The Watch Tower Society has released an astonishing article in its August 2013 Awake! magazine addressing the delicate but widespread issue of teenagers who self-harm. The advice to such ones is simply: “pray to Jehovah God.”
The two page article on pages 5 and 6 of the magazine answers a number of questions related to the issue, and correctly addresses some common misconceptions about the habit.
Readers are reminded that self-harm is not necessarily just a fad or intended as a means of attracting attention. However, the point is made on the first page of the article that “if your teenager self-injures, she needs help.” Despite drawing this obvious conclusion, nowhere in the article is the reader encouraged to seek the advice of mental health professionals.
A copy of the article in question is downloadable by clicking here.
Any suggestion that the answer to the solution to this distressing problem may lie beyond simply reasoning with the teenager or asking them to pray is confined to a footnote at the end of the article, which reads:
“Often, self-injury is a symptom of depression or another disorder. In such cases, medical help may be needed. Awake! does not endorse any particular approach. However, Christians should be sure that any treatment they pursue does not conflict with Bible principles.” (Awake! August 2012, page 5)
The teenager’s welfare is thus relegated to being of lesser importance than finding medical treatment that observes “Bible principles.” This bizarre viewpoint echoes similar sentiments that have been printed by Watchtower on the issue of child abuse. Consider the following words directed at parents of child abuse victims, as printed in a 1993 Awake! article (bold is mine)…
“Parents must therefore make every reasonable effort to protect their children! Many responsible parents choose to seek out professional help for an abused child. Just as you would with a medical doctor, make sure that any such professional will respect your religious views. Help your child rebuild his or her shattered self-esteem through a steady outpouring of parental love.” - Awake! 1993 10/8 page 9
Watch Tower Society seems determined to steer its readers away from mental health experts to the extent possible, no matter how perilous the situation they face. They are evidently fearful of Witnesses being exposed to advice or “worldly thinking” that could weaken the organization’s mental grip.
In this particular case, having raised such an important issue, Awake! deliberately shies away from offering an effective solution, insisting that it “does not endorse any particular approach.” Many would argue that one cannot (or should not) attempt to write an article on such a delicate issue as self-harm if you refuse to “endorse” professional help. It seems the only course of action that the writers are happy to endorse as a blanket cure for all cases of self-harm is prayer, as the concluding words of the article indicate.
“Encourage your teenager to pray to Jehovah God. The Bible says: “Throw all your anxiety upon him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) ‘I made an effort to pour out my feelings to Jehovah God,’ says Lorena, 17, ‘especially when I was tempted to self-injure. It helped me to try that much harder to stop.'”—Bible principle: 1 Thessalonians 5:17.” (Awake! August 2012, page 5)
The corresponding online article on JW.org expands on this suggested remedy, saying, “Start with brief prayers, perhaps simply telling Jehovah, ‘I need help.'”
I would strongly recommend that any Witness parents reading this advice, especially those with teenagers who self-harm, do careful research to find out what professionals have to say on this issue.
Any who do so will find it repeatedly stressed that, though parents of self-harmers should not panic if there is no immediate threat to life, they should certainly seek the advice of “a trained mental health professional who has experience in this area.” (see article on Parenting.org)