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Pastoral Reflections on Suicide in the Military

Fr. George Morelli

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Among the military, suicide ranks as the “fourth leading manner of death for soldiers, exceeded only by hostile fire, accidents and illnesses,” according to figures released May 29, 2008 by the Department of Defense. And compared to previous estimates, “10 to 20 times as many soldiers have thought to harm themselves of attempted suicide.” (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24874573/)

Recent research (Ghahramanlou-Holloway, Brown and Beck (2008) has found that a “suicide mode” can be initiated in patients who appear to have an exaggerated sense of “loss related cognitions [thoughts].” Authors of the research cite self statement from patients that describe extreme loss, such as, ““I have lost all that is important to me.” They also report directly “suicide-related cognitions” such as “Life is no longer worth living,” and note that increased melancholy and delay in seeking help, are factors. Interestingly they also point out “impulsivity and suicidal planning before suicidal attempts are also fit the “suicidal mode.” Psychologists such as Seligman (1975) have long known of the deleterious psychosocial effects of a helplessness-hopelessness mindsets which are factors related to suicide and suicide attempts, and the life saving benefits of overcoming such disturbances.

Watchfulness and Mindfulness

The early fathers of the Eastern Christian Church talked about: Nepsis which is vigilance and watchfulness of the mind and heart. This is similar to the cognitive therapy technique employed by psychologists in helping patients to be mindful and thus learn to control) their thoughts.

Cognitive therapy techniques employed by psychologists help patients to overcome these deleterious effects by learning to control their thoughts through mindfulness. From early centuries the wisdom of the fathers of the Eastern Christian Church have taught the value of Nepsis - vigilance and watchfulness of the mind and heart.

Meaning in Life and Healing

By purposely engaging this mindfulness, vigilance, and watchfulness (nepsis), hopeless-helpless thinking can be replaced by means of meaningful meditation. One example of this would be reflecting on St. Paul’s exhortation to the Athenians. He told them in part: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for 'In him we live and move and have our being' (Acts 17: 24-28).” He gives us everything, He allots all and He is not far from any of us. God is Truth and Beauty. Indeed He heals our infirmities and diseases. (Morelli, 2006).

Trust in God’s Enduring Mercy

Finally let us have trust in what God provides and His enduring mercy. Such watchful meditation can lead to trust in what God provides and in His enduring mercy. A recently deceased very holy monk of the Eastern Church, Elder Paisius of the Holy Mountain, tells us: “Providence is the care that comes from God. Everything which is done with God’s providence is done in the best possible way, that is Godly manner ... ” (Ageloglou, 1998). We may “see dimly” now (cf. 1Cor. 13:12), but God has told us: "Behold, I make all things new." (Rev. 21:5). Our commitment to God is to put all our trust in Him. Let us pray the words of King David as he fled from Saul: “ ... This I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust without a fear.” (Ps. 56: 9-11). In the words of one of the holiest of saints of the early Eastern Christian Church, St. Isaac of Syria: “For someone to entrust himself to God means that, from that point onwards, he will no longer be devoured by anguish or fear over anything; nor will he again be tormented by the thought that he has no one to look after him.” (Brock, 1997).

REFERENCES

Ageloglou, Priestmonk Christodoulos. (1998). Elder Paisios of The Holy Mountain. Mt. Athos, Greece: Holy Mountain.

Brock, S. (1997). The Wisdom of St. Isaac the Syrian. Fairacres Oxford, England: SLG Press.

Ghahramanlou-Holloway, M., Brown, G.K., and Beck, A.T. (2008). Suicide. In M.A. Whisman (Ed.). Adapting Cognitive Therapy for Depression: Managing Complexity and Comorbitity. NY: Guilford

Morelli, G. (2006, July 29). Dealing With Brokenness in the World: Psychological Optimism and the Virtue of Hope. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliBrokenness.php.

Seligman, M.E.P. (1975). Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman.

V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist, Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, (www.antiochian.org/counseling-ministries) and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion. Fr. George is Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.

Fr. Morelli is the author of Healing: Orthodox Christianity and Scientific Psychology (available from Eastern Christian Publications, $15.00).

Healing: Orthodox Christianity and Scientific Psychology

Read the entire article on the Antiochian Archdiocese website (new window will open).

Posted: 25-Jun-08



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