04 Dec Suicide Prevention: Reflections from a Pastor’s Wife
“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139:11-12 (NIV)
When my husband became a volunteer chaplain with the Lee’s Summit Police Department in January of 2016, one of his first calls was to the scene of the suicide of a teenage girl. Since then, he’s been on the scene of a dozen suicides, and he is not the only police chaplain in the city. The sheer number of police calls he goes on that are related to suicide has opened our eyes to the prevalence of suicide in our community and in American culture.
Recently, our hometown of Lee’s Summit was in the news when a high school girl took her own life inside the bathroom of her school. A week later, there was another suicide from the same school, and a couple of weeks after that, another teen made an attempt. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages, the second leading cause of death for teens, and we’ve all heard of the high suicide rate among veterans. Each year, 44,193 Americans die by suicide. Statistics tell us that the suicide rate is rapidly increasing, currently at 121 suicides daily, and it is estimated that for each suicide there are an additional 25 attempts.
The subject of suicide is complicated. There are multiple risk factors and warning signs. Prevention begins with recognizing the warning signs and taking them seriously. A suicidal person may or may not ask for help, but if you are aware of the warning signs, you can help save a life. Recently, pastor and author Carey Nieuwhof interviewed Jarrid Wilson, who shared how he became depressed after an injury in high school that changed the course of his future. Even after gaining the courage to tell a trusted youth leader, he felt that he wasn’t heard. What followed was a struggle with suicidal thoughts and depression. Wilson eventually got the help he needed and now works as a pastor and advocate for people struggling with depression.
Here are Wilson’s insights (taken from careynieuwhof.com) for both those struggling with depression, as well as those who want to help:
- “If you are suffering alone with anxiety and depression, you must find community.
God doesn’t want you to suffer in silence. He doesn’t want you to suffer at all. The moment you admit your hurt God can begin the healing process, but first you have to be willing to take down the wall you’re hiding behind.
You cannot find relief from this on your own. Connecting with God through time, prayer and scripture combined with pastoral care, counseling and community will help relieve the burden.”
- “The church can be a support to those in need of hope simply by acknowledging the issue.
Mental health isn’t just a personal issue. It’s a spiritual issue and the church must be available to support people struggling with anxiety and depression. If the church is to be a hope in the world to those who feel hopeless, more must be done to remove the stigma of depression. It shouldn’t take a ton of effort. Simply acknowledging the issue and being available with love and support can save lives.”
- “There are responses to avoid when someone opens up to you about their inner struggles.
When a person with depression admits what he’s feeling inside, he’s sharing what is 100% truth to him and looking for a safe place to be heard. Don’t question, downplay or minimize someone’s personal feelings, and never assume suicidal thoughts aren’t serious. Sometimes all the person needs in that moment is someone to listen and affirm that he is loved and his life matters.”
In addition, if there is someone in your family who is struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, you need to get help as well. Don’t try to do this alone. None of us on our own can do anything, but with God, nothing is impossible (Mark 10:27). Allow Him to surround you with His presence and His people, and seek professional counseling for yourself as well as your loved one.
If you want to know how you can help, here are some starting points:
- Familiarize yourself with the symptoms and risk factors for suicide. There are links listed on this page. You can also listen to Jarrid Wilson’s podcast to hear a testimony of someone who’s been there.
- Pray. You may think this is too simplistic, but if you listen to God’s guidance and prompting, He will bring you opportunities for ministry.
- Be available. Be willing to interrupt your life in order to help someone find professional and lasting help. Don’t brush someone off, but be willing to walk alongside them.
- Get more intensive training through QPR Training.
Catherine Nelson is wife to Kip (Lee’s Summit Campus Pastor at Legacy Christian Church), mom to Grace, Grant, and Garrett, and works as a Research Assistant for Reggie Epps.