When Hope Runs Dry …….
The subject of suicide has been very topical over the last week, since the headline news last weekend that a seemingly successful football manager, who had everything going for him, had taken his life. Just over a week later, there are still no obvious answers, no skeletons have (at least yet) come out of the closet, and many are still clearly shocked and saddened at the tragedy.
In my work as a psychiatrist, suicide and episodes of deliberate self harm are situations I come across not uncommonly. As a young junior doctor I was quite traumatised by two suicides in patients who I had worked with, that occurred very closely together. There are always feelings of guilt, both in family and professionals and often a sense of anger as well, especially for those left behind. Earlier this year, a neighbour of ours ended her life, and was found by her university student daughter. She was a seemingly happy contented woman, with a loving family, and a love of animals, horses and dogs especially, and she had many interests she pursued. So although sometimes the reasons for suicide seem clear, there are many times when they are not, and these cases are even harder to deal with.
A few weeks ago, I was doing some mental health awareness training for new Street Pastors. There are not infrequently distressed people on the streets when we are out, usually in the context of alcohol intoxication, relationship dysfunctions etc, and although rare, sometimes more serious mental health problems are evident. As I was preparing, I was once again looking up some of the literature on suicide to refresh what I was going to say. The overwhelming factor associated with suicide is a sense of total hopelessness, the belief that things are not going to change and there is no way out. And the sad reality is, that for most people who choose to die, they actually don’t really want to die, they just don’t want to continue to live the life they are living. So, whether we are mental health professionals, friends or family of those in this pit of despair, offering hope is probably the most important thing we can do. Trying to help them come to some sense of belief that there is something worth holding on for, that things CAN be different in at least a small way.
So what exactly is hope? and why is it the thing that can make the difference as to whether people choose to live or die? I recently came across two quotes which seemed to me to be helpful definitions. The first is from Patrick Regan, CEO of an urban youth charity in South East London XLP, which is really making an impact in the lives of marginilised young people. He says ‘ Hope is the refusal to accept a situation as it is’. To decide that things can change.
The second is from Vaclev Havel, the Czech playwright and poet, who stood against communism and following the ‘velvet revolution’ became president of his country. He says ‘Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.’ Making sense of life, even in difficult and challenging situations seems to be key, and being able to hold on to a ‘bigger picture’, even in the darkness.
Isn’t that what the message of Christianity all about? That God came into our world, into our darkness, our hopelessness and gave us His Son. And He can transform broken lives, mend wounded hearts and bring wholeness in ways we never would think possible. This is not a simplistic answer to those who feel at the end of the road, I know only too well how real that sense of despair and hopelessness can be. And I would never want to offer empty platitudes. But I do believe that when hope runs dry ….. there is a God who walks with us in the valleys , who can restore hope and bring meaning to existence once again.