In this first article, I will outline what we know are risk and protective factors for suicide. In the second article I will propose the links that I see between spiritual abuse and increased risk for suicide or thoughts of suicide, also known as suicidal ideation.[i] In the third article, I will offer resources and ideas for healing. I will be drafting an overview because there is little research about spiritual abuse and suicide. Researchers are still trying to define spiritual abuse. What I hope to do is propose ideas that researchers can build upon.
Before proceeding, it might be helpful to know that I worked in behavioral health for 8 years and received training by the state of Arizona to train mental health practitioners in using the State’s suicide risk assessment tool. I also have a personal history of overcoming suicidal thoughts. I was raised in a cult and suffered silently from depression. I was subjected to oral and written materials condemning homosexuality. When I left, I was socially cut off from my group and most of my family. I also spent eight years as an adult participating in evangelical forms of Christianity who claimed to love me, but not my “sin” (what they call homosexuality). I survived with the help of some very good therapists who helped me heal and eventually come out. I have studied cults and spiritual abuse for over 20 years. With these thoughts in mind, I would like to blend research with my insight into how abusive, controlling religion contributes to the risk of suicidal thoughts or suicide.
Researchers focus on suicide risk and protective factors. “Risk factors are characteristics of a person or his or her environment that increase the likelihood that he or she will die by suicide (i.e., suicide risk).[ii] Protective factors include personal qualities and environmental factors that protect a person from suicide.
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center identifies the major risk factors as:
An additional risk factor is being a member of a group that is marginalized, faces discrimination or violence, such as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, or Native American. There are also life events that can become risk factors such as loss of employment or divorce.
When a suicidal person comes to a practitioner’s attention, the professional will assess risks, looking at factors like strength of the intention, frequency of thoughts, planning and means to follow through. They will look at “other factors” like acute life stressors, coping skills, ability to communicate, and support systems.[iv] These “other factors” will likely be deeply influenced by spiritual abuse. Practitioners need to ask about religion, and people in need of help need to identify how spiritual abuse has impacted every part of their experience.[v]
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center identifies the major protective factors for the prevention of suicide as:
For survivors of spiritual abuse, cults, or for those of us who desire to help others, understanding the risk and protective factors helps us identify that suicidal ideation is not the result of personal failings, but rather, it arises within a constellation of circumstances. It’s not enough to say, “Just snap out of it,” or “At least you’re out of the group now; cheer up.” Part of the solution will be to work on reducing the risk factors and increasing the protective factors. This overview provides hints as to the kind of help that is needed, such as professional help, changed thinking and beliefs, and finding community.
[i] If you are struggling with these feelings, please reach out for help. If it is imminent, you can seek help at an Emergency Room. You may also call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1 (800) 273 TALK (1 (800) 273 8255)
[ii] Suicide Prevention Resource Center website: https://www.sprc.org/about-suicide/risk-protective-factors
[v][v] For this reason I recommend reading books by Bonnie Zieman, including her book for therapists and her new book Shunned. https://www.amazon.com/Bonnie-Zieman/e/B00XROE7JG
[vi] Suicide Prevention Resource Center website: https://www.sprc.org/about-suicide/risk-protective-factors
Suicidal ideation is not the result of personal failings, but rather, it arises within a constellation of circumstances.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1(800) 273-8255