By Kris Lott, MMFT
When was the last time suicide was mentioned at your church? Was it from the pulpit? Was it after a loss, or was it in a preventative discussion? September is Suicide Prevention Awareness month, and it is time for all churches to start talking about this important topic.
According to the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TSPN), suicide claims over 1,000 lives per year in Tennessee. This means that each day, an average of three Tennesseans die from suicide. The suicide rates in the U.S. are at an all-time high for teens and young adults. In just the past two months, I am aware of five youth (6th grade – 12th grade) that have died by suicide in the mid-state area. While these statistics are alarming, suicide prevention should not only focus on teenagers, but on all age groups. Suicide rates remain elevated among people in midlife, and Tennesseans aged 45-64 are over three times more likely to die by suicide than teenagers.
The most important way to aid the suicide prevention movement is to educate yourself and your congregation on the warning signs of suicide. The church is on the front lines of suicide prevention. Each of you walk side-by-side with your congregants and provide empathy and compassion in their struggles. Recognizing the warning signs of suicide and knowing how to respond may save a life.
TSPN’s director, Scott Ridgeway, notes potential behavioral patterns that might indicate someone is thinking about suicide include sudden differences in behavior, withdrawing from friends and communities, a loss of interest in hobbies, work or school, and/or talking about suicide or death. For a complete list of warning signs and other information on suicide and suicide prevention visit: http://tspn.org/warning-signs.
If you see these warning signs with a church member or loved one it is important to ASK EARLY, ASK DIRECTLY, and ASK FOR HELP. Studies show that you will not give a person the idea of suicide by asking them about it. While it may be hard to ask, “Are you thinking about suicide?” it shows that you care enough for the person to ask the tough question. Offering a safe space for the person to openly discuss their feelings is one of the most helpful ways to start finding them help. Do not try to fix their problems, or debate with them about how much they have to live for. While it is important to act fast, it is better not to act alone. Do not forget that your role is to help connect the individual to professional help. Every minister should have a list of therapists in their community that work with suicidal individuals. If you find yourself in a crisis situation, act immediately. Call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-(TALK) or use the crisis text line by texting “TN” to 741-741 to speak to a trained specialist.
Suicide is preventable. Kevin Hines, a suicide attempt survivor states, “Most people considering suicide want someone to save them. What we need is a culture in which no one is afraid to ask.” Do not be afraid to ask the tough question about suicide, listen and provide hope, and be a connector to more support and help.
Kris Lott has served as the Director of Youth Ministries at Calvary United Methodist Church in Nashville, TN since 2004. Kris also practices Marriage and Family Therapy and is passionate about suicide prevention. Kris would be honored to be a resource for any church on suicide prevention. He can be reached at email@example.com or 615.807.0454