There’s good news and there’s bad news.
The good news is that suicide rates overall have fallen, in thanks partly to the concerted effort of organisations like the Samaritans and the work of many organisations promoting mental health and encouraging a national conversation about suicide and how it can be prevented.
And yet there is still one section of society that hasn’t seen the number of people taking their own lives fall.
The number of young people taking their own lives is at its highest rate since records began.
177 young people lost their lives to suicide last year; with countless more making attempts on their own lives and experiencing suicidal thoughts.
The reasons are many and varied; from the increasingly pressurised school system (in particular the news GCSE’s) the lack of time spent online, the lack of adequate mental health services, to the endless bad news cycle which means our young people are more aware than ever of the world’s problems.
But, as psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison notes:
“Each way to suicide is its own: intensely private, unknowable, and terrible. Suicide will have seemed…the last and best of bad possibilities, and any attempt by the living to chart this final terrain of life can be only a sketch, maddeningly incomplete.”
As unknowable as a completed suicide can be; there is hope, because the language we use and the response we are able to offer to those struggling with suicidal thoughts can save lives.
Now, more than ever we need to #SpeakofSuicide for and with our young people.
When I experienced suicidal thoughts in my teens and later went on to try and take my own life; the language around suicide expressed disdain.
It was referred to as doing something silly or stupid.
There is nothing silly or stupid about suicide.
Suicide is hopelessness.
And hopelessness needs to be heard.
We have to allow our young people to voice their desperation, because by listening, we might just bring hope.
Historically, the church’s response has been to add shame rather than share hope.
But the gospel doesn’t abandon people when they are at their most desperate. It confronts and comforts, echoing the promise in Isaiah 42:3 to God’s exiled people:
“He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged.” (New Living Translation)
We need to provide listening ears for our young people, to advocate for them and encourage them – not just on World Suicide Prevention Day – but every day.