I’m glad to see Church magazines dealing more with some of the gritty issues of life. The Feb. 2007 New Era magazine, aimed at youth, has an excellent Q&A section with a question about dealing with a depressed and possibly suicidal friend. Here is part of the article (see the original for some additional insightful comments from others):
“My friend seems really depressed, and I’m afraid she might even be thinking about taking her own life. What should I do?”
Summary given in the New Era Q&A:
- As soon as possible, talk to your friend’s parents and other adults who can help, such as a doctor, counselor, or priesthood leader.
- Continue to be a good friend by spending time with her and being a good listener.
- Let your friend know that she is important, that you care about her, and that, with help, she can feel better.
Your friend’s situation is a serious problem, one that you and she can’t handle alone. In addition to the Lord’s help, your friend needs professional help, which may include counseling and medication.
Those who experience depression feel hopeless and helpless. So they often hesitate to get help. Even if your friend has asked you not to tell anyone, telling someone who can help is one of the best things you can do for her. At the very least, talk to her parents. You can even get advice from a doctor, school counselor, or your bishop or branch president. Letting them know about her problem is especially urgent if she has mentioned suicide.
As she gets help, continue to be her friend. People who are going through depression often think that they don’t matter. So let your friend know you care about her, and remind her of the many others who care about her. Sincerely tell her what you appreciate about her. Invite her to do fun and uplifting activities with you. Service is especially good because it can help her focus on others, and physical activities can lift her mood. Pray for guidance to know what would be best for her.
Your friend might feel depressed because she doesn’t think her life has a purpose. But Heavenly Father has a special plan for each one of us. He sent us here to have joy, to overcome trials, and to fulfill a purpose. You can share this testimony with your friend and give her hope that, in time and with the right help, she can enjoy life.
Remind her that it’s normal to have some worries. President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught: “It was meant to be that life would be a challenge. To suffer some anxiety, some depression, some disappointment, even some failure is normal. . . . There is great purpose in our struggle in life.” But it’s not normal to dwell on problems to the point that we lose our perspective. It’s best to work through them and try to become stronger because of them.
Also remind your friend that she has many sources of help. Depression is a symptom of mental or emotional illness. Just as she would go to a doctor to be treated for a physical illness, she can talk to a professional who can help her understand the nature of depression and teach her ways to cope with it. Whether she is a member of the Church or not, she can get spiritual help. She can pray, get a priesthood blessing, and find comfort by reading the scriptures. Testify to her that the Lord loves her and can bless her with peace (see John 14:27).
I’ll add my perspective about how much the Lord cares for those who are depressed and facing suicidal challenges. Some of the most significant spiritual experiences I have had involved working with those who were suicidal. During the time I was a bishop, it was something I faced several times. In a couple cases, I experienced profound miracles and learned how much the Lord wishes to do for His children. Most of the experiences are too sensitive to share, and a couple were simply too wild to share – I still shake my head and say, “Did I really see that? Could there not be some kind of natural explanation for what we experienced?”
There is one straightforward incident that I can share, without giving too many details, given the passage of time. Many years ago, we had a cell phone that failed. I didn’t rely on it much and had taken my time in getting it replaced. After over a month without a cell phone, we finally got the repaired phone back. The night after we received it, I had an unusual call on our regular phone (the land line). It was a woman in great distress who said, “Tell my family I love them.” That was all she wanted to say initially. I was puzzled and asked more about what she meant, and asked if that meant she was suicidal. She said that she was going to make it look like an accident, and gave me enough detail about her planned suicide that I realized she was serious and might be moments away from death. I prayed in my heart to know what to do, and the image of our newly repaired cell phone came into my mind. I went downstairs and picked up the cell phone from the kitchen counter top as I continued to speak to her on our wireless handset. I dialed 911 on the cell phone and, while muting the other phone, explained that I had a suicidal person on the line and would need their help ASAP to rescue her. So, with two phones, one on each side of my face, I began asking the woman some questions and repeating information to a savvy 911 worker, who understood my situation immediately. “So you’re calling me from a payphone at the station on [such and such] street? And you’re planning to do what? . . .” I’d add some information secretly to the 911 worker to further describe the woman, her vehicle, etc. And then I worked as hard as I could to keep her on the line, asking some probing questions and giving some things to think about, and praying fervently in my heart. I needed to keep her there a few more seconds, a few more seconds, . . . and then I heard some of the most wonderful whining words of my life: “Oh, did you send these people?! Aargh!” The police had arrived and they stopped her from carrying out her plans. A very skilled and kind woman officer worked with her and helped her through the problem, and I was able to meet with her a few hours later.
Without giving away any details, let me just say that this woman has done much to make the world a better place. I am so proud of who she is and what she has accomplished. She has come so far, done so much, and inspired many others. (In fact, this applies to many of the people I know who once were suicidal – they have been some of the most amazing people I’ve met.) What a terrible loss it would have been if she had passed away that night long ago. Perhaps she would not have committed suicide after all if I hadn’t been there, but I think she was serious and in any case, I’m honored to have been able to play a role in the resolution of that drama. I’m so grateful to the Lord that the cell phone, which we had not had for a month, had come back to us just in time to get the police there to help rescue a depressed and distressed woman, a precious daughter of God who had many more joys, and pains, to experience before her mission was over. (Many of the most meaningful miracles I’ve experienced involved beautifully coordinating timing of events, like the arrival of that cell phone in the nick of time.)
May we increasingly be sensitive to the sorrows and pains of others in our midst, and let the Spirit of God guide us in loving them and helping them to find peace and meaning in life. May we reach out and provide some hope at the right moments to those who are suicidal, whether we know it or not. Life can be such a painful journey, and the challenges of depression and mental illness can be so overwhelming and so poorly understood by those of us who think we are whole and cannot fathom the challenges others face. May we increasingly understand and help others as a true expression of our religion.
Elton John wants religion to be banned, and many intolerant crusaders for tolerance are with him. But I think religion is vital and, when practiced sincerely, makes the world a much better place, feeding the hungry, helping the poor, and rescuing the suicidal. My life had been so greatly blessed by the influence of religion, and I’ve seen so many other lives made richer and more worth living through its power.