Dr. Peter Fenwick's
Suicide Near-Death Experience Research
Dr. Peter Fenwick, in those organized religions
in which hell figures, suicide is a sin and might
well be considered an entrance qualification. And
yet none of the people who wrote to us about an
NDE during a suicide attempt reported a hellish
or even an unpleasant experience. On the contrary,
what they experienced seemed to provide a reason
for continuing life. It seems that the mental state
in the NDE bears no resemblance at all to the person's
mental state before the experience. Someone who
attempts suicide might be expected to be in some
emotional turmoil at the time of their experience.
In real life, people who are depressed tend to select
only depressive images and memories. And yet if
we look at the experiences described below we can
see that the depressive feelings vanish when they
enter the experience; there is an awareness of peace,
of something beautiful; there seems to be a healing
of the broken spirit.
Here Sheila Berry describes what happened to her
fifteen years ago:
"I had taken an
overdose of aspirin and alcohol and had
been pumped out at the hospital. It was
late at night and I was put into a ward.
I don't know whether you would call this
an NDE but at the same time my spirit
was so low I felt that I could die if I
really wanted to. It could perhaps be
classed as a case of broken spirit if
there is such a thing.
lying in the dark and felt myself
drifting. I felt as though I was in a
warm cocoon. I became aware that I was
moving down a dark country lane with
high hedges. At the bottom of the lane
there was a cottage with a light in the
window. I wanted to reach the cottage
but a voice in my head said that I had
to go back. I can still remember someone
taking my hand and I had a feeling of
great peace and a oneness with what I
can only describe as the universe. I can
remember returning to the weight of my
body. For some time after this happened
I kept hearing the most wonderful music.
I feel since that time that my life has
a spiritual dimension, although I do not
practice any established religion."
Anne Thomson attempted suicide in the winter of
1972 when she was very depressed:
could cope no longer with three small children
and one dreadful husband (whom I later divorced).
I took a massive overdose of sleeping tablets
and was not found for four hours. I was
rushed to the nearest hospital by ambulance
from the RAF base in Wales, where we lived
at the time. I very nearly died and was
unconscious for four days. On the fourth
day I was slipping away. I had a cardiac
arrest and the doctors and a sister were
working on me.
left my body. I went up and up very slowly,
not looking back at myself in the bed.
The peace was beyond what I can explain;
it was so beautiful, I felt so light in
weight and I saw I was going towards a white
light - not the white like this notepaper
I write on, but a spiritual white. I almost
reached this light, when suddenly I was
pulling downwards very fast and did not
stop till I was back in my body. I was heavy,
everything seemed so dark and then I came
to and slowly came to realize I could not
be taken as three children needed their
always did believe in God but only because
it was bred into me. But since that experience
I have a lot of faith towards God and towards
life beyond our lives on Earth. I firmly
believe he made me well and helped me through
all my time of rearing three children alone
in the years that followed."
Only one of the descriptions of NDEs which occurred
during suicide attempts had elements that might
possibly be construed as hellish. It is one of the
very few in which the feeling is one of descent,
into a pit, rather than upwards, and in which the
light seen is red rather than white or golden. Although
there is a presence, this is not perceived as friendly,
but not as hostile either. In fact, the whole experience
has a neutral quality - not hellish, but not positive
either, except for the compassion the returning
self feels for her body in the hospital bed.
Here is another example of an NDE resulting from
a suicide attempt:
"In 1963, I nearly died from a
suicide attempt. I went down into a
deep pit, slowly, like Alice in
Wonderland, as if I were in a lift.
"At the bottom it was light and
quite busy and bustling. The other
people were strangers and although
they didn't speak and neither did I,
somehow I asked the way and I was
told to follow the red light.
"I moved off in that direction.
Gradually I found myself in a warm,
dark tunnel, alone apart from a sort
of presence - not hostile, not
friendly, just there.
the red light grew dim and began to
flicker and I knew I would have to
go back. It was absolutely dark and
I was quite alone.
was surrounded by a panicky crowd
round the hospital bed. It seemed
silly of the people to be making
such a fuss. The body had been
crying in its sleep and I felt a
great pity for it momentarily as I
"I told no one
about this as they thought I was a
loony anyway, but the experience has
stayed with me all these years and I
have tried to make sense of it. If
it is just an innate limbic
response, well ... interesting."