Many years ago, Catholic burials were denied those who committed suicide. The act was considered the ultimate sin of despair. Now however, informed by neurobiology and psychology this is no longer the case. The Church recognizes that because symptoms of depressive illnesses include a progressive loss of the rational mind, suicide is almost always considered a terminal end to a serious form of the condition. The sacrament of the dying (Last Rites) and/or a Catholic burial are now offered and encouraged.
Risk Factors for Suicide
- Prior history of a suicide attempt
- Having a family member that has attempted or committed suicide
- Personal history of or currently experiencing an episode of depression, bipolar illness, postpartum depression, and/or chronic anger problems with impulsivity
- Having pre-psychotic or psychotic symptoms (see section on psychosis).
Behavioral Warning Signs for Suicide
- Talking, writing, drawing, or continuously listening to music about death or suicide.
- Withdrawing from family and friends.
- Abuse of drugs or alcohol combined with depressive or manic symptoms.
- Acting impulsively; reckless behaviors
- Giving away belongings
- Writing good-bye letters or letters expressing uncharacteristic feelings of gratitude or affection (key word, uncharacteristic– “Gee, I never heard him say things like that before…..”)
- Writing a will while depressed or manic, or after expressing hopelessness about situations or a desire to die.
- Talking about the desire to depart this life and meet the Lord (unless this occurs during the last days or hours of natural death)
- Suddenly reassuring people that he/she is feeling much better and much more peaceful about things after struggling with a depressed or manic mood
Emotional Warning Signs of Suicide
- Intruding thoughts of death that can’t be stopped (especially if a new medication or different version of the same medication is being tried)
- Thoughts of killing ones self; preoccupation with methods or timing or what kind of funeral one will have
- Planning ones funeral (unless terminally ill with close family members participating)
- Thinking about going to confession or receiving communion for the last time
- Strong feelings of being trapped
- Hoping one will die from an accident or actually create a plan so one will “accidentally” experience a fatal accident
- Experiencing intense shame about a committed act that has not been shared with anyone at all, even a priest in confession.
- Thinking one doesn’t deserve to live
Some people who die by suicide do not show any of the warning signs above. Therefore any behaviors, thoughts, or emotions that seem different from usual should be considered a red flag for possible suicide. It is also important to know that sometimes suicide (or homicide) occurs without warning due to a sudden “snap” in the brain.
The Church says, “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives (catechism 2283)” We all can take comfort in that and believe it.
If you or someone you know is experiencing these warning signs or symptoms, go to the nearest emergency room, psychiatric urgent care, or get professional help immediately.