Suicide Prevention as a Ministry Partnership
Reimagining and Navigating Prevention of Suicide
TNUMC Committee on Health and Welfare
by Rev. Micah Myers on September 2019
It was the start of the school year and a particular 14-year-old boy was starting a new semester in school. He was starting his freshman year at the local high school. There was what appeared to be some building excitement paired with, what looked like a “normal” level of anxiety and nervousness about the start of this school year. This boy was absolutely a fairly typical teenager, although, at times, he could be quite reserved and quiet. He would become distant from people at times but would smile and continue on with his days. All seemed fairly right with the world. He was involved in the high school marching band and somewhat active in his church. His parents were involved in his life and knew that at times there was some underlying sadness and anger due to some history of family struggles, but much of this was being worked through and the young man was getting counseling. About 2 weeks into school the boy disappeared and local authorities were contacted. Around 12 hours later the boy was found dead and it was ruled that he died by suicide. His parents were in agony, friends left in shock, the school without words, and a community left with a profound sense of loss with many asking the question, “What could we have done to keep such a tragic thing from happening?”
This is one of many stories that are far too common to hear in our culture and context. Suicide and the mental illness that often contributes to it are becoming all too common in our society. Here are a few statistics and facts and embody the realities of such a tragic and profoundly impacting social issue today:
- In the United States alone, someone dies by suicide once every 12 minutes.
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 24.
- Nationally, suicide rates among youth have (ages 15-24) have increased more than 200% in the last 50 years.
- The suicide rate is higher for the elderly (85+) than for any other age group
- Four times more men than women kill themselves, but three times more women than men attempt suicide
- Internationally, close to 800,000 people die by suicide every year
- For every completed suicide, there are many more people who attempt suicide every year.
- Firearms are the most common method of suicide regardless of race and sex. However, men are more likely than women to utilize more lethal forms of suicide (hanging, firearms, use of other weapons knives) versus less lethal means.
- Suicide cuts across ethnic, economic, social, and age boundaries
- One of the most important risk factors in suicide is having a friend or relative die of suicide.
Here are some ways you might be able to tell if someone might be contemplating suicide:
Signs and Symptoms
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
- Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching for lethal methods online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
- Talking about great guilt or shame
- Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
- Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Using alcohol or drugs more often
- Acting anxious or agitated
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
- Talking or thinking about death often
- Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
- Giving away important possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
- Putting affairs in order, making a will
If these warning signs apply to you or someone you know, get help as soon as possible, particularly if the behavior is new or has increased recently.
Here are a few steps to help someone who might be contemplating death by suicide:
- ASK: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question, but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.
- KEEP THEM SAFE: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.
- BE THERE: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Research suggests acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.
- HELP THEM CONNECT: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s (1-800-273-TALK (8255)) and the Crisis Text Line’s number (741741) in your phone, so it’s there when you need it. You can also help make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional. If it is an emergency you can always call 911 or take the person to the nearest emergency room for immediate attention.
- STAY CONNECTED: Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.
The Social Principles of the United Methodist church make the following statement on Suicide and give us some insight as we can continue to partner in caring for and preventing all people who are of sacred worth, who struggle to know their worth.
“A Christian perspective on suicide begins with an affirmation of faith that nothing, including suicide, separates us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Therefore, we deplore the condemnation of people who complete suicide, and we consider unjust the stigma that so often falls on surviving family and friends. We encourage pastors and faith communities to address this issue through preaching and teaching. We urge pastors and faith communities to provide pastoral care to those at risk, survivors, and their families, and to those families who have lost loved ones to suicide, seeking always to remove the oppressive stigma around suicide.”
May this be helpful information and a starting point as we enter the month of September as we affirm Suicide Prevention Awareness month and seek to be a church who stands with the hurting and broken bringing good news, being a part of the Holy Spirit’s life-saving work in our communities.
*Information gained from the following sources:
Tennessee Department of Health
American Association of Suicidology
Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network
The World Health Organization
National Institute of Mental Health
2017 Social Principles of the United Methodist Church