Monday, September 12, 2011

Suicide Prevention

My gym workout partner in Halifax was a member of the congregation I was serving at the time. One morning this normally upbeat guy showed up obviously shaken and ashen. The day before he received news that his brother had taken his own life. His brother's teen son had discovered the body in the basement of the family home. Although his sibling lived in Ontario and they weren't all that close my parishioner was traumatized by this loss and we had a number of conversations after his return from the funeral.

I didn't realize until late on Saturday that September 10th was World Suicide Prevention Day. I would have commented then if I had known because suicide has affected many people to whom I have been a pastor and some of them are readers of this blog. The second funeral I conducted as a young minister was for a bright, talented teen who took his life only metres from where the rest of his family was watching television. A cheerful elderly woman sank into depression after the death of her beloved husband and after months of efforts to console and support her she killed herself. There is no readily identifiable pattern for suicide and often no obvious forewarning.

It is estimated that 3,000 people take their own lives each day around the world. Each day. We know that the rate of suicide for aboriginal people in Canada is up to ten times higher than the national average. We have heard of several retired pro hockey tough guys who have taken their lives in recent months It's so sad that we are reluctant to speak openly about this painful reality until after the losses.

In the past the church was a hindrance rather than a help in addressing suicide, but attitudes have changed to reflect God's grace as well as Christ's hope for those in the confusion and despair of mental illness.This is not the first time I have raised this subject, but I would appreciate your thoughts. Should suicide be addressed from the pulpit? In seminars? Do you think the stigma has passed in our culture? What work still needs to be done?


johnny said...

Yes, I absolutely believe suicide should be addressed in the church. It should be addressed in schools too.

One never knows what is happening with others emotionally, and by having less of a stigma attached and generating a more open atmosphere about talking about it, it could make a difference. Three thousand lives a day is beyond tragic.

dmy said...

Yes, I believe we should be addressing suicide in church along with other subjects that may have been or still are considered taboo e.g. physical abuse in relationships and drug dependency. I was in my late thirties when my Dad committed suicide and I really thought I was handling it well and dealing ok until 4 years later when my brother's suicide brought it all home again. I went for suicide survivor counselling through one of the local funeral homes and it really helped me deal with the anger and loss and also address the well meaning comments like "it is the cowards way out". It is a mental illness and awareness and education are key to understanding and prevention. As far as the stigma goes, like Dr. Phil says when it comes to talking about tough issues that make us uncomfortable we all just have to "build a bridge and get over it". Several St. Paul's members reached out to us at the time and were very supportative and the best listeners along with our minister Nancy.