Religion, culture and suicide - revealed
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Khurshid Ali
27th January, 20180 Comments
When you hear that someone has committed suicide, one of the first thoughts we have is "how did that happen, they seemed happy", and your heart goes out to that persons loved ones. Now add to the knowledge that the person who died was religious, then what happens? One of the first thoughts that enters your mind may be "oh my god, they have sinned". Is this the correct response? The answer to that is clearly no. Most religions do not agree with taking your own life, and followers of those religions will agree to that. Living in western society changes the way we think and act, and years ago, there was no talk of mental health at all, and the repercussions of that. When we go to school we learn and adapt all of our cultures together seamlessly and live. It is when that knowledge gives you the courage to know yourself that can be the cause of isolation, i.e, learning that you are gay, are in the wrong body, don't feel that you fit in. You cannot tell your friends and family for fear of judgement. Once the feelings are internalised, they can branch out, and all sorts of negative thoughts can emerge, which you can no longer cope with.
The question arises of how we change peoples thoughts. Secondly, we need to create an understanding of what suicide actually means, and how we reach that stage. If you are stuck in a family where you are only allowed to mix in with family or extended family, then you will not be able to talk about feelings, and when you have reached the point that you cannot live another second, then the choice is made. Imagine if you had pain inside your body, and there is no way of that pain going away, you have tried self harm, that only works temporarily, and then your pain comes back. There is no medication, as you have not been able to talk to the doctor, as they could be someone your parents know quite well, and you fear the outcome. Some people may think your faith should carry you through, but the response to that is that everyone's tolerance to pain is different.
Firstly, we need to identify that religion is only part of our identity, our culture. At birth it is passed down to you by parents, so that you are brought up having that as part of life without question until you reach an age where you can decide if that religion is right for you. We now see a lot of media coverage on changing religion, and then the backlash from the community arises. They are not familiar with the notion that nowadays we have a choice. Living in families where culture and religion are tied together, speaking about emotions are unheard, unsaid. You will never hear someone saying "I feel", as it is taken as if you are "mental"; no one will marry you, or in some cultures can be seen as if you have taken over by the devil. Once we inform people that there are mental heath illnesses, then these prejudices will slowly go away. We do that with education and understanding.
How to we change that?
1. Try and talk to someone - not every counsellor from an ethnic group will know your family
2. If possible, look to speak someone online. It could be the samaritans, or a counsellor online - they will not know you, and it will be totally confidential
3. As communities, arrange talks around these subjects.
About the author
I have volunteered with the Samaritans for a really long time and have spoken to people of various cultures, races, religion, mental health illnesses and know the importance of being able to talk to someone freely, and truthfully without the fear of reprisals.
I am an accredited counsellor.
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