Suicide is defined as an intentional induction of one’s perishability.
It’s etiology are various but the most known causal factor is mental health problems that take about almost 90% of the suicide cases. Generally, the most known mental disorder that is directly connected with suicide is Major Depressive Disorder – a mood disorder that is characterized by pervasive depressed mood for most of the day and loss of interest in doing things that enables the person to function in his/her day to day activities.
It has been long studied about the genetic, cognitive, behavioral, psychological experiences of people that predispose them to the feelings and thoughts of suicide. Socio-cultural factors were also explored and one of it is the role of religion in the suicide experiences of people who attempted it. We will look through the lens of subjective experiences of people on how they attribute such acts towards their religious beliefs.
In a qualitative study conducted by C.S. Akotia et al. (2014) entitled, “I Have Sinned”: Understanding the Role of Religion in the Experiences of Suicide Attempters in Ghana, they have explored the various subjective factors that instigate the feelings and thoughts within the religious context of committing suicide. It stated that Ghana is a country which religion has a direct influence in the lives of their people such as in the way they gave religious-related names to their children and business establishments. 68% of the population are Christian, 15.9% are Muslim while the rest fall under either traditional religion or no religious affiliation (Ghana Statistical Service, 2010). With this in hand, suicide is strongly condemned. The “informants” as to what the study has addressed them to be, were 30 patients (12 men and 18 women) between 18 and 46 years of age admitted to hospital following a suicide attempt by means of self-poisoning with various substances (C.S. Akotia et al., 2014)
The common ground of informants’ view of their lives that also served to be the lens where their suicidal feelings and thoughts centers in a religious context is the “Acknowledgement of God’s superiority and ownership of life.”
“I see it as a sin. I know God is the answer to everything. Whenever you have patience, you always end up being successful. I did not have patience and I just sinned” (woman 2).“I feel it’s not good… I should have taken it to God in prayer. I have sinned” (woman 1).
The statements made by the informants show how well they have understood that it is a sin to commit suicide and that life is precious and worthy to be preserved as they recognize that God owns our lives and He is therefore, the only one who has the rights to take it away from us.
The researchers found 2 emerging themes that surrounds the subjective experiences of people which are the understandings and reactions to their suicidal act that were either in “accordance” with God or in
“opposition” to God.
The majority of the informants understood their suicidal experiences in “accordance” with God or their religious beliefs. The sub-themes here include:
Failure to Fulfill Religious Obligations– wherein people seems to have construed experiencing good things in life by serving well within their responsibilities in church/religious practices hence, not being able to fulfill obligations could bring dire consequences.
“I feel it [suicide attempt]…it will not help me. I should have taken it to the Lord in prayer” (woman 1).
Guilt Feelings– the fruit of realizing that one has not served well under religious obligations.
“ …and I was crying because I was feeling so guilty before God. I felt so guilty … after I did that” (woman 3) and “I wish I never did what I did…but it has happened” (woman 4).
Condemnation of Self– it is demonstrated in a way when one has realized that a suicide attempt is against God’s law.
“I know that God is against some of these things…a person killing himself when life is from God. I think I should not have done this because God will not be happy with me …” (man 2).
“Thou shall not kill! …my judgment won’t be easy … this is because I took my life. So it’s not good” (woman 4).
Seeking Forgiveness – it is a way to reconcile one’s self by realizing the sin committed.
“Me, I have said that God should forgive me because I know that it is a sin. Even the Bible says it. So I prayed over it that God should forgive me” (woman 4).
Few people seem to have negated their religious system and expressed negative feelings thinking that their devotion to God was in vain. The sub-themes include:
Blaming God for not Helping – a feeling when one has given his life to God and expects to be saved from tribulations, but ends up finding him/herself in the same miserable situation.
“…I bought the drug because I was thinking that for me who has given my life to God, some things should not be happening in my life, and every day…I wanted to end it all. All the things happening to me, I believe God should have fought for me but that did not happen” (man 1)
“…but I also think that God should have helped me or maybe saved me from this trouble. I keep asking why… why he will not help me out” (woman 5).
Expression of Anger and Disappointment in God – a feeling when one has realized that God seem to have abandoned them in their sufferings.
“…I am angry with God. It’s like I am angry with God…at times you go to church and get all the encouragement and you ask God to give you something that will bring you some peace within your heart and I don’t get it …”(woman 6).
The findings could differ from culture to culture but we will be able to see a glimpse of how beliefs could either aggravate or alleviate suicidal behaviors in general since religious beliefs in various sects are homogenous in many ways as they are embraced in a specific country. The study has presented the essence of the implication of their study by mostly focusing on integrating professional help through educating religious leaders on how to better assist those members who seem to have suicidal crisis within them.
Religious involvement could create belongingness and acceptability that connects an individual to a sense of social-relatedness. But, it could also harm mental health when the interpretation of the belief translates itself into something that creates division to one’s self, learned helplessness, and conditions of worth.
Beliefs especially one that is connected to devotion to a Supreme Deity presents a complex and divergent implications where many could benefit while at the same time harm others.
It is with caution that we choose what to believe and to believe with a balanced and in-depth understanding of what we choose.
“I Have Sinned”: Understanding the Role of Religion in the Experiences of Suicide Attempters in Ghana.
By: Charity Sylvia Akotia, Birthe Loa Knizek , Eugene Kinyanda, and Heidi Hjelmeland
Vol. 17, No. 5, 437–448, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13674676.2013.829426