World Suicide Prevention Day – Reflections

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Sarah WaseemUK

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. According to the World Health Organisation every forty seconds, a person dies by suicide somewhere in the world and many more attempt suicide. [1]

The figures are stark; suicide is the fourteenth leading cause of death worldwide [2] and it is the leading cause of death among young and middle-aged men in the UK.

Research for the UK indicates that approximately one third of people who die by suicide were under the care of specialist mental health services, while a further third were in contact with their GP but not receiving special mental health treatment. The last third were not in contact with health services twelve months before their death.[3]

Over half of those who die by suicide in UK have a history of alcohol or drug misuse. It is of special concern that economic factors are being increasingly reported as playing a role in suicides with thirteen percent of those who died by suicide having experienced serious financial difficulties in the previous three months.[4]

Thus, suicide is often an act committed within the context of other suffering, much of which should be preventable within civilised, compassionate societies. That suffering is not always visible unlike some other health conditions where there are obvious physical manifestations of illness.

For the sufferer then, the experience can be a very lonely one and it is often hard for them to envisage any solution to their difficulties. The statistics reflect how much harder this is for men, where talking about psychological problems may be perceived as weakness. Sufferers may be told to ‘pull to yourself together,’ and ‘just to get on with it.’ We know that when people are severely depressed, severely anxious, or psychotic, their thought processes are not as rational as they would be in non-clinical states and therefore working out solutions to problems can be very challenging. The higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse or other forms of self-harm reflect attempts to block out painful emotions of despair and shame.

Suicide also impacts families and the death of family members by suicide often provokes strong feelings of guilt and shame that they were unable to do anything to stop that individual from taking his/her life.

What is Islam’s response to this? Suicide undertaken in a rational state of mind is considered a sin and is forbidden in Islam because God is the Creator of all human life. The giving and taking of human life are therefore His Divine right. Human beings have been entrusted their lives by God and are responsible for their care and safe keeping. The act of suicide is a statement of hopelessness that things cannot change and by extension, that God will not hear the prayer of the sufferer and deny His mercy.

And kill not yourselves. Surely, Allah is Merciful to you.’ [5]

While God forbids suicide, He also assures His servants that turning to their Creator when misfortune befalls them will bring them out of every misery.

Allah burdens not any soul beyond its capacity.’ [6]

O ye who believe, seek help with patience and Prayer. Surely Allah is with the steadfast.’ [7]

A person who chooses to end his life foregoes his chance to receive the mercy of his Lord. The Holy Qur’an reminds us consistently that God has promised great reward for those that bear hardship with patience.

And We will try you with somewhat of fear and hunger and loss of wealth and lives, and fruits; but give glad tidings to the patient Who when a misfortune overtakes them, say Surely to Allah we belong and to Him shall we return.’[8]

None of you should wish for death. If he is righteous, perhaps he may add to his good works, and if he is a sinner, possibly he may repent.’ [9]

Islam along with the other Abrahamic faiths, views our life on a continuum. There is the present world and there is an afterlife.

Once, a person wrote a long letter to the Promised Messiah (as) saying that the hardships and difficulties he was facing were unbearable and expressed that due to these hardships he had grown so weary that he intended to commit suicide. The Promised Messiah (as) wrote in response:

Suicide is a sin and does not render any benefit or comfort for a person. This is because a person’s life does not come to an end upon dying, rather a new life begins. One may be facing difficulties in this world, but if one moves on to the next life with the displeasure of God Almighty, then the difficulties and acrimonies of the hereafter will be much greater than the hardships of this world. Thus, what benefit can be rendered by committing suicide? One should immerse themselves in patiently praying to Allah Almighty and attempt to improve their condition. Soon after, Allah Almighty will show His mercy and save such a person from all calamities and afflictions.” [10]

As was mentioned earlier, many people who die by suicide have additional problems and have often tried to get help. It is incumbent on a civilised society to look after its vulnerable members and to address the causes of hopelessness and despair.

Whoever relieves a Muslim of a burden from the burdens of the world, Allah will relive him of a burden from the burdens of the Hereafter.’ [11]

As individuals we need to look out for those around us who maybe suffering. We need to let them know that we are prepared to hear their suffering and want to help them. It can be as simple as helping them to seek professional help, or checking on someone who seems to have disengaged from friends and family by asking how they are and taking an interest in what they say. This is especially true for young people who are often exposed to damaging content on social media. It is easy to forget that all images on social media are usually edited, creating fantasies of beautiful people living exciting lives. The reality is often far from that. Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) wrote about the human condition in Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge, and Truth:

‘We understand from the Holy Quran, that God did not create suffering as an independent entity in its own right, but only as an indispensable counterpart of pleasure and comfort. The absence of happiness is suffering, which is like its shadow, just as darkness is the shadow cast by the absence of light. If there is life, there has to be death; both are situated at the extreme poles of the same plane, with innumerable grades and shades in between.’ [12]

Let’s use World Suicide Prevention Day to remind ourselves to look out for others, and to be an empathetic listening ear for those in need.

 

About the Author: Dr Sarah Waseem is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist working in the UK’s National Health Service. She serves as an editorial board member for the The Review of Religions and also in the Production Department of Muslim Television Ahmadiyya International.

Endnotes:

  1. Suicide prevention – A global imperative. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO p. 3
  2. O’Connor & Nock, 2014 The Psychology of Suicidal Behaviour. The Lancet, 1(1), 73–85
  3. (https://www.bps.org.uk/sites/www.bps.org.uk/files/Policy/Policy%20-%20Files/Understanding%20and%20preventing%20suicide%20-%20a%20psychological%20perspective.pdf).
  4. https://www.bps.org.uk/sites/www.bps.org.uk/files/Policy/Policy%20-%20Files/Understanding%20and%20preventing%20suicide%20-%20a%20psychological%20perspective.pdf
  5. The Holy Qur’an 4:30
  6.  The Holy Qur’an 2:287
  7. The Holy Quran,: 2:154
  8. The Holy Quran,: 2:157
  9. Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 75, Hadith 32
  10. Badr Number 30 Vol. 2, 26 July 1906, p. 9
  11. Jami` at-Tirmadhi Book 27 Hadith 36
  12.  Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth by Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad p. 180

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