Why Three Dimensions of Wellness are Critically Important in Suicide Prevention
This post establishes the foundation for all subsequent articles in the "You Are Irreplaceable" Suicide Prevention Series. The three essential dimensions of wellness are somatic (physical), psychical (mental), and noetic (spiritual).
Our effectiveness in suicide prevention (and intervention) increases when we address the person across all three dimensions. However, while all three are critically important, the most neglected of the three, spiritual, in contemporary mental health practice, is most significant. Thus, we will emphasize the spiritual dimension from a Christ-centered, biblical perspective.
God Knows Our Audience
I recognize that readers of this series have varying degrees of experience with suicide. Some may be practicing clinicians who deal with suicide daily. Others have survived their own suicide attempts and can share their experiences. Still, others are suicide survivors, having lost family and/or friends to suicide. Finally, we may even have readers who are simply interested in how they can help with suicide prevention.
God knows who should read this series. All are welcome.
Suicide Prevention: A Shared Story
Early in the series, I'll try to get everyone on the same page so we can speak the same suicide prevention and intervention story. It is not the only story; however, in my 35(+) years of professional experience with suicide, it's the story that leads to the happiest endings.
Secular Clinical Approaches to Suicide Prevention
This means we'll talk about the physical and mental dimensions in a way familiar to most clinical practitioners and clients who receive community mental health services. This awareness can also help non-clinically trained Christians understand and appreciate how secular approaches are applied in suicide prevention and suicide intervention. Sometimes, it is the most effective way to save a life from suicide.
Christian Biblical Approach to Suicide Prevention
We'll also discuss the physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions from a uniquely Christian perspective. How can God's Word, as expressed in the Bible, cover all possible physical, mental, and spiritual challenges that lead one to commit suicide? Jesus can open doors to possibilities the world says are shut. Options lead the despondent person to hope, and hope transcends the present suffering. This awareness can help non-Christian clinicians understand better how to help clients/patients who acknowledge their Christian faith. Sometimes, reading the Bible and discussing its implications is the best form of bibliotherapy.
"The Bridge" Approach to Suicide Prevention
One approach bridges the gap between contemporary managed care interventions used in community mental health and Christian Biblical ones used in faith-based settings.
That "bridge" is called Logotherapy. While I'll write about Logotherapy extensively in future posts, I would like to give you a heads-up on where this approach comes from.
The father of Logotherapy was Dr. Viktor E. Frankl (1905-1997), a Holocaust survivor. Clinicians are familiar with his existential orientation and usefulness in helping people find meaning and purpose in life despite suffering.
Some Christian readers may have read his best-selling book "Man's Search for Meaning." The book's first half describes Frankl's experiences in the Nazi concentration camps. The second half is an introduction to Logotherapy. One of the definitions of the Greek word "Logos" is meaning. Thus, Logotherapy is therapy through finding meaning. Logos is also "The Word," as in, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John 1:1
Finally, I chose to specialize in Logotherapy in 2006 because it was helpful in my personal and professional life. In addition, Logotherapy proved beneficial for people surviving in concentration camps. Since few of us today deal with the stressors of the Holocaust, Logotherapy is a unique approach that bridges the gap between secular and Christian practices, which we will find helpful. The 3 Dimensions of Wellness (three dimensions of being) are derived from Logotherapy.
Logotherapy and the 3 Dimensions of Wellness for Suicide Prevention
The 3 Dimensions of Wellness are displayed in a pyramid shape. We will briefly look at each from bottom to top. We will use this order because it reflects the order (and priority) given to suicide prevention in "the world."
Somatic / Body (Physical) Dimension: The body is something we "HAVE." For our suicide prevention and intervention purposes, we will also include behaviors in the physical dimension. This is because completing suicide requires a physical act.
Psychical / Mind (Mental) Dimension: Like the body, the mind is something we "HAVE." Because suicide requires thoughts and feelings, usually occurring almost simultaneously, we'll consider them here in the mental dimension. Most suicide prevention and intervention strategies in community mental health focus on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Noetic / Spirit (Spiritual) Dimension: Unlike the body and mind, Spirit is something we "ARE." This is a huge difference. It is one of the reasons that Logotherapy is the bridge approach. It spans the gap and integrates the body and mind with the Spirit.
Why Are All Three Wellness Dimensions Critically Important in Suicide Prevention?
The 3-Leg Stool Metaphor and Suicide Prevention
The 3-leg stool is a commonly used metaphor in Logotherapy. It reflects well the need for all three dimensions of personal wellness. Yes, you can find highly complex multi-dimensional wellness models. Still, none are as helpful as the simple three dimensions we discuss here.
Simple suicide prevention and intervention are better, especially for non-clinically trained good Samaritans who may find themselves first responders when suicide presents itself.
Look at the 3-leg stool. Take away physical health, and many people entertain suicidal thoughts. Take away psycho-emotional resilience and substitute it with distress, anxiety, and/or depression, and suicide probability increases dramatically. Think about what happens when we limit our interventions to only two dimensions, and one dimension is compromised. We have a volatile situation indeed.
We shouldn't be shocked to see the trend in suicide increasing rather than decreasing from 2000 - 2020, despite the World Health Organization's focus on eliminating suicide as a cause of death. There have been no fundamental changes in how community mental health clinics treat clients who are suicidal.
If we add a Christ-Centered Biblical approach to strengthen the spiritual dimension, we have acknowledged the "Medicine Chest" as residing within the individual rather than separate from them. The Medicine Chest we refer to from a Christian model is the Holy Spirit.
We think this is good news for those Christians (even lukewarm Christians) who have lost inner peace in world crises or developed anxieties and depression from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bad news is that lukewarm Christians are falling away from the faith at an alarming rate. They no longer see faith as their key to meaning despite suffering. They no longer see Jesus as the door to their salvation or the Holy Spirit as their Medicine Chest.
Don't Lose Hope! We Can Prevent Suicide!
If you feel discouraged about your ability to prevent suicide based on statistics and trends, don't lose hope! God uses situations and people like you and me to show His ability to save lives from suicide. We don't need to have all the answers because He does.
God reminds us,
"Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." Jeremiah 33:3
You'll be amazed at how you respond in a crisis when you invite God to intervene through you. He also says,
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7
Now that should encourage you! Not only does that single scripture address all three dimensions of wellness, but it applies equally well whether we are the helper or the one being helped!
Imagine how many suicides could be prevented if we followed God's call to have a little faith. Think about the demon-possessed boy whom the disciples couldn't heal.
"Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, 'Why couldn't we drive it out?' He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:19-21
Nothing will be impossible for you. Let that sink into all three dimensions of your being. When you do, you will feel the unmistakable flow of the Holy Spirit leading you toward your authentic destiny. Your life will possess new meaning and purpose; you'll feel pulled along as if in an invisible slipstream of air. You will feel peace, joy, and love like never before. Suicide will no longer be an option.
This first article in the "You Are Irreplaceable" Suicide Prevention Series established the need for three dimensions of wellness for suicide prevention. The three dimensions include the somatic (physical), psychical (psycho-emotional), and noetic (spiritual) dimensions.
Like a 3-leg stool, the structure will lose balance if one of the dimensions is missing (or neglected). Unfortunately, contemporary community mental health focuses disproportionate interventions on the physical and mental dimensions. The spiritual dimension is largely ignored. The Christ-Centered Biblical approach addresses the spiritual component but may fail to recognize when immediate medical attention is warranted. A bridge between the two systems may help bridge the gap. That approach is called Logotherapy.
My faith and prayer are that this ongoing series will encourage people to seek Jesus as the first intervention when life loses its meaning and purpose. No one needs to feel hopeless to the point of suicide, regardless of how insane our world becomes. We frequently hear, "We are in this together," from the secular community. We also agree with it from a scriptural perspective "I am my brother's keeper." (ref. Genesis 4:9)
Next week we'll look at how three models of suicide intervention match up with our three dimensions of wellness. Until then, may God bless you with meaning according to His purpose. Remember, You are Irreplaceable!