I met her at the airport. Within a few minutes, the woman told me, “I’ve been at two funerals in the past two months—and both were from suicide.”
A week later, on World Suicide Prevention Day, megachurch pastor and mental health advocate Jarrid Wilson performed a funeral for a member of his church who died by suicide. Hours later, he was dead—by suicide.
You don’t have to look far—whether in your personal life or on the news—to hear about suicide and see the hurt it causes. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people in the U.S. ages 10-34 and the overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 31 percent since 2001.
It’s not only the act of suicide but also the high numbers of those who have considered it. In the U.S., 4.3 percent of adults, 11.0 percent of those ages 18-25, and 17.2 percent of high schoolers admit to serious thoughts of suicide.
For how much it surrounds us, we are often unaware beforehand. LifeWay Research found that 32 percent of churchgoers have had a close family member or acquaintance take his or her life, yet those churchgoers shared that only 4 percent of church leaders were aware of the issue—and only another 4 percent said fellow church members knew about the situation. In fact, many felt that churches are more likely to respond after a suicide instead of helping before.
So how can we—how can I—switch from reacting to preventing?
It begins with paying attention.
In 1 Corinthians, God tells us that when one part of the body (the people who believe in Jesus) suffers, the rest suffers with it. As we look at the numbers surrounding suicide, it’s obvious that our body must be suffering. However, while church is the place where people can find the best kind of support, it’s often where they fear the most judgment. Out of fear, they don’t share, and then we don’t see it.
This means you and I have an awesome opportunity to change that cycle. So pay attention. Talk to one extra person. Look someone in the eyes. Smile. Pay attention to your words. Be a good listener and a trusted confidante. Help that person find both spiritual and professional counseling.
I’m realistic enough to know, though, that when you pay attention to the people God has placed around you, they still might not admit to their deepest struggles and will claim, “I’m fine.”
Don’t quit. God has plans for you to be his hands and feet and heart in this world. (After all, he has good works planned for you to do.) So ask him to show you where he wants you to be a light. Boldly pray that God leads you to someone who needs you. (And he will. Because he’s really good at answering prayers.)
You know what else? My guess is that when he answers your prayer, he’s really just using you to be the answer to someone else’s prayer for help.
P.S. This is all about being proactive and establishing a relationship. If the situation is urgent, however, and you know someone in crisis mode, be blunt and ask, “Do you have a plan?” If possible, remove the means for them to hurt themselves, whether weapons or pills. If needed, call 911 immediately or reach out to the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
P.P.S. Time of Grace writers and speakers have addressed the topic of suicide a number of times. If you’re looking for more information, here are a few of the messages: Supporting the ones left behind by suicide, 5 video devotions on suicide, talking to your kids about 13 Reasons Why, “13 Reasons Why Not,” “Getting someone off the ledge.”
Linda Buxa is a writer and editor who shares her passion for both Jesus and for mental wellness issues on her Facebook page.