Thursday, September 10, 2020

Acknowledging Suicide Prevention

 Events - Survivors of Suicide (SoS)

This is World Suicide Prevention Day and we can be mindful of all those who feel that life is no longer worth living, those who feel rejected by others and desperate, those whose sense of isolation has been deepened by the pandemic. 

Since I realized that this was Suicide Prevention Day I have been recalling members of congregations who chose to end their lives and those who loved them, and still do. Within days of beginning my ministry in outport Newfoundland a bright, talented teen who could well have been gay took his own life and through the years a number of other people made the same choice. Sometimes they had received medical and psychological help, including hospitalization, over extended periods of time, to no avail. Most had supportive families and loving friends, including people in their faith communities. Those supporters  suffered through the struggles of their loved ones and were devastated by their deaths. I've been retired for three years yet I am still experience the heaviness of those losses and my own inability to make a difference with those who sought my support as a Christian minister.  

Today we have the additional challenge of navigating the option of Medical Assistance in Dying. Some choose to end their lives, not out of desperation but because they have exhausted every possibility for recovery and simply desire a peaceful end. One former parishioner chose this option after years of courageously addressing severe illness. She was elderly, but what about young people who want this choice? 

It seems to me that while there are no easy answers when it comes to suicide prevention we can provide a non-judgmental atmosphere of love and hope as Christians. I know that some congregations which pressed the government to let them reopen did so, at least in part. because they wanted to be supportive through worship and other means to those who lived with depression and suicidal thoughts. We need to be honest and open about mental illness and respect the pain many experience, including from our pulpits. 

What in the world is "kayak church?' Read today's Groundling blog to find out.


roger said...

I have mixed feelings about today. Yes, it's important to continue to raise awareness of this tragedy that takes hundreds of lives each year in Canada and from all age groups.

However, as I've mentioned in your blog previously, the system is broken. We have a family member who is chronically depressed and is at a high risk of suicide. Nine psychiatrists later, still a high risk. Two years ago our family member wrote a lengthy suicide note and attempted to take their life, and it was nothing short of a miracle that they survived(I'm being intentionally gender neutral here).

The problem is that mental illness is still not considered in the same vein as other serious medical issues. The lack of follow up and urgency has been shocking.

So yes, let's have the Bell text day and other days to think about suicide, but until the system gets repaired I fear there will be little improvement.

I could go on and on with examples and details of our broken system, but I'll leave it at that.

David Mundy said...

Sadly, Roger, what you describe is the experience of many others, leaving loved ones frustrated and at wit's end. Too often those closest and responsible for care are shut out from information about the suicidal person's diagnosis, and in some cases put in danger because of privacy laws. I would go so far as to suggest that the system isn't broken because there has never been a well thought out, comprehensive system of mental health care in this country. What we have is a patch-work of largely inadequate responses, including expecting police to intervene in situations for which they haven't been trained. It all has to change.

roger said...

Just to follow up, I agree there needs to be more training for police officers in dealing with those suffering from mental illness. I know there are many excellent police officers, and I've seen some of them dealing with such individuals and de-escalating the situation.

Unfortunately, it's an occupation that requires taking control of situations, and in some cases officers try to be authoritative and commanding with mentally ill individuals. That approach can be problematic and in fact escalate the situation.

I think back to one incident back in my uniform days, when I approached a disturbed individual walking in the middle of the highway. It worked out okay, I talked to him like he was my best friend, offered him a "ride" in the police car and took him straight to the hospital. He clearly was a danger to himself. For the entire one hour drive, he spoke non-stop about wanting to kill people who passed us, then wanting to kill me. He also spoke about secretly building a supersonic aircraft for the Air Force. You get the idea.

But I took off my police hat and put my warm and friendly hat on and it worked. I'm not saying this will work in every case, but it worked for me in the dozens of encounters I'd had with mentally ill persons.

David Mundy said...

I agree with you, Roger. I have experienced the compassion and composure of police officers in difficult encounters when we've called them from churches I've served. We tried to reach out for mental health support for delusional or aggressive people at events or in our offices, to no avail. As you were in that situation, the officers who showed up were professional and calm, but we could tell that this was not their comfort zone or area of expertise. I hope our society can do better for the sake of those who are ill and who need support.