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The God Squad: The difficult questions behind suicide

November 19, 2010|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Q: I've suffered from depression for years, and at least twice have come close to committing suicide. Many factors made me hold back. For the past six years, the longest period since I first sought help, I've been on anti-depressant medication and receive regular therapy.

I have no current plans to do myself in and don't want to face that choice again. However, for me, the effects of depression have been so erosive that I believe it can be compared to many long-term physical ailments that are eventually fatal. Thus, it is possible for me to envision taking steps to end the pain on my own terms.

I'm not a religious person and am inclined toward agnosticism and sometimes total atheism, so being told that suicide is a sin doesn't register with me. Be that as it may, I acknowledge the hurt that suicide can cause others, which makes me feel guilty. If I ultimately choose that way out, I will try to prepare myself and my loved ones for the aftermath. In my own inner hell, this is quite a burden, but I sincerely feel it may be the best option for me. I think the notion that suicide is sin contributes to this inner hell for others, too, rather than being a persuasive force in refusing that option. Any thoughts? — Anonymous via godsquadquestion

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A: Thank you for your painful and eloquent Cri de Coeur (cry of the heart). Your main point — that labeling suicide a sin just makes suicidal people feel more guilty — is true and I make no apologies for it at all. Guilt has an unnecessarily bad name in our culture.

Guilt seems to be the label stuck on anything people say to dissuade us from what we want to do. However, not everything we want to do should be done. Sometimes our burdens blind us to our blessings. At such a moment, guilt can be a healthy reminder that we're not alone in this broken life we lead.

Our lives intersect with the lives of many other people who care about us, and even love us, when we can't find a way to love ourselves. This understanding is accessible to everyone, including those who haven't yet found their way to faith. In fact, it seems this very awareness was one factor calling you back from the brink of suicide.

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