have had Thanksgiving dinner several years, was afraid to let me near his grandchildren. A neighbor child to whom I waved from our front porch while he was riding his bike on the far side of the street screamed "Don't touch me!," raced into his house and locked the door. I love children, and we "mental patients" are less likely to harm anybody else than the general population.

I'm somewhat of an expert on this dark subject of suicide. That's how I deal with it, and I had to become knowledgeable about it to survive. I made my first real suicide attempt before first grade and was intermittently actively suicidal for many years. In my day, I couldn't get, or ask for, help until after I graduated from school, college, and law school and was admitted to the bar, and started practicing. I sought and received two extended rounds of good counseling, therapy, and antidepressant medication, which I have been on continuously since my last actual attempt in the seventies, and my last relapse and suicidal crisis in 1982, at which time I got way too close to committing suicide but realized I had got through this again, stopped, and called for help. I got through a much worse traumatic situation without going suicidal – though my enemies swore that I had threatened suicide and was irreparably devoid of mental abilities – in 2000.

I lost a brother to suicide in 1976. To my surprise, after a momentary impulse which I quickly controlled after taking a couple of steps toward my office window, I didn't go suicidal then or until what I would have thought would have been a much less serious crisis. I knew he had received treatment earlier but he was living in New York, we hadn't seen each other in too long, and I not only didn't see this coming but had just told someone that he was the more stable of us when we learned of his death. There are an awful lot of tortuous "if only" type thoughts and guilt. It took me a year or so to recover.

I know people, some intimately, who have continued to have more or less periodic relapses of suicidality and other severe manifestations of mental illness even after many years of counseling, therapy, medication, hospitalizations, etc. with experts.

Many of those degreed and other experts working in the field of mental health and suicide prevention, etc., are motivated by strong Christian faith. The good ones understand that you cannot solve this by "will power" or quite often by prayer alone, but that faith helps.

I had spoken to a committee of the Texas Legislature and others about my history earlier in connection with what eventually became Texas' first doctor-patient and later psychotherapist-client and group therapy privacy and confidentiality legislation. Some of us from The Suicide & Crisis Center in Dallas, which had saved my life in 1982, spoke out openly about suicidality, treatment and its benefits, suicide prevention, etc., on television in 1983, after a string of teen suicides in the Dallas suburb of Plano, etc., and I have spoken quite openly about this to many people since.

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My law practice came to involve an awful lot of suicidal children, teens, and adults, many of whom I was appointed to represent not despite but more or less because the courts and others knew of my love for children and teens and my personal and professional expertise in such matters.

Peter S. Chamberlain is a retired lawyer in Texas.
 

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