I want to talk to you about recognizing suicide in your world. In 2015, over 44,000 individuals took their own life in the United States. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America. Between the ages of 15-34, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death. In Oregon, one person dies by suicide every 11 hours (on average) and more than six times as many people die by suicide than that of homicide.
In Canada there were over 3,900 documented suicides in 2016. Suicide is currently the 9th leading cause of death. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death from the ages of 10 to 29 years of age. For every suicide, there are approximately 25-30 attempts.
Suicide in the church?
There are several taboo topics in the church that are difficult to talk about. One of those topics is that of suicide. Suicide happens. And suicide happens in the church. That begs the question, “Is the church equipped to work with someone in suicide crisis?”
It is rare that people openly talk about suicide in the church. After all, who wants to get involved with someone who is in suicidal crisis. Or better yet, someone who is chronically making threats of suicide. It is exhausting and draining for professionals who are trained in suicide intervention, much less those who do not have specific training surrounding the topic.
It is important to note that people in the church do engage in suicidal behavior. Suicide can definitely be tied to the spiritual realm, but suicide behavior can also be biological and physiological. There are several disorders where the brain is physically wired in a different way than the “normal” person—Antisocial Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and histrionic personality disorder are just a few to mention. Suicide behavior is also linked to depression. And clinical depression is a disorder of the brain and not necessarily a result to the lack of faith. Can God heal someone from depression or antisocial personality disorder? Absolutely! Nothing is impossible. But just like we seek help for heart disease or lung disease, we can seek help for a brain disease.
How to respond
What we do and say with someone who is suicidal can make all of the difference in the world. Some might even say that it can be the difference between life and death. When an individual engages in suicidal behavior, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to die. Most times it means they want to end the intense mental/psychological pain. It is okay to admit if you don’t know how to effectively work with a suicidal individual. But you can help find them someone who is trained in that field. The idea is to give them hope—tangible hope. If we can provide them with a group of professionals, they may think there is some hope for their life.
I grew up hearing that suicide is a sin. And I still agree with that Biblical proclamation. However, just telling someone who is honestly thinking about suicide that it is a sin without providing additional help can potentially do more harm than help. Remember, someone who is in suicidal crisis is not really thinking rationally, and definitely not Biblically. So if it is not an option, how can you respond to someone in a way that will decrease his or her risk for suicide (something to think about)?
Perhaps you have someone in your world that is frequently talking about suicide. I know for sure there are some churches with individuals fitting that description. Let me encourage you to not dismiss this behavior as “just looking for attention.” I know it can be difficult. I know it can get old. I get it. And that person may never do anything to end his or her own life. But we can never be too sure. It could be the one time we don’t take them seriously they end or attempt to end their life. Again, if you aren’t sure how to respond you can reach out and seek additional help.
Lines for Life
I work at Lines for Life, which is the Oregon Chapter of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. I have talked with many people who are depressed and just needing to talk. But I have also talked with even more people who were “on the edge” so to speak. I work with a very good team of people who have gone through extensive training. I encourage you to give out our number like it’s candy. We also have third party callers’ call for advice or help regarding someone they know. If you have an individual in your world that is mentally ill or suicidal and you need resources, we provide those as well. We are open 24/7 and always are there to offer support. Our biggest theme is letting people know they are not alone. Likewise, you are not alone.
US National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
KidsHelpPhone Ages 20 Years and Under in Canada 1-800-668-6868
British Columbia Crisis Line – All Ages 1-800-SUICIDE (Canada has different hotlines for each province.)
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