"He was such a good man, he believed in God, he helped so many people - how could he do this? How could he take his own life?"
And over and over again "Is he in Hell? I was taught that people who killed themselves went to Hell. He was so good - I don't want him to be in Hell!"
And - "He helped so many other people. We would have been right there for him. Why didn't he ask for help?"
The sad fact is that like him, many in the helping professions don't ask for help for themselves. Often because of helping others in traumatic situations they have endured trauma themselves, sometimes P.T.S.D. They're used to being the strong ones. They silently fall apart.
The "Hell" question was the most painful. It's common. A priest friend told us recently about a woman parishioner of his who for twenty years has believed that her son is in Hell because he killed himself. Nothing and no one can change her mind.
Many years ago, before the science of Psychology discovered the triggers of mental illness in the human brain, many Churches taught that anyone who killed him or herself was committing a terrible sin and went to Hell. The Catholic Church today, because of the insights of Psychology, no longer teaches this. Suicide victims are given Church funerals. We recognize that suicide is born of illness, not sin.
Today we know that a great majority of - if not all - people who commit suicide are mentally ill, either with clinical depression or bi-polar disease. Would a God Who loves all His children unconditionally allow someone to go to Hell if this person were so seriously ill that he or she could not make a rational choice about whether or not to continue living? Of course not. Choosing to take one's life is not a rational choice. God holds out loving arms of healing to someone who enters eternity by suicide induced by terrible mental suffering.
Mental illness is as real as physical illness and since the brain is part of the body, it IS a physical illness caused by biological factors in the human brain. You can't simply stop yourself from being anxious, paranoid, manic, or depressed any more than you can stop yourself from being sick with pneumonia.
Mental illness is not a personal weakness. It's not being defective. It simply happens to people. People develop mental illness the way they develop heart disease, and some of it is from genetic causes and some from - well, do we know all the reasons people have heart attacks?! And like other diseases, it needs a combination of therapies for people to recover or improve: different medications, sometimes counseling. Yet not all medications work for all people. It can take a lot of guesswork, trial and error. It can take years. A person struggling with mental illness needs a lot of understanding, a lot of support. A lot of unconditional love.
Mental illness erodes a person's ability to think straight. It erodes a person's ability to look at relationships rationally. It causes poor judgment. A friend of mine, deep in the throes of clinical depression, opened up and told me "I can't imagine a future for myself. I can't picture a good life ahead of me. If I didn't believe in God, I'd kill myself." He spent a lot of time sleeping. He didn't have the energy to crawl out of bed.
Believing in God, prayer, and meditation help people heal and cope with mental illness. But in themselves, they're usually not enough to totally heal. Fortunately my friend asked for help and received help - medication and expert counseling. Today, his psychiatrist told him, he's twice as strong because he broke all the way and he mended all the way. He leads a happy, productive life. He's compassionate because he's "been there." He tells his story to other people afflicted with clinical depression to give them Hope.
Have hope yourself. Trust the suffering dead to the arms of a loving God. And look with God's loving, understanding, accepting eyes on the suffering of the living. Including yourself!