faith in action

Clergy have a role in suicide prevention

Clergy often do not recognize it, but they can and do play a significant role in both saving souls and also saving lives.

Nearly 45,000 Americans die by suicide every year and frequently do so feeling alone and like a burden to those who love them most. We rarely think of faith communities as we would a crisis center, but they can be for those who are struggling and looking to those who provide them spiritual support and nurturance for answers.

The Action Alliance’s National Weekend of Prayer for Faith, Hope, & Life was held Sept. 7 - 9, 2018. It was an opportunity for faith communities to include in their regular weekly gatherings a time to focus on those who may be suicidal, have lost someone to suicide, or are at risk.

While these dates have past, honoring the goals of increasing support and a sense of belonging is something church can do all year long. We can help promote hope, resiliency and recovery not just in September (National Suicide Prevention Month) but everyday.

For a large proportion of individuals in the U.S., a faith leader is the first person they turn to in a crisis — often, before mental health providers, crisis services, friends or family members. Unfortunately, faith leaders often have little training in responding to a mental health crisis and even less in helping members who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and urges.

In faith communities that provide mental health-focused ministries, one gap remains the lack of attention to suicide risk. The Action Alliance’s Faith Communities Task Force aims to change that by equipping faith leaders and churches with resources and inspiring them to engage in suicide prevention efforts.

The task force encourages faith leaders to say prayers that include each of these three messages: 1) an acknowledgment that the pain felt by the struggling individual is real, 2) reassurance that they are not alone, and 3) expressions of hope: that through faith and with the support of others in the community, there is a path toward a better life in the future. A guide for these prayers was developed specifically for the National Weekend of Prayer for Faith, Hope, & Life, but can be used year-round. Additional resources, such as bulletin inserts, template sermons, resources and critical life-saving information are accessible on the Faith.Hope.Life Campaign website.

Do your part to encourage faith communities to pledge to be part of this annual movement. If we are ever to address suicide fully, every member of our community must be part of the solution.

The National Weekend of Prayer is an initiative of the Faith Communities Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

Dr. Melinda Moore, the co-chair of the The Faith Communities Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention wrote this article.