Public Issue

'Finding God Again': Perspectives on Suicide Awareness and Prevention

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day 2021 (10 September 2021), and as New Zealand approaches Mental Health Awareness Week (27 September to 3 October) Auckland man, Jeremy Higgins, shares his story and some insights around the subject of suicide awareness and prevention. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers several resources to individuals with respect to this issue, at “Life Help” on its website.

Losing God was a huge deal for me. I was raised in a Christian home by parents who loved me. I followed God without feeling compelled to do so. I wanted to follow Christ not because someone told me it was the right thing to do, but because it made me feel good inside.

As I grew older, I continued to trust in God – even when things didn’t make sense. Through the application of Christ’s teachings, I was able to find peace and healing not only when I brought sorrow and sadness upon myself, but also when pain and suffering was inflicted on me by others. God’s plan, I felt, was infinite in reach, and infinite in power. He carried the cure for all ailments, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual.

None of that mattered anymore, however, when the lights switched off for me in 2018. Mid-way through the year I fell in to a deep, depressive episode. It was impossible for me to flat-out deny the existence of God because I had felt Him so much before in my life. But quite suddenly and abruptly He seemed to disappear. I could not feel His light. I did not feel his presence. I no longer felt the Holy Ghost.

I found myself incredibly confused because I was doing everything “right.” I was an active member of the Church. I said my prayers regularly and studied the scriptures. My job was impactful and satisfying. I sat on the board of a charity and was actively involved in the community. I had a beautiful wife and two beautiful, healthy daughters. I was kind to those around me and led an active, adventurous lifestyle. I was a good person.

But despite the light and joy that permeated my life from every side, I felt empty. It did not make sense. The “feel good” formula that I had followed my whole life did not seem to be working anymore.

It was hard to stay positive. Slowly but surely, my confusion and emptiness turned to hurt. All remnants of my usual positive demeanour disappeared. And then I started to feel angry.

Really angry.

At the time I had no idea what was really going on. I’d experienced bouts of depression multiple times over the years. But this was different. It was so much more intense. Darkness caved in all around me. It was intoxicating. It was frightening.

Looking back now – after hundreds of hours of therapy, meditation, and study – I have learned that my brain was broken. The “feeling” receptors throughout my body had metaphorically malfunctioned. The circuits were broken. The signals weren’t getting through.

Physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally, I did not feel the same anymore. A lot of the time I felt completely numb. There was no good. No bad. No joy. No pain. No pleasure. No disgust. No excitement. I was just there. Existing.

Living without “emotion” was indeed challenging, but an additional layer of complexity was added when my “emotions chip” would periodically come back online. When my feelings surfaced again, they came back severely amplified. I suddenly became prisoner to intense pain and despondency. The self-loathing and darkness were unforgiving. I became crippled by intoxicating hopelessness, anxiety, and fear.

I withdrew from relationships and social interactions. I turned inward. I felt guilty about the burden I was inflicting on others because of my dark, debilitating behaviour. I fell into a spiralling cycle of self-destruction and despair. There was no way out. And yet there was one way out. I entertained suicidal thoughts regularly. I wished I did not exist.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. Just as I was placing my feet on to the cold, hard, concrete of a mighty bridge, I was rescued and comforted by a kind policewoman. This is one of the days that could have been my last. I was saved, I believe, by the good grace of God.

Since the “bridge” day in October 2018, many hours of therapy, meditation, exercise, study, medication, and hard work have followed. Much more of the same will likely continue in the years ahead.

It has been a rough journey, but I can honestly report, that I have found hope again. I might even say that I have reclaimed my faith. Not so long ago, faith felt wholly absent from my life, and hope was hanging precariously on the end of a long, weak, piece of thread. Although I never denied God’s existence, my connection with Him was broken, and He felt very, very far away.

Recently however, I came to realize that God was in fact beside me the whole time – even when it was 100% obvious to me that He was not. I learned this as I lay in darkness early one morning, unable to sleep. My wife lay asleep on the other side of the bed, and although she was not touching me, I felt the distinctness of her “being” in the pitch black of night. I could hear her breathing softly, and in a strange way, I could actually “feel” her presence.

There was a special comfort in knowing that I was not alone in the room, even when the lack of light and physical touch may have tried to convince me otherwise.

I realized in that moment, that such is the nature of God’s love in our lives, and the companionship of His “Holy Spirit.” I recognized that I could not feel God’s love – nor the love of those around me – because my feeling “receptors” were broken, and the signals simply couldn’t get through.

I have come to learn that others suffering from mental illness have had similar experiences. We may struggle to hear His voice because our “hearing” is muffled and distorted by the “noise” of depression, anxiety, and pain. Nephi and Lehi spoke of the mists of darkness that clouded the path to the tree of life. Such mists existed for all who journeyed there – the righteous, the wicked, the distracted, the lost. We are all affected by those mists, and we are all expected to endure them with patience and faith.

Am I the same person I was a few years ago? Certainly not. Do I still struggle with periods of doubt, darkness, and uncertainty? Of course. Do I still struggle to feel God in my life in the same way and at the same frequency that I used to? Absolutely.

Although life is not quite the same as it used to be, I am grateful for experiences that have strengthened my testimony of God’s plan and the reality of Christ’s Atonement. The Atonement is no longer an abstract concept or theoretical construct – it grants me real power to heal my physical, spiritual, and emotional trauma. I am grateful to know – more than ever – that Christ is there for me – even when I struggle to see, hear, or feel His presence.

Life is still hard. I still feel confused and upset by hardship, injustice, and pain. But clarity is returning, and the circuits are healing. It is wonderful to feel the hope and warmth of light and love again – even in very small doses.

Jeremy and other collaborators have created a small, online community to raise awareness for mental illness and provide a safe space for people to engage and share online.

You can join this community or message Jeremy directly on Facebook or Instagram at the following locations:

The Bright Side of Depression

Raise Your Hand Movement

Read and view articles and videos about suicide prevention and ministering from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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