Religion — And Suicide


I have heard just a little too much about suicide among the religious — from patients, from others, now this; to the son of a published pastor who gave an invocation for the Obama folks.

I really do feel for the family, for death of the younger generation before the older one by any means including suicide by his own hand, is a horrible thing that is anti-nature and has a profound wrongness, a too-deep effect on all involved.

I was way back in residency when I attempted to gather some statistics on the association between religion and psychiatry in Kansas, sending a basic questionnaire on feelings about mental illness (and referral patterns to mental health professionals) to a big list of Wichita area “religious professionals.”
First, I had already made the assumption from the French part of my education that not too many people actually went to church, but none of them seemed to much care about mental health professionals.

In Kansas, with the world’s worst statistics (no major support on this from my

department) and patients some of whom did not think a Jewish lady could do them any good (despite my repeated insistence that prescription pads were non-denominational) I found that the only people who were going to be referred to mental health professionals were going to be the grossly psychotic (hearing voices and walking into walls) and maybe some suicidal or homicidal folks for safety purposes.  Most religious folks did not seem to imagine or believe that we were good at much else.

It sounds to me as if this young man was battling with depression.

Yes, my sympathy really does go out to the family, although I wonder why he was not hospitalized or given more intense treatment, which could certainly have included a religious component if desired.

I have never had any trouble with religious components of psychiatric treatment.

I do have trouble with substitutions of religion FOR psychiatric treatment.  Like a therapist in Oklahoma who spent an hour on a kneeling pillow next to a patient on same for therapy. Yes –she billed for this “therapy.”  No — it was not covered by insurannce.

Of course, I also knew one highly competent therapist who told patients “yeah, I’m Christian; we can pray at the end of the hour.”

Research on this is hard to come by.

This is the kind of study psychologists are very good at.  It has lots of questions and lots of statistics and as far as I can figure, women turn to religion more than men, but the ones doing so may be the ones who have problems already.  As for results, it is hard to lean on this study. (NOTE: This link opens in a PDF file,so you need Adobe Acrobat to read it)

I am not leaning on politics for this one, what with this particular placement of a pro-war religious human on an anti-suicide religious board — But politics often motivates strange (if not poor) judgment.

The father of the suicide victim was a widely read evangelical pastor,.

The cynical, anti-religious side of me wonders if family demons will be exposed to an aggressive press in the next few weeks.

After all, it is easier to make a 180 degree turn than a more subtle one, and a lot of people with, well, their own demons, may try to control them with religious morality.

I have actually heard this referred to in mental health circles as the “Jimmy Swaggart Phenomenon.”

I cant resolve this one definitively, except to say that human life is so precious I cannot support any ideological system that lets it slip by, devalued.

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