Every 17 minutes, someone in the United States attempts suicide; each day approximately 86 of them will succeed. Some statistics estimate that suicide will claim over a million lives across the globe each year. In our country suicide is the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 15-24 and the tenth among all age groups.
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. It is important for Christians to discuss the vicious killer that is making its way through our communities at an alarming rate. It’s important for us to consider what we’re doing to help those around us who might be silently fighting for their own lives. It’s important for us to open dialogue, to begin conversations, about how we can bring the gospel of hope into the despair wrought by mental illness.
So here’s four practical ways we can help prevent suicide in our communities:
1) Ask Sincere Questions
Sincerity takes time and intentionality; it cannot be scheduled or rehearsed. When we interact with people, when we ask “how’s your family?” or “how was your weekend?” if we really care, then we need to ask with the space to hear them say: “Not too good actually, I spent the whole weekend crying” or “My family is going through a really rough time and I’m really struggling to see a way out of this.”
We need to ask sincere questions and take the time to wait for real answers. Everything happens so fast. We walk by tens, hundreds possibly thousands of people each day. How many of them do we interact with, actually listen too? We need to make a habit of putting away our phones, forgetting our agendas, looking people in the eye and asking: “how are you?”. Then we need to wait for the answer.
Because unless we allow the time and space for conversation, for openness, we create communities where despair goes unnoticed, where hurt is greeted by silence and pain is dealt with alone.
2) Don’t Make A Mockery Of Suicide
It’s alarming how often we resort to saying things like “the traffic was so bad I wanted to kill myself!” or making the motion of putting a gun to our head and blowing our brains out when discussing a recent exam, conversation with an ex, or perhaps the latest sports game. But these gestures and expressions make light of something that is a serious issue for many people around us.
There are ways to express our frustration with work, our hatred for hearing Ke$ha on the radio and how bad our Monday morning went beyond mockingly tying a noose around our necks and pulling it tight. This not only discourages open discussion for those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts but also makes the topic of suicide itself a joke.
When someone is struggling with the idea of suicide and sees another person joking about it, this closes doors for conversation and openness. Furthermore, as the number of suicides increases, the number of families and friends whose lives have been ravaged by the suicide of a loved one is also increasing. Joking about suicide trivializes a struggle many people around us are experiencing without us realizing it.
We shouldn’t make a mockery of suicide, we should take a stand against it.
3) Don’t Trivialize Depression
Thanks to increased medical research, one aspect of suicide and depression that is becoming increasingly clear is that mental illness is just that: an illness.
Depression is not something you can just “snap out of” anymore than you can up and decide to be healed from cancer. And it’s certainly not something that’s just spiritual; there are often emotional and physical aspects that are well beyond anyone’s control. You can’t just take a pill and be better; you can’t just pray and be healed.
What is painful and destructive to the prevention of suicide is an attitude of “well, if you’d only try harder/didn’t take things so personally/weren’t so serious/cared about others/had more faith… then you’d be okay.” This attitude trivializes real pain and can close someone off from feeling safe enough to get the help they need.
If you know someone struggling with depression and you’re not sure what to say, then just stick with: “how can I help?”
As long as you mean it.
4) Understand That Suicide Does Not End The Pain, It Just Passes It On
If you are personally struggling with thoughts of depression or suicide, the first thing you need to hear is this: I am so sorry for the pain you are experiencing. Even though I’m just some random blogger from behind a computer screen, I’m truly sorry.
But suicide will not end that pain. It will simply pass the pain on to those who love you, who will be left behind when you are gone. Even worse, it magnifies it.
I say this not to guilt you, but to remind you of the truth: suicide is not the answer. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, if ending your life is something you are considering, then you need to know that there are healthy ways to cope with the pain. There’s help out there, there are people who are care. You may feel trapped right now, you may feel abandoned, hurt, alone, and hopeless– but you’re not.
What’s more is there is an end to the pain, though not in this life; it’s in the hope of a life to come. And this hope is not a coping mechanism for people who simply cannot get by. Rather, it’s a shining light at the end of the tunnel for those who recognize that this life is beautiful, terrible, horrible, wonderful, shitty, brilliant and awful all at the same time.
Though the pain might not end in this life, I beg you not to end this life yourself. I beg you to find people who will help you. Then, when you’re ready, turn around and help others. Because through this we can all find the brilliant and beautiful that is out there; we can all find hope.
Through this we can all prevent suicide and preserve hope for the eternal tomorrow that will one day come.
Resources for Suicide Prevention: