Today is Suicide Prevention Day. As a member of the mental health community, I have decided to add my voice to our fight against suicide in this country and beyond. This little piece is from my own clinical experience.

Having been a Psychologist for more than a decade, I think, I have gained enough clinical experience to talk about this. Most Ghanaians are notoriously religious or should I say spiritual. I consider myself much more spiritual than religious.

I don’t think there is anything in this world that can shake my belief in the saving grace and power of Jesus (this is also from experience). So, please permit me to write from a biased Christian perspective.

I am so ignorant about Islam and the other religions, but I am sure no religion sanctions taking one’s own life (I may be wrong). I have noticed that our religious life or belief is both our saving grace and our bane when it comes to suicide, suicidal attempt and other psychological challenges.

For the Christian, the Bible is against taking one’s own life. Therefore, anytime someone tries to take his or her life, the first thing we think of is demons or the devil. It is the work of the devil or the person is possessed by demons.

As I always tell my Christian clients, I do not have any “spiritual eye” to see demons, but what I do know is that God is all-powerful, and the power He gives us through Christ, is far greater than any demonic power (Eph 1: 18-21).

Since we believe it is the work of demons, we set out “to pray out”, cast out or exorcise the suicidal thought demon. I have no problem with prayer. (Indeed, I thrive on it).

However, most of us, especially some men of God, do not go down to the root of the problem, to find out what is actually wrong. Most of my clients who are suicidal will tell you that, they don’t believe in God anymore. When people express this sentiment, we are quick to condemn them.

“What is wrong with you?” “Are you possessed by the devil?” No! My friend, they may be just at their wit’s end. They would tell you that, they were highly committed Christians, but if God existed, He wouldn’t have allowed bad things to happen to them.

My dear friend and pastor, instead of setting out to cast out the “demon making the person suicidal”, why don’t you get close to person to get to the bottom of the problem. It may be that the person is going through major social challenges or even has some form of mental illness (suicidal thoughts are symptoms of some psychological conditions).

It will surprise you to find that, suicidal persons find it difficult to generate possible alternative solutions. Some may be so sick and their judgement may be impaired. When someone gets to that point where their belief in God is shaken, you can always pray for them.

However, I have come to learn that, it is not advisable to pray for them in the meeting they are having with you. Don’t even bring up God at the initial stages if possible. However, when you go home and are alone, bring them before God. I know many Christian professionals who do this.

MAKE INTERCESSION FOR THEM WHEN YOU ARE ALONE, OR IN A PRAYER MEETING, YOU CAN ASK MEMBERS TO PRAY FOR SOMEONE, WITHOUT MENTIONING THEIR NAMES TO THE GROUP.

God knows what is on our hearts. If someone expresses suicidal thoughts or attempts suicide, and we start quoting scriptures to shame them or make them feel guilty, it could backfire and spiral the person into more harmful subsequence.

What we have to do as fellow Christians is to show love and care. After all, the Apostle Paul said that “All that matters is Faith expressed in Love” (Gal 5:6). How do you show this?

If you notice someone is suicidal or expresses the wish to die:

  1. Engage them to talk about their problems. Do this in a sympathetic way. Show a body language that clearly tells them that you care. A little touch on their arm, an arm around their neck or an embrace (depending on how close you are with them) can help. You can always ask their permission to do this.

You can say “Is it okay if I hug you?” Then ask them gently how they have been feeling, and what thoughts are going through their mind. You can also ask them directly if they have thoughts of ending their lives or wish to die. If they do, ask them the last time it occurred and how often it does.

It will surprise you that, they may be experiencing the thoughts even as they are with you. Say or convey a body language that says, what they are going through must be painful. If the person, tells you that they are having suicidal thoughts as they are with you that, should send or sound a red flag.

  • Please, don’t be judgemental or critical. This is not the time to quote scriptures to make them feel guilty or start “binding the demons”. They already feel bad about themselves and their situation.

In fact, some feel guilty that they have disappointed God for having these thoughts, and perhaps may be hell-bound. If the person tells you they have lost their faith, don’t condemn them or start praying for them there and then.

Remember, we are each other’s keeper, not each other’s judge. Please, let them know that you are there for them. Remember, the love and support you give them will let them trust and open up to you.

  • Find out from them if they have a plan for suicide. That is, how they wish to take their lives. Some will tell you, by hanging, drinking poison etc. Some people may not be sure of how they want to die.

Follow this up by asking them if they have acquired the tool or weapon. If someone has a clear plan and has access to the weapon or tool for suicide, then that could be a recipe for disaster. Such a person runs a higher risk of attempting suicide.

  • Some people will tell you that, they have so far not ended their lives, because of what their loved ones (like children, parents, siblings etc) may go through when they die; or because they know the Bible is against suicide. That, there, may be their “saving grace”.

Remind them of the love of such people, or how God loves them, and want use others to help (remember, they may have difficulty finding alternative solutions to their problems or may just be sick).

  • Take away the tool or weapon available to them. It is common to find that people use medications prescribed for them by their doctors. They overdose. If possible take their medicine, and give the prescription drugs to them yourself.
  • Give them hope. Remember, I mentioned earlier that, our religious beliefs are both our salvation and bane? If they have not lost their faith, then you can use scriptures to give hope. Make them aware of how much God loves them, despite what they are going through; and that God does not hate them or is sending them to hell because they are having suicidal thoughts.

No one plans to put suicidal thoughts in their head. Let them know that, the mind is very powerful, that is why the Apostle Paul wrote that, we should be renewed by transforming our minds. Therefore, God through your help or professionals can help bring healing and renewal to their minds and bodies.

  • If they need material help and you are able to assist, kindly do so immediately. I have seen how giving clients, money as little as ten or twenty cedis has saved lives. It is one of the reasons, why some of us keep food like gari, sugar and milk in our offices.

A suicidal client of mine had starved for days and had resorted to stealing his neighbour’s dried groundnuts for food. It was just by grace that God led him to my office. We encourage churches, universities and other institutions to have some form of food banks or welfare system.

We have seen how these have saved lives. As much as possible, let them know of the help you can give, and let them know that you will give your best to them. Please, when you tell them, you will do something, ensure you do it. Don’t promise what you can‟t do, it will backfire.

  • Let them know that there are professionals trained to deal with the challenges they are going through. Remember, you may not be equipped to deal with some of the challenges, especially if the person is suffering from some psychological disorder.

One mistake people make is that, in their zeal to seek professional help for their loved ones, they go behind them to tell the professionals. Over the years, I have seen how this backfires and causes conflict among loved ones.

The reason is that clients feel betrayed, mostly due to the stigmatization of mental illness and the mental health profession. If you tell them to go to a psychologist or psychiatrist, they think you believe, they are crazy (how ignorant we are about mental health and mental illness).

So, as much possible tell them to see a skilful person or someone trained to deal with life issues. Then tell, them, you will pray for them and follow up to see how well they are doing. If you notice that their situation is very bad, but they don’t want to go for help, tell them, you yourself are ill-equipped to deal with the problem, and because you love them so much, you will seek professional help for them.

Then do so quickly.

  • It is very essential, that you keep the information you get from the person confidential. As Christians, we should learn to control our tongues. Once the person finds out that others know what they trusted you with, you are finished. They may never trust you again. Clients have told me how their pastors or certain welfare committee members in their churches have leaked information about them.
  • Continue praying for them in your closet. As the person gets better, you can let them know, it is not by accident that they are receiving help. Then, gradually let the person who had lost his faith know that God loves him or her; that is why He uses loved ones and professionals to heal.

The process may take a while, but I give glory to God that, through empathy, love and care, suicidal clients who had once lost their faith, return to God and enjoy a peaceful relationship with God.

There is nothing love and support cannot do. That is what all our Christian or Religious life is about.

BE A FRIEND, NOT A JUDGE!!! If you or any of your loved ones is overwhelmed and contemplating suicide, call 0509914046 and 0206814666 FOR HELP

The author is a Clinical Psychologist, KNUST