My best friend committed suicide – they advised him to ‘pray’ the depression away
These last few days have been particularly rough. They have been rough because one of my dearest childhood friends committed suicide, and not on account of a drug-based overdose or a road traffic accident (two of the most common causes of young adult mortality in our country).
My friend shot himself.
Before you go on to think perhaps a serious religious intervention could have saved his life, please halt your train of misguided, impulsive, ‘fatwa’ styled reasoning. Don’t even go there.
Because my friend was probably one of the most religiously devout persons I have ever come across. He prayed five times a day, kept all the mandatory and voluntary fasts, was keen on citing religious aphorisms in his regular conversations, was highly charitable (with whatever little money he had), kindly disposed towards the needy, and had even made the sacred pilgrimage twice.
He had the whole nine yards covered, in the full religious sense.
Then what could have happened?
I can feel your mind positively grappling for some answers now. The “surely it isn’t possible for someone so religiously attuned to commit such a sinful and selfish act” rejoinder may also have cropped up in your psyche.
But don’t worry. You’re not alone in thinking like this.
In our society, most of the people reading this piece will begin their initial introspection with precisely this line of reasoning. And I’m not being judgmental here; only truthful. Until about four days ago, I used to think exactly like this too; so attuned was I, like many late 20-somethings, to our country’s utterly religiocentric way of looking at everything.
Right at this moment, however, I’m just angry. And sad.
Angry at myself, and everyone else concerned, for allowing my friend to go down this path. Angry for not being serious, informed, or educated enough to read through the warning signs beforehand, and then having done something concrete to forestall their progression. Something that would have prevented a beautiful life, one that used to ‘burn’ with massive creative potential, from being lost in this shocking and gutting way.
I don’t think I need to explain the sadness part. It comes part and parcel with the stabbing pain I feel in my heart, just as anyone who’s experienced the loss of someone close can probably relate.
My friend, you see, had been suffering from depression for over two years now. This hidden facet of his life only came to surface when his father was later questioned for probable causes.
He had been depressed on account of falling grades in his Masters, due to expectations to marry and support the family financially, and because of a stern employment supervisor who had a way with exploiting talented working resources to work longer hours with only a Sunday’s reprieve. He was depressed due to being forced to contend with a turbulent home environment of parents arguing and worrying incessantly over concerns of paying the bills, meeting rent deadlines, dealing with the monthly budget, and anticipating an altogether bleak future for the family. And he was depressed because of the relentless rat-race of his life, of always working, studying, praying, ignoring the advances of unreasonable people, eating, drinking and working hard to meet all social expectations – and then gradually wasting away.
It was the stress of all of these things combined that killed him.
Issues that culminated in a trapping vicious cycle from which he could not manage to escape, and one he was unable to bear. An unfortunate series of circumstances coupled with the pain that no one, not even his parents, relatives and close friends, understood or empathised with. This pain came from knowing that the people around him would rather prefer to rationalise his suffering with comparisons to the worldly achievements of seemingly ‘more stable’ same-aged cousins and peers, than actively helping him tackle his problem head-on. Or offer gentle and loving reassurances that his concerns were genuine, and that his being mattered.
The only advice he got from his parents and other close acquaintances, whenever he attempted to steer conversations towards his anguished mental state, went something along the lines of devoting more time to studies and supplications. Advice that is easy to give, but instead of proving useful, actually adds to the psychological and emotional burden of an already exhausted individual practically stranded on the brink.
An individual who is tired of the unceasing pressure, and who just wants to quell the voices forcing him (or her) to drown with them, into the deepening abyss of a dark and unforgiving ocean. A person who wants to relieve the immense tightness in his chest, literally bent upon choking him. Who wants to stop feeling lethargic all the time, and who wants to find genuine, lasting happiness and peace in his world and in the people around him.
And a person who, most of all, wants to feel light again. With only understanding and compassion directed towards him, and no fake, half-hearted attempts to put him in a good mood, or divert attention momentarily.
Based on the intensive suicide-centred resource studying I have conducted since my friend’s tragic demise, I now know he had to grapple with all of these traumatic issues (the ‘precursors’ to an impending suicide) on a daily basis.
Simply hoping to pray depression away is no solution. The recent, video-documented suicide of a Frenchman at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, who by all intents and purposes was a faithful individual, bears a striking testament to this fact.
On the other end of the spectrum, the seemingly ‘secular’ suicides of American celebrities like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade indicate wealth and public notoriety also have no bearing on the ultimate motivations of a depressed person. Depression, as such, is essentially immune to external conditions such as poverty, religiosity (or lack of it), affluence and social status; though these conditions can fan its progression, on a case-by-case basis.
My only wish now is that people will seriously start to address the massively endemic problem of suicide in our society, and after becoming educated on its harbingers, will do something practical to slow its escalation. I pray they will completely disregard all stigmatising notions of “but what will people say if they find out”, and will prioritise their attention towards anyone who exhibits the above highlighted signs of depression.
As a country, we desperately need to recognise depression as a clinical disease, and those suffering from it (of whom there are many in our society, evidenced by the almost weekly news reports of suicide attempts) as individuals needing serious help.
Help in the form of timely psychological counselling from licensed therapists trained in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other mind-altering therapies – along with probable pharmaceutical administration – to get them diverted onto the path towards recovery. And with the understanding that this only constitutes the initial ‘first aid’ stage of a lifelong treatment process.
After all, the alternative is a reality no one should have to deal with. I will never be fortunate enough to have a fun, deep conversation with my best friend again. And I am desperately going to miss him. For how long, and with my current aching, crying intensity, I do not know.
Perhaps ‘always’ is a safe estimate.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.