Depression and Suicide in Religion

Yellow flowers more posted in Depression and Suicide in ReligionI know of a Jehovah’s Witnesses woman who is currently in the psychiatric ward because she tried to commit suicide. Sadly, she is not alone. Other women in this religion have also tried that exit route, including me back in 1996.

Naturally, I would not be able to see her, because I’m currently being shunned by members of the religion. But, if she was receptive of a visit, what could I say to her — or someone like her? I might say,

  • “I was suicidal at one time.”?
  • or “One of the first things I learned about suicide is that it is a cry for help.”?
  • or “Depression is not your fault.”?
  • or “Depression is indicative of a set of negative circumstances present in your life, over which you feel you have no control.”?
  • or maybe all of the above?

I figure any of the above would be appropriate to share. But slowly and lovingly, one bite at a time, in order for her to digest. I remember how I felt. She would be in a state of shock, after realizing she survived her own attack on her own precious Self.

Who are the Patriarchs?

Jehovah’s witnesses call their god “the great…Patriarch.”

Jehovah the Great PatriarchInsight vol 2, p. 212, under Law, subheading: Laws to Noah; Patriarchal Law

Patriarchal Religion

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion, the patriarch was a family head and ruler. He was the final authority on any decision. So, now I ask the question: can men who choose a god like Jehovah be anything but “just like him”? That article talks about Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as being outstanding examples of patriarchs — like that was some desirable status to which honorable men would strive. Abraham, as I recall, obeyed his god as far as attempting to kill his own son, Isaac, when ordered to do so. Then, for some inexplicable reason, god stopped him. What a mind f*ck! What a horrible trauma for Isaac to endure, all sanctioned in the name of god. Abraham had behaved like a psychopath toward his son. Furthermore, his god acted like a complete madman to ask such a thing of Abraham in the first place!

The Suicidal Woman

Yellow flowers posted in Depression and Suicide in ReligionThis wounded soul who currently feels suicidal might not like to know that her religion does not have the answers. I know now that the instruction from the elders to “read your Bible more” is a diversionary tactic to stop people from living life and actively using their “free will.” I know from being a past member of the religion that a patriarchal way of life is very often abusive toward women. In my family religion, women are not allowed to just “be.” Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that women must be performers and producers. If they are stay-at-home moms, they are unpaid laborers and, as a result of societal pressure, often feel devalued and under-appreciated.

Unfortunately, there is such a thing as trying too hard to please other people. It is important to know that some patriarchs are in fact “un-pleasable.” Women are never allowed to “please themselves” as that would be considered selfish. To that I would say, “it is important and imperative to take time to nurture yourself and make sure your OWN needs are met.”

Self-Care is Downplayed in Patriarchal Religions

What religion fails to explain is it is not possible to help others from an empty cup. If you are hungering and thirsting, please take the time to fill your own cup first. Then you will be in a position to help others.

Ideas for Self-Care

Take for example, when on an airplane and you hear the spiel about what to do in an emergency. The instructions are to put the oxygen mask over your own face first; then you will be able to help your child or someone else in need. If you are the one without the oxygen mask, you will die.

Another example. We cannot serve another if our own cup is empty. If, on the other hand, your cup is filled to overflowing, then you will not deplete yourself when extending a hand to help another, because you will be giving from your overflow. To religious patriarchs I would ask the question, “Why did I NEVER hear this little-known explanation when I was a member of your flock?” The answer is that in patriarchal society, you will never learn about the value of self-care. Instead, the rule is always about giving more, not doing enough, etc.

Watchtower Silent on Professional Help?

Most Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in obtaining psychiatric help, either. Elders quote a scripture to support their religious view.

“All scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”—2 Timothy 3:16, 16 New World Translation (NWT)

Apparently, the bible is the only thing needed for wellness. That’s pure nonsense in my opinion. Anyone suffering from depression must take their own initiative in this important matter of seeking professional help. Don’t expect elders to promote it. They’re not allowed, according to their elder’s manual. Only one mention is made of psychiatrists in the entire manual. It’s found with respect to child sex abuse, where elders will suggest Watchtower articles, if asked. Two mentions of suicide are mentioned in the elder’s manual. Folks who attempt suicide will be pointed to an Awake! article.Attempted Suicide clip from elder's manual posted in 'Depression and Suicide in Religion'

The Psychiatric Ward

I hope the Jehovah’s Witnesses woman being in the hospital will enable her to get the help she needs to become healthy and well. I’m comforted in knowing she has a psychiatrist at her bedside now.

If she is anything like me, and if her husband allows, she will go into group therapy with barely a voice to express herself. Nevertheless, group therapy could potentially help her to see the depths of suffering other people endure. Perhaps she can relate to some of it. Perhaps she will be able to relate to some abuse to which she has been subjected — and actually begin to see the depth of her abuse. Sadly, I know from experience that so much of it stems from an unhealthy and unbalanced belief system issuing forth from their religion. Perhaps she will identify where the healthy boundaries have been crossed to produce the poor health she now experiences. Only then she would — could — begin to take healthy action to restore her mental and emotional balance.

I hope she knows that other women have suffered similarly and are available to support her if she reaches out for help. I know from experience she will not receive much help from the congregation. Instead she will hear scriptures such as one I heard quoted,

“…No man that has put his hand to a plow and looks at the things behind is well fitted for the kingdom of God.”—Luke 9:62 (NWT)

Here is a sad example of how religion suppresses women’s ability to feel, by not validating their feelings. Elders and friends tell women, “You shouldn’t feel that way!” How dare someone tell you how you “should” feel! Our natural feelings are valid! Our feeling nature is there inside us for a reason. Religion suppresses women’s sense of intuition — their inner guidance system.

Dear Sister,

Ultimately you are the one who knows what is best for you. Suicide attempts are a cry for help. Reach out to other women who have experienced what you are now experiencing. We can help. I encourage you to seek psychiatric help in such circumstances. Give yourself permission to embrace the help available within your local “worldly” community and allow yourself to benefit from it. And know that you are loved unconditionally, no matter what.

Most of all, know that you have within you the innate ability to heal.

I received this poem early in my journey to freedom. I’d like to share it here:

The Courage to be Myself

I have the courage to…
Embrace my strengths
Get excited about life
Enjoy giving and receiving love
Face and transform my fears
Ask for help and support when I need it
Spring free of the Superwoman trap
Trust myself
Make my own decisions and choices
Befriend myself
Complete unfinished business
Realize that I have emotional and practical rights
Honor my own needs
Give myself credit for my accomplishments
Love the little girl within me
Overcome my addiction to approval sponge
Feel all my feelings and act on them appropriately
Nurture others because I want to, not because I have to
Choose what is right for me
Insist on being paid fairly for what I do
Get limits and boundaries and stick by them
Say “yes” only when I mean it
Have realistic expectations
Take risks and accept challenges
Be totally honest with myself
Correct erroneous beliefs and assumptions
Respect my vulnerabilities
Heal old and current wounds
Savor the mystery of spirit
Wave good-bye to guilt
Plant “Flower” not “Weed” thoughts in my mind
Treat myself with respect and teach others to do the same
Fill my own cup first; then nourish others from the overflow
Own my own excellence
Plan for the future but live in the present
Value my intuition and wisdom
Know that I am lovable
Celebrate the differences between men and women
Develop healthy supportive relationships
Make forgiveness a priority
Accept myself just as I am now.

by Sue Patton Toele

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About Esther

The complete profile of Esther Harrison, author, artist, word processor, web developer, and an all-around amazing woman who believes it is utterly impossible to survive being caught between two conflicting belief systems. As a result, it was an absolute necessity to purge the religion in which she was raised. All blogs are posted at

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