As the nation celebrates Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a priest in the archdiocese says grace can play a vital role in restoring mental health.
Severe depression, characterized by “this darkness behind which we cannot see”, is “not the end”, said Father Marc Capizzi, parochial vicar at St. Andrew’s Parish in Newtown. “Keep reaching out to ask the Lord to bring you across, to break these chains.”
Like many priests, Father Capizzi directly counseled families who had lost loved ones to suicide. Several years ago, he co-founded a bereavement group with a grieving mother after attending seminars offered by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
Although they cannot be considered mental health counselors unless they are specifically trained and licensed as such, priests and permanent deacons are generally equipped to refer individuals to appropriate treatment – and above all , to pray and provide spiritual support to those contemplating suicide.
The need for such pastoral outreach is more critical than ever. Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death in the United States, with nearly 46,000 deaths – about one every 11 minutes – in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Additionally, the CDC reported that some 12.2 American adults were seriously considering suicide in 2020, with 3.2 million planning a suicide attempt and 1.2 missions undertaking one.
In 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death among 10 to 14 year olds and 25 to 34 year olds.
Last year, the US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued an urgent advisory advisory on mental health problems in children, adolescents and young adults, who in recent years have experienced what he called “alarming” rates of depression, feelings of helplessness and suicidal thoughts.
Murthy cited COVID as exacerbating the trend, and Father Capizzi agreed.
“Especially among our young people, there is a lot of anxiety and fear,” he said. “If they’re not downright depressed, they’re at least depressed, they’re sad. The way the last few years have gone, (young people) have been pushed into greater isolation.
Using social media leads many teens “to think they have to be a certain way” to be accepted, he added.
The loneliness is further compounded by the fact that “many lack a spiritual basis in prayer and the sacraments,” Fr. Capizzi said.
And this grounding is key to finding true healing from thoughts of worthlessness and self-harm, he said, because “there is a spiritual aspect” to depression that often goes unaddressed in clinical treatment.
The complexities of mental, emotional, and physical health are recognized by the Catholic Church in its position on suicide, which the CDC and AFSP stress cannot be attributed to a single cause. Mental and physical health, relationship issues, sexual abuse and substance abuse, as well as financial, employment, legal and housing difficulties have been shown to contribute to a person’s decision to end their lives. days.
But the sacraments — especially Holy Communion and Confession — are an essential channel for healing graces, Father Capizzi said.
Confession “takes away the guilt of our sins, so that we are not weighed down with guilt that depresses us … and makes us think we are the worst of all,” he said. “On a natural level, not only do we express those things so deeply rooted and hidden within ourselves and release them, but we express them to God, who is all-merciful and desires to take our sin to get rid of it.”
The sacrament on purpose also reconnects the afflicted soul to the community, alleviating feelings of alienation and inferiority.
“There is a vulnerability and a humility that actually allows grace, through another wrongdoer, to bring the healing that Our Lord so desires,” Fr. Capizzi said. “After the Eucharist, the sacrament of confession is so profound.”
Depression and suicide also point to the unseen reality of “fallen spirits who want us grounded, away from God and separated from others,” he said.
By faith “we have been empowered” to resist such bondage, which causes us to “look at ourselves” rather than others, Fr. Capizzi said.
Two liturgical feasts in September — the Exaltation of the Cross on September 14 and Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15 — help the faithful better understand the suffering in God’s plan, he said.
“This pain, given to God, brings a grace to help others,” Fr. Capizzi said. “The pain can be intense, but in this mystery of the presence of God in the sacraments, the Lord transforms it into something good.”
And while the sadness is “more self-centered,” Mary’s sorrows at Calvary were born out of “the lack of a God who should be there,” he said. “She has these wounds in her heart for humanity.”
Even when an individual acts under the impulse of suicide, the Catholic faith does not despair of God’s mercy. While suicide is “seriously contrary” to “just love of self”, as well as to love of neighbor and of God, factors such as serious psychological disorders, anguish, fear of hardship, suffering or torture “may lessen the responsibility” of the person concerned (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2281, 2282).
However, direct euthanasia, defined as “an action or omission which by itself or intentionally causes death” to eliminate suffering, is “morally unacceptable”, according to a 1980 Vatican statement and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2277). Physician-assisted suicide is considered a form of euthanasia.
In case of terminal illness, the church distinguishes between ordinary and extraordinary means of care. While the former offer a reasonable hope of improvement without overburdening the patient, the latter overburden the patient without benefit, and can be withheld.
Ultimately, “the Church prays for people who have committed suicide”, because by “ways known only to him”, God can provide them with “the opportunity for a salutary repentance” (Catechism, 2283).
“As a Church, we can never say a specific person is in hell,” Fr. Capizzi said. “We commend all who in this grave darkness and despair have sacrificed their lives at the mercy of God.”
In the midst of suffering of mind, body or soul, “there is light”, he said. “Our Lord and Our Lady will help us lift our heads, so that we can lift up our eyes and see beyond pain and darkness.”
If you or a loved one is suicidal call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, or contact emergency medical services immediately by dialing 911.
For information on other grief resources from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, contact the Office for Life and Family at 215-587-0500 or visit http://phillycatholiclife.org/marriage-and-family/bereavement-ministry/