Suicide: The elephant in the sanctuary

September 17, 2019

“Pastor, come quickly! He’s going to kill himself!”

Those words still ring in my ears even though it’s been many years since the night one of my church members frantically yelled them into the phone as soon as I answered.

It’s rare for a pastor to receive a call like that, but it’s becoming more common.

We can be quick to assume that people considering suicide exist only outside the four walls of the church. Yet people contemplating suicide reside within our congregations as well. Thankfully, the individual my church member was concerned about received the help they needed. But, oftentimes, people in these situations remain anonymous and unnoticed.

And as we learned recently, they even reside in our pulpits.

Pastor and author Jarrid Wilson took his own life on Monday, Sept. 9. Just hours before, the 30-year-old posted on social media that he would be officiating the funeral service of a woman who had committed suicide.

“Officiating the funeral for a Jesus-loving woman who took her own life today,” Wilson wrote on Twitter. “Your prayers are greatly appreciated for the family.”

Wilson, who along with his wife founded a faith-based organization to address mental health issues called “Anthem of Hope,” was open about his own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. Yet not everyone who struggles — particularly those within the Christian community — is as open as Wilson.

 

We may assume that people considering suicide exist only outside the walls of the church, but they are in our congregations as well.

Church prayer lists are typically filled with names of people struggling with any number of issues. But we seldom discuss depression, mental heath issues or suicide within our congregations. One reason is because we often fail to recognize the depth and degree of brokenness that resulted from the fall. Even after our relationship with God is restored through Christ, we still reside in a broken world with our old nature and must deal with physical struggles, spiritual struggles and emotional struggles.
 
You may not be a therapist or a mental health professional, but as followers of Jesus, we are called by God to love and care for one another. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). So what can we do to care for those who are suffering from depression and possibly contemplating suicide?
 
First, we can recognize the risk factors. According to the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) and the Institute for Compassionate Care, people who do the following may be at risk for suicide:
● Talk about being a burden to others, feeling trapped, experiencing unbearable pain, having no reason to live and killing themselves.
● Exhibit behavior of increased alcohol or drug use.
● Search online for ways to kill themselves.
● Act recklessly or demonstrate aggressive behavior.
● Withdraw from activities or isolate themselves from family or friends. 
● Exhibit a change in sleep patterns. 
● Reach out to loved ones to say goodbye.
● Giving away prized possessions.
● Exhibit moods of depression, disinterest, rage, irritability, humiliation or anxiety. 
 
If we recognize the risk factors, how should we respond? Never tell someone “I understand” because you don’t. However, let them know you sincerely love and care for them. Affirm them by saying you see the pain they are in.
 
According to Jennifer Ellers, a professional counselor and crisis response trainer with ICISF and the Institute for Compassionate Care, one question you may ask is, “Do you really want to die, or do you just not want to live the life you are currently living?”
 
Stay present with the individual, and seek help from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The lifeline is a national network of crisis centers that provides free and confidential support and resources to those in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can call the lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).
 
If you discover the individual has a plan to take their own life, call 911 immediately.
 
The church should be a place of refuge for those suffering from anxiety, depression and mental health struggles. We must no longer remain silent on these issues. A healthy Sunday School and small groups ministry in the local church is a place where we can seek to care for these individuals well. Like Jesus, we must be willing to walk alongside those who struggle.
 
In another tweet on the day he died, Wilson wrote: “Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that.”
 
May we do the same.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In addition to serving as senior consultant for Sunday School & Small Groups with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Rick Hughes volunteers as a crisis response chaplain and leads a crisis response team for law enforcement and first responders in the Triad. He is also a member of ICISF.


by Rick Hughes  /  
Sunday School and Small Groups /  Baptist State Convention of North Carolina

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1 Comment

  1. Mark Benfield

    Thanks for the information on how help suicidal people. I agree, that even our church family has these stuggles. I am reminded they we are our brothers keeper no matter what state of mind. Lord help us to be willing to adhere to Your word and work the harvest to bring You glory. Amen

    Reply

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