Suicide – Mental Illness or Spiritual Crisis? – Abstract

The mental illness of depression is defined in terms of symptoms only, symptoms which by themselves are little more than everyday life experiences but which collectively and when severe can render a person dysfunctional and disabled.  These symptoms can be viewed through different lenses leading to different diagnoses and treatments.  A strictly medical lens sees a biological malfunction of the brain and pharmaceutical treatment will be recommended.  A psychological lens will see the cognitive and emotional mind and typically counselling therapies will be recommended to analyse, comprehend and modify distressing or dysfunctional patterns of behaviour.  A psychosocial lens sees the broader social context and considers issues such as poverty, homelessness and community support services.  A comprehensive public health policy must embrace all of these dimensions and, to some extent, this is found in both the literature and in public health services.

These symptoms can also be viewed through a spiritual lens which sees the crisis as an opportunity for spiritual growth. Cultures dominated by scientific, materialist values are unable to respond well to spiritual needs.  There is a need for reconciliation between the scientific and the spiritual and although there is much in the philosophical and theological literature on this, it rarely finds its way into public health debates or policy.