A woman once approached Archbishop Fulton Sheen in tears and said, “My brother committed suicide last week by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. Did he go to hell, Father?”
Archbishop Sheen took her hand and said, “There’s a lot of time between the bridge and the water. Who knows what took place in his heart during that time? So we leave the judgment up to God.”
Suicide effects people beyond the one who committed the act, extending broadly online. It is a catastrophe that renders intense emotions from those who are left behind and raises a myriad of questions about depression, judgment, and life after death.
So many people struggle with depression. According to USA Today, about 10 percent of America’s population (or 27 million people) take antidepressants to gain control of their feelings of depression. This is a staggering number of people who are feeling depressed! Why is this happening?
There are untold numbers of reasons why people feel depressed. Depression ranges from mild to moderate to severe and I, myself, was diagnosed as “clinically depressed” (a severe form of depression) after my divorce in 1993.
Depression after divorce is a normal experience because the losses sustained occur on many different levels. Loss of the marriage relationship and intimacy, loss of children, friends, possessions, reputation, etc. This is “circumstantial” depression – different than chemical depression – but a very real depression all the same.
I think that depression due to loneliness is just as big an issue and many people, married or not suffer from this type of depression. With so many people struggling with feelings of loneliness, worthlessness and hopelessness, what can you do if you find yourself suffering from this problem? How can you help someone you know who is dealing with depression?
Dr. David D. Burns lays out some very practical advice in his best-selling book Feeling Good. He writes: “You must understand what is happening to you before you can feel it. If your understanding of what is happening is accurate, your emotions will be normal. If your perception is twisted and distorted in some way, your emotional response will be abnormal. Depression falls into this category.”
Depression is like mental static interfering with your view of the world. For those who are divorced, the static is often very loud and deteriorating. I, personally, walked away from my divorce feeling unworthy, unlovable, not pretty enough, not smart enough and with a debilitating fear of the unknown. If you’ve gone through that you know it’s more than enough to cause depression. And because of this, I had a conversation going on in my head that reinforced what I was feeling; that I wasn’t good enough… at work, in relationships, etc.
Where’s the life boat?
For me, it was a tremendous struggle – years long – to overcome this. I did not take antidepressants but I did see a therapist once a week for a long time. In time, I was able to reverse that negative conversation in my head to the positive and eliminate the mental static that was distorting my view of the world and causing me so much grief.
For others, sometimes medication and close supervision from a doctor or therapist is the only answer.
Here are some important things that helped me and I can share with you if you are or someone you know is struggling with depression:
- Remember God’s love for you. No matter how bad you may feel or think you are, never forget that you are precious in His sight. Jesus came into the world, suffered and died for you. If you were the only person alive, He would still do it, specifically for you, because He loves you and wants you to be with Him in heaven. Going to Mass and Adoration is a perfect way to let this great hope penetrate your depressed feelings and I recommend doing it as often as possible.
- Find a good Catholic therapist. Not all Catholic therapists are created equal and many dispense advice that is contrary to the truths of our faith. The label “Catholic” is not insurance in therapy. My recommendation is to visit a website I completely trust, CatholicTherapists.Com. All therapists promoted there have answered an online questionnaire displaying their agreement and opinions regarding Catholic moral teaching. You can search within your state and find a solid Catholic therapist. You will not only see their contact information and answers regarding the faith, but also their modes of treatment, specialized training and websites.
- Set goals for yourself. A sense of achievement can have a good effect on feelings of depression that is different than medication because it is real. Set goals for yourself, or help your loved one set one or two achievable goals that will help them experience that feeling of accomplishment and self-worth. Then, encourage it as a life-long habit, always being careful to set realistic and attainable goals.
My heart goes out to everyone who has been affected by depression and suicide and as always, you all will continue to be in my prayers.