An Essential Element of Suicide Prevention: Helping Suicidal Christians Feel Safe to Reach Out For Help
Dr. Karen Mason
Suicide happens inside the walls of the church. Yet, the wider culture is more engaged in suicide prevention than God’s people who care deeply about the sanctity of life. In one of my studies, about eleven percent of congregant respondents were thinking about suicide at the time of the study. Churches have been devastated by the loss of their members and even pastors to suicide. Why is it that churches don’t talk about suicide when it is so present inside the church? One of the problems is stigma.
Talking about suicide does not feel safe. In fact, it doesn’t feel safe to talk about any number of issues like taking medication for depression or experiencing racism. One reason it is hard to talk about stigmatized topics like suicide prevention is that Christians believe they need to “have it all together,” so we sometimes put on a façade of not struggling in life. Suicidal Christians may not reach out for help because they believe that suicidal thinking is “a failure of faith” and that “only weak Christians become suicidal.” Suicidal Christians may also not get the help they need because of the church’s silence on suicide prevention.
How can we help suicidal Christians to feel safe to reach out for help despite the stigma? One of the essential elements of suicide prevention in churches is to create a culture of “transparent authenticity.” In this culture of transparent authenticity, the messiness of life is recognized as we point to Christ. People can present themselves “warts and all,” instead of “their shiny pretty selves,” so that they can receive the support they need.
One of my heroes in the Bible is blind Bartimaeus who shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47). Even though people around him rebuked him and told him to be quiet, he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:48).
How can we make church safe for suicidal Christians to follow Bartimaeus’ example and reach out for help? We must not quiet cries for help and should instead start by breaking the silence and having the courage to be the first one to share our story. One pastor who participated in one of my studies said this:
I almost committed suicide when I was twenty-one years old, and I am not shy about sharing that experience. I have been transparent, and others have been transparent in the hope that if that’s where someone is, that they would feel comfortable bringing it up thinking, ‘I’m not the only one.’
The Apostle Paul modelled suicide prevention for the Church when he stopped the suicide of the Philippian jailer. Your church can show that you, too, are willing to help those who are suicidal. Breaking the silence is one of the eight essential elements of suicide prevention that are laid out in The Essentials of Suicide: A Blueprint for Churches.