Monday, July 15, 2024

How should the church respond to suicide?

The word “SUICIDE” evokes feelings of fear, shame, and sadness. It’s one of the most dreaded words in the English dictionary. It’s also an extremely sensitive, if not taboo, word that we often shy away from talking about in our society, especially in the church. But, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to discuss or how ill-equipped we may feel to help those who are wrestling with suicidal thoughts, suicide is an issue the church cannot afford to ignore. Individuals battling feelings of suicide and their loved ones are in the pews of our congregations, suffering in stigmatized silence. For someone who has never experienced suicidal thoughts, the thought of wanting to die in and of it can seem foolish. But for those who struggle with debilitating mental health issues, suicidality is a strong risk. Failure to address it will perhaps unintentionally perpetuate the culture of secrecy, shame, and stigma around it and can even cost lives.
Suicide is becoming a growing concern and a foreseeable possibility for many individuals. Sadly, there is still a significant lack of awareness and a tabooed perception of what suicide is and why a person considers it or dies by it. Recent research has shown an alarming rise in the number of people reporting suicidal thoughts and actions. It is estimated that every year 703,000 people die by suicide worldwide,and there are many who attempt it. Underlying these statistics lurks the reality that suicide often reflects unbearable emotional pain,or “psychache,” at the time of their ideation, attempt, or death. As a matter of fact, experts claim that 90 percent of people who die by suicide have an underlying mental health condition at the time of their death. And many of those people do not receive treatment for their mental health issues.
Suicide wasn’t widespread in our society until very recently. So when I ventured into faith-based private practice, I never imagined that suicidal clients would be one of the most common cases that I would encounter. Sadly, based on my personal experience, suicidal struggle is the lived experience of many people in our context too. Suicide affects every church, and all of us have had some experience with suicide.If we are being really honest with ourselves, many of us may have, at some point in our lives, either personally experienced suicidal feelings or witnessed a friend, neighbor, family member, colleague, or church member experiencing these thoughts.
Given the scenario, we no longer have the luxury of assuming that suicide only affects someone else’s faith, creed, or people on the other side of the world. The reality is that even devout Christians can experience mental health challenges, and no amount of faith will guarantee protection from them.Having said that, the church should tackle the suicide issue head-on.
The following are some actions that churches can take to address this pressing mental health issue:
* Make the church a safe space where people feel comfortable talking about mental health issues, particularly the most taboo subject of suicide.
* Give a sermon on suicide or invite a professional to talk about suicide awareness and prevention.
* Make resources on suicide available in the church library.
* Identify individuals who may be at risk for suicide and assist them in getting professional help.
* Pastoral staff should consider specialized training on suicide awareness, intervention, and prevention from a Christian perspective.
* Be prepared to respond to a suicide death and provide support to the survivors.
* Maintain a list of local Christian mental health professionals for referral.
* Every church should consider having an on-staff counselor.
* Have a suicide hotline in the church.
Suicide is a majorand growing concern in today’s world, and every church will inevitably be affected in some way. Because of this, it is vitally necessary forchurches to approach the problem in a proactive manner that is appropriate to their congregation. Churches need to be geared up to deal effectively with congregants struggling with mental health issues and going through a process that could lead to suicide.The church could be a tremendous resource for individuals battling suicidal feelings. That being said, today (September 10, 2023), as we observe World Suicide Prevention Day under the theme “Creating hope through action,” as a body of Christ, let’s collectivelypromote awareness, encourage conversations about suicide, and strive to make our churches a safe haven where individuals struggling with suicidal feelings can turn for support without fear of judgment or condemnation and also find meaning in their lives and a sense of hope.
Dr. Yehoto Swu Kiho
Insight Institute of Christian Counseling
6th Mile, Sovima