At church this Sunday we were reminded that this week is Suicide Prevention week and actually today – according to the IASP (International Association for Suicide Prevention) – is World Suicide Prevention Day.
And I have to tell you that my own personal experience is that very often the albeit well meaning responses of Christians, just as with many other folk, concerning suicide can be both so very unhealthy and so very unhelpful for those of us who do struggle with suicidal thoughts.
Now before continuing, let me just make this statement of fact. I currently attend a church here in Ireland where their approach to the whole subject of suicide is generally extremely good and extremely; loving, understanding, informed and helpful. But sadly this can be the exception to the rule.
So let’s look at the facts… (The following bullet-pointed facts were supplied by the IASP working in official relations with the World Health Organization.)
- Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the world, especially among young people.
(This is something which crosses all boundaries of; age, race, colour, economic status and creed.)
- Nearly one million people worldwide die by suicide each year. This corresponds to one death by suicide every 40 seconds.
(This staggering figure makes it one of the most important issues facing mankind today…)
- The number of lives lost each year through suicide exceeds the number of deaths due to homicide and war combined.
(Either as individuals or indeed as members of churches and faith based groups, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye or be misinformed concerning this issue.)
- These staggering figures do not include nonfatal suicide attempts which occur much more frequently than deaths by suicide.
- A large proportion of people who die by suicide suffer from mental illness.
(Not everyone who suffers from mental illness will contemplate suicide just as not everyone who contemplates suicide will have suffered from mental illness.)
- Recent estimates suggest that the disease burden caused by mental illnesses will account for 25% of the total disease burden in the world in the next two decades, making it the most important category of ill-health (more important than cancer or heart diseases.)
(Any church or faith based organization wishing to minister love, support and hope in this world must therefore be aware of this issue.)
- A significant number of those with mental illnesses who die by suicide do not contact health or social services near the time of their death. In many instances, there are insufficient services available to assist those in need at times of crisis.
(Which again makes it a fundamental issue for churches and faith based organizations and this in turn makes it essential that churches and faith based organizations are both aware of the issue and indeed develop proper and healthy approaches to this issue.)
The facts are staggering aren’t they? Add to these the stigma that is all too often attached to those who suffer from mental illness or suicidal thoughts and trust me you seemingly get a very bleak picture indeed.
But there is hope! I truly believe that and I truly believe that the church has a very definite place in providing that hope.
As individual Christians and as Christian churches, I believe that, we have a very definite place in fighting both the stigma attached to mental illness and those who suffer from suicidal thoughts and to offering that hope that I speak of.
Not by offering cliches or well-worn snippets of scripture, and definitely not by offering judgmental or condemnatory remarks. But but offering love, understanding, support and encouragement to fight for the right to live and to live a life worth living.
As I said towards the beginning of this piece, I am a Christian and I am also someone who suffers from mental illness and suicidal thoughts as part of that mental illness. In truth my first suicide attempt was before I had even reached teenage years. My faith in Christ, which whilst I fully believe can for some provide total healing from both mental illness and suicidal thoughts, has not, thus far, removed them for me. BUT, and there is really no getting away from this, I am now some 51 years old and still here and still believing in Christ and still so very thankful that He has by the grace of God brought me through thus far.
Can Christ heal us – even from mental illness and suicidal ideology? Absolutely I believe He can! Is it guaranteed this side of heaven? No I do not believe that it is. And for me to say otherwise would be to lie to you and to God and I will not do that. My faith has not excluded me from mental illness or suicidal thoughts. BUT it, along with the love and support of my fellow believers, has brought me through both of them so far. And I praise and thank God for that.
Is there a place for the mentally ill and those who suffer with suicidal thoughts within the life of the modern church? Absolutely there is! But here is a better question for you – is there a place for the church within the lives of the mentally ill and those who suffer from suicidal thoughts?
Again I say there is and again I say that that place will only ever be truly secured, prayerfully, honestly and lovingly!