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EDITORIAL: The church’s role in suicide prevention

In South Carolina, a distraught campus ministry student texted classmates and informed them of his plans to kill himself. A minister rushed to the student’s apartment and helped save his life.

In Florida, a teenager confided his suicidal thoughts to a youth minister. As a result, the student got into counseling. Months later, he stood up and testified to God’s power to help people at their lowest points.

In both cases, attentive Christians helped prevent the tragic loss of life.

In a feature story, The Christian Chronicle focuses on an Oregon community’s experience with suicide as a way of highlighting the bigger issue.

Along with that insight, we offer a few additional suggestions from members and leaders interviewed by the Chronicle:

• Know your church family.

“People trust people they have relationships with, and it starts there,” said Michael Johnson, a member of the Bristol Road Church of Christ in Flint, Mich., whose father died by suicide. “Nobody can walk in a room and say, ‘Hey, what are you struggling with?’ and get answers, because people want to be understood.

“They want to know you have been where they are, that you aren’t going to judge them, that you can humanize yourself and bring down the walls and relate to them. Only then will people open up.”

• Take threats seriously.

“Listen and be understanding,” said Steven Gaines, associate minister for young adults and college students at the Central Church of Christ in Spartanburg, S.C. “Find out the person’s location, and call the police if you think the person will try suicide. Go to the person, and take someone with you (as support and witness).

“Even if you think it’s an empty threat, recognize that the person needs your attention. Ask why the person feels like suicide. Help the person talk through the pros and cons.

“Try to restore meaning to the person’s life. Get the person’s promise that he or she will not hurt himself or herself. If the person won’t make that promise, call the police!”

• Recognize your limits.

“For the most part, I think preachers, elders or whoever must learn to recognize the limits of their professional competence,” said Keith Ellis, minister of the Enterprise Church of Christ in Alabama and a licensed marriage and family therapist. “I recommend that churches create relationships with good mental health professionals to refer to.

“In my practice, when one is actively suicidal, I always recommend and facilitate hospitalization and stabilization. It is not true that ‘if people talk about it, they are not going to do it.’”

On a topic as complex — and serious — as suicide, it’s impossible for a single article or editorial to cover the subject in a comprehensive, all-encompassing way.
Yet we hope that this month’s coverage may serve as a starting point for Chronicle readers — ministers, elders and others — to pursue more research, study and training.

Lives depend on it.

Do you need help? Know someone who does? The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number, 1-800-273-TALK(8255) can connect you to a certified crisis center near you.

  • Feedback
    Great article on suicide.
    Bill Sheppard
    Murrieta, CA
    Temecula, ca
    October, 7 2011

Filed under: Editorial Staff Reports suicide suicide prevention

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