10/31/2012 02:16 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2012

Suicide and the Search for Green Pastures

The psalmist declares in the 23rd Psalm that God will lead one to "green pastures," and many have recited those words along with the rest of that Psalm for decades. But there are too many people in our communities who find themselves in the middle of a life journey that does not seem to lead them to such places of peace and comfort.

One of those persons was a former neighbor of mine who took her life a few weeks ago. I grieve for her and her family, and for us in our building who walked along beside her without having any ability to help her to see life beyond the darkness of her depression. There were many days when we would greet her on the sidewalk only to receive a mumble in return or some kind of very negative response which simply reflected her pain and isolation. She was a woman who appeared to be in her early 40s, professionaly trained and receiving treatment for her illness. But there was something lacking. She was driven by her illness to slash her body in many places which led to her death.

Many of us who were her neighbors have gone through much soul searching as we reflect upon whether or not there were ways that we could have done something that might have given her a sense of connection and hope which might have helped her to make a different choice. We don't know. Some of us reached out to her but simply received nonresponsiveness in return. So we were left with the dilemma of balancing our respect for the private space of a person with whom we had not established a relationship beyoned the basic connection that we share with everyone on the planet, and caring about a person who exhibited significant evidence of being a very troubled person.

Even when we truly embrace the idea of the "the Lord being our shepherd and that we shall not want" it is not possible to pass the positive energy that comes from that notion on to others unless there is some kind of relationship that supports such sharing. Suicide is such an act of violence and it is also quite self centered. But there are many reasons that can lead a person to such a place and it seems that those of us who are left behind as the victims of the act of suicide need to be careful in the responses that we make to it.

The responses to this are like all responses to difficult issues, they cannot be ones of becoming immobilized by guilt or other negative emotions which are counterproductive in every way. My personal response is mixed with grief for my neighbor and her family along with the grief that I feel about the limitations of not having been able to say or do anything that would have helped her to make a different choice. Though there is the definite challenge to reflect upon the fact that we are all connected and when one person suffers in our midst it affects us whether we wish it to do so or not, there is the glaring reality of our limitation. Some hindrances to relatiohship building cannot be crossed even in families because relationships require an openness of the heart in both those seeking to build relationships and those who are being sought.

Even within the pews of our places of worship often there is isolation and so many opportunities for the lonely and depressed to leave as they came without truly making any connections that can help them face their sense of isolation, desolation and depression. Our collective attitudes toward mental health do not help this situation in any way either. In many communities there are too few good mental health treatment facilities and even in places where they are more plentiful, there is often reluctance on the part of those who need the help to seek it.

As a trained clinical social worker, I continue to be astounded by some of the attitudes that I hear being expressed about seeking mental health treatment. While those making such statements would not dare walk around with a broken arm without seeking medical care, it seems to be fine to nurture a broken psyche for a lifetime without seeking help.

Now that we are becoming more accepting of the fact that there is a major connection between the mind, body and spirit, perhaps we can hope for a time when mental health care will not be separated from medical practice. There are a number of health care facilities who are practicng integrative medicine which strives to treat the whole person instead of discrete parts of the body without much concern about the state of the mind and spirit. Hopefully, as we move along our journey as a nation facing enormous challenges in many arenas, we will pay more attention to those among us who need to find "green pastures" and try to help them as much as possible.