I wonder where you’d go if you were struggling with thoughts of suicide?
The pub perhaps, somewhere you can be anonymous and drown your sorrows? A doctor?
The church might not rank highly as a place that would offer hope and comfort.
You might think of stories you’ve heard of denied final resting places or condemnation to the seventh circle of hell.
But eleven years ago, on the night I first considered it, the church was exactly where I wanted to be.
Depression had wheezed the hope from me and at just fifteen I’d had enough and so I went to the place I’d called home for my entire life.
On the dark December night, as I sat and cried my way through a midweek service I found myself surrounded, comforted and encouraged to give life another try.
Fast forward a decade and it’s now part of my job to help churches be places of welcome and understanding for those with mental health conditions; because once upon a time the Church was at the forefront of mental health care; the oldest mental health hospital in the world is named after the birthplace of the centre of our faith, Jesus, was born.
At its’ best, I’ve found church to be the people who hoped for me when I couldn’t do it for myself, that stayed my hand by showing a different way. The church, as with the rest of the world, cannot ignore suicide because someone dies by suicide every forty seconds.
Sometimes numbers can lose their meaning – we hear them and can hardly begin to imagine what it means in reality for those affected.
Millions of people who need, more than anything, something to hold onto. Hope.
Hope is not found in claiming that suicide is the unforgivable sin (it’s not but that’s a matter for another piece).
It’s not found in telling people to pull themselves together, or banishing them from our churches and communities.
It’s found in allowing people to give voice to their darkest and scariest thoughts.
The thoughts that provide both solace and devastation.
Solace, because it is a way to escape unimaginable pain.
We need to allow people to say the hardest words; because as unnatural as it may seem, speaking about suicide can actually help someone to avoid acting upon their feelings.
In the Bible, Elijah cries “Take my life, I’ve had enough” and the response is the provision of food, sleep and a listening ear.
In an ancient story we see a thoroughly modern approach to facing suicide with compassion and practicality – we might call it a holistic approach.
And as we mark World Suicide Prevention Day, it’s an approach that we can put into practice in our communities, because the church doesn’t need to be the last place to seek solace amidst thoughts of suicide, it can be somewhere which holds out hope in the darkest of nights.
In order to do that, we have to speak of suicide with compassion, not condemnation.
This piece first appeared at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/rachael-newham/where-would-you-go-if-you_b_17916406.html