Death is inevitable and inescapable, and for many church leaders, it represents the most challenging part of ministering to congregations. Watching people grieve and contend with loss is difficult, even when their faith is strong and they know their loved one has returned to the Lord’s side. Suicide takes the challenge of loss to a whole new level.
Suicide is especially difficult, because it can be so difficult to understand. Why would someone choose to end their life? Should someone in the church have noticed warning signs and intervened? Could someone else have helped? Did anyone know that the person wanted to die? Beyond the questions, church leaders also provide support to friends and family members who are stunned, confused, and even angry. And often, one suicide may inspire others to do the same.
There’s a better way for church leaders to respond to suicide, and that’s to take an active role in keeping it from happening in the first place. It begins by becoming educated about the realities behind suicide and how to prevent it — not just for the pastor, but for the entire congregation.
That’s more important than ever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that suicide rates across America have jumped by 30 percent since 1999. It’s become the 10th leading cause of death in our nation. Suicide does not discriminate, and thoughts about suicide are not limited to certain groups of people. It can happen to nearly anyone at any stage in life. While depression had been diagnosed in about half the cases, there are many factors that increase the risk of someone taking their own life. You’ve read the recent headlines of church leaders who have chosen to die by suicide. It’s breath taking, but not in a good way.
Suicide is preventable. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are not weaknesses, personal flaws, or a lack of faith. Because people who are in that degree of despair may not be able to reach out on their own, it’s important that others in their lives pay attention and act when they suspect help is needed. The better we understand suicide, the more effectively we can work together to keep it from happening.
One of the most effective tools in preventing suicides is a simple method called QPR. You can think of it as CPR for suicide, although it’s much easier to learn. QPR training explains the realities of suicide and offers practical ways to determine whether someone may be thinking about killing themselves. People from all walks of live have used QPR to convince people who were suicidal to seek help. In simple terms, it saves lives.
Care to Change can bring trained QPR facilitators to your church. In a single session, we can teach your staff, your groups, or your members in general how they can keep people around them from choosing suicide. Think about the impact just one suicide can have (or has had) on your congregation … and then contact us to set a time to give you and your church a positive alternative to funerals.
Jared Jones is a therapist who has worked on suicide hotlines and he specializes in working with people suffering from depression and anxiety.