Suicide Prevention Week and World Suicide Prevention Day are held each year in September. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Experts estimate that for every suicide there are 29 attempted suicides.
Whites and American Indians have the highest rates of suicide while Blacks, Hispanics and Asians have the lowest rates. Over half of suicides are committed with a firearm. 90 percent of people who die from suicide have a mental health condition. In 2019 men died by suicide 3.63 times as often as women.
Suicide is complex. The many contributing factors include: health conditions, social conflicts, stressful events and access to means.
As a pastor I have seen the devastating effects of suicide. One of the hardest things families deal with is grief. Family members may be so ashamed of a loved one’s suicide they may not give themselves permission to grieve. Or they may grieve in unhealthy ways.
In his book, I Will Grieve for the Suicide, Rev. Peter Preus discusses the challenge of grieving a suicide and the many other emotions that come with the suicide of a loved one. He discusses the blessings and limitations of psychology in addressing mental health and suicide and the hope that people can find in Jesus Christ. He offers suggestions for the support of the grieving, prayers, and recommendations for further reading. (This book is available as a free download at lcms.org/life.)
Christians sometimes get the idea that their faith makes them immune from issues like suicide and mental illness. Even worse is the belief that if someone struggles in these areas it means there is something wrong with their faith. Rev. Preus addresses these inaccurate assumptions in his book And She Was a Christian: Why Do Believers Commit Suicide?
Although I am not a fan of tattoos, Project Semicolon is a highly-effective, grass-roots organization that works to build better lives for those facing mental illness. In writing, a semicolon is used when an author could have ended their sentence but, for whatever reason, decided not to. The idea of getting a semicolon tattoo is that you are the author of your life and could have chosen to end your “sentence” but chose not to. The semicolon is typically tattooed on the wrist to prevent a person from harming their body either in that location or somewhere else.
Project Semicolon offers online mental health assessments to help people determine if they should seek help from a mental health professional.
Deaconess Tiffany Manor, director of Life Ministry for The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, says, “As Christians we come alongside our neighbors who are suffering from mental illnesses as well as other mental or physical conditions that cause them to despair of earthly life. We bear their burdens with them, accompany them through hardships and trial, help them to get the physical and psychological services that they need, and point them to Christ, who gives hope and life.”
Suicide prevention resources strive to let people know that they are not alone and don’t need to sit alone in silence, wondering what to do. Even small efforts to come alongside and help those who are struggling can make a big difference.