Suicide: A Call for Awareness and Active Compassion

Folio 7v from the Rossano Gospels, the Good Samaritan.  Wikimedia Commons

Folio 7v from the Rossano Gospels, the Good Samaritan. Wikimedia Commons

On this last day of September, which is National Suicide Prevention Month, I wish to share some thoughts about suicide.

Suicide may be more common than you think. Of 129 forensic examinations of death by Whatcom County Medical Examiner Gary Goldfogel in 2018, one-third were deaths by suicide. (Bellingham Herald, 9/13/2019)

I will say that if you read the obituaries in the Bellingham Herald, you’d have no idea of the number of deaths due to suicide. Obituaries almost never mention the cause of death in this case, and this is understandable to me. The pain of survivors is intense, and they may want space to grieve apart from public exposure. There may also be the residual effect of the stigma attached to suicide in the past, when the church was more quick to moralize and pass judgment, and when there was less awareness of the mental health issues that give rise to suicidal thoughts.

Those who commit suicide have come to a place where their emotional, psychological and spiritual resources no longer are enough to head off despair. Those of us who are believers in Christ have every reason to entrust them to a compassionate and faithful God who will continue to do for them greater things than we could ask or imagine. People who take their lives or attempt to do so deserve our support, love, prayer, and compassion, and our effort to equip ourselves to do what we can to prevent suicide.

What is the position of the Episcopal Church on Suicide? The General Convention meeting in 2000 approved a resolution as follows:

We affirm our belief that, as St. Paul teaches (Romans 8:39), "Nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

  1. We pledge ourselves to collaborate with other religious bodies and secular agencies in educating ourselves to recognize and minister more appropriately to those among us who are especially at risk of suicide as well as those who are impacted by the suicide of others; and

  2. We urge that all levels of the Episcopal Church, parochial, diocesan, and national, accord high priority to the prevention of suicide in prayers and programming.

What can we do?

We can support friends or loved ones or family members who have recently experienced the loss of a spouse or son or daughter or other relative. They need time and space to grieve, and if they desire it, someone to share their grief with who will listen compassionately and lovingly without the need to “fix” the situation.

We can learn to recognize the signs that we or someone else may be at risk of suicide. The American Federation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) will help us do this.

Our role is also to know how to help someone else who may be at risk of suicide. Again, the AFSP offers guidance:

Have an honest conversation

If you think someone is thinking about suicide, assume you are the only one who will reach out. Here’s how to talk to someone who may be struggling with their mental health.

  1. Talk to them in private

  2. Listen to their story

  3. Tell them you care about them

  4. Ask directly if they are thinking about suicide

  5. Encourage them to seek treatment or to contact their doctor or therapist

  6. Avoid debating the value of life, minimizing their problems or giving advice

If a person says they are considering suicide

I hope these comments are helpful to all who read them. I am grateful to those who have taught me from their own experience about suicide. May God help us all to be God’s compassion in this world.