For too long, the work of suicide prevention has been thought to be the preserve of a few, highly trained individuals.
But with 800,000 people dying by suicide each year, and countless more making attempts on their own life; suicide prevention is everyones business.
From schools to prisons, workplaces to churches, we need to work together with health services to prevent suicide and share hope.
Suicide prevention needs to be gentle, honest and filled with hope, and it brings to my mind the story recounted in Mark 2, when four brave men dug through a roof and lowered their friend to Jesus.
These men were so desperate to bring their friend into contact with the healing power and presence of Jesus that in the heat of the Capernaum day they dug through someone’s roof to beat the crowds and sit at Jesus’ feet. It was an astonishing act of friendship; not least because I doubt the owner of the house was particularly enamoured with them in the aftermath. It demanded that the four friends worked together, using their own skills and a great deal of trust between friends to lower the paralysed man, it certainly wasn’t a one man job. And while we probably won’t have to dig through ceilings for our friends, by its very nature true friendship breaks down stigma.”
John Swinton and Jean Vanier write in Mental Health: Inclusive church resource:
‘The call of Jesus is to hear the cries for love and to move forwards in friendship and in perseverant love; a mode of friendship which destroys stigma and opens up space for all of us to be fully human even in the midst of our wildest storms.’
The experience of suicidality is a brutal storm which leaves a wreckage of relationships, hope and security in its wake; but that is exactly what the gospel offers us.
A relationship with the living God and the community of His people, hope that even the most tragic end of a life is not the end of the story and security that we are loved more deeply than we can ever imagine.
There will inevitably be times when it is vital that we seek medical help and psychiatric intervention, but as the church, our members can and should be holding out our hands to walk alongside those is despair and be prepared to break through the ceilings of today.
As we’ve mentioned many(!) times before, the first ceiling to break through is that of language. We have to move away from the language of criminal justice when we are speaking of suicide and despair.
Secondly, offer to be a voice for the voiceless. It might be appropriate to offer to attend care meetings or doctors appointments so that people are able to feel confident in how their care is organised.
Thirdly, make space to listen to those who are struggling. So often we can rush in with advice before listening to people’s story! Being prepared to hear someone’s despair can provide great hope and solace.
Fourthly, allow people to bring their rawest emotions to God in prayer and worship. As theologian J Todd Billings, who is living with incurable cancer writes in his memoir “Rejoicing in Lament.”
“When worship expresses only “victory,” it can unintentionally suggest that the broken and the lonely and the hurting have no place here. The message can be, “If you want to fit in, first get your emotions in order so that you can be positive, and then go to worship.” But the Psalms help show us that bottling up or trying to “fix” those emotions ourselves is not the right way.”
Psalm 40 declares:
“I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.”
This is our prayer for World Mental Health Prayer, that those who are living in the mud and mire of mental illness or suicidal thoughts may feel able to call on God and be given a firm place to stand.