by Jessica Wallace
I was recently asked why talking about suicide loss can often feel like gossiping, as if we are sharing information about a family that we aren’t supposed to. Like other tragedies linked to mental illness and addiction, suicide loss carries stigmas about the individual who died by suicide and their family, stigmas that are often misleading and not at all true.
All loss is hard, but one of the hardest losses to endure is suicide loss. It’s tragic, heartbreaking, confusing, and coupled with trauma, can often lead to complicated grief. The stigma of suicide creates barriers for families impacted by suicide loss to receive the support and care they need because often those around them are not comfortable talking about it.
But we should be talking about it. We should be talking about how hard it is for a family to recover from suicide loss, about the lack of support for individuals living with depression or other mental health issues, and we definitely should be talking about how to recognize someone who is hurting and what each of us can do to help. Part of the reason it can feel shameful to discuss suicide is because we don’t know what to say, so we don’t say anything. But there’s a better way. There is hope.
Myths Surrounding Suicide
From 2000-2016, the rate of suicide in the US increased 30% (Hedegaard, Curtin, & Warner, 2018). Locally, the overall suicide rates in Benton and Franklin counties are higher than the state average (20.11 per 100,000 and 17.1 per 100,000 respectively*). Numbers aside, many of us know someone who has personally been affected by suicide. How do we help those who are hurting? How do we bring hope and help to those who need it? We can start by dismantling the stigmas and myths that surround suicide and bring light to this often misunderstood mental health crisis.
One of the biggest myths about suicide is that asking someone if they are thinking about suicide will encourage suicide attempts. This has been proven to not be true (Gould et al., 2005). For those who would still be hesitant, I would pose the question, “what does it say if you don’t ask?” By not asking the question, are we really communicating that we care about that person? If they are showing signs of depression or saying or doing things that concern you, how does not asking convey care and support?
However, the way we ask about suicide is also important. This is where quality training can help someone know how to address the issue directly and ask in a way that is clear and kind. We all hope that we will never know someone struggling with suicidal thoughts, but statistics tell us that likely isn’t true. You never know when you might encounter someone who is struggling, it could be a coworker, friend, small group member, or even a family member. Knowing the signs to look for, appropriate ways to intervene, and resources to help are all important to helping prevent suicide and getting people the help they need.
Loving Like Jesus
Jesus did not shy away from the hard topics. He challenged people’s beliefs about forgiveness, sin, and loving others. Jesus embraced those who were hurting. He reached out to those who society at the time deemed unreachable, and gave them hope. Hope is the beacon of light that hurting individuals need in a time of crisis. As followers of Christ, we carry that same hope. There is hope. Hope for those struggling with suicidal thoughts, hope for the family grieving a loved one who died by suicide, and hope for our community to seek to understand suicide and work towards education and training that will help prevent suicide.
A good first step to loving others and helping those who are hurting is to learn more. As a church, Bethel wants to help you become educated and equipped in this area. Join us on February 8th for our next Equipped to Care
event on Suicide Awareness & Prevention. We will hear from Dr. Kay Bruce, Counseling Director at Western Seminary and certified suicide prevention trainer. She will be presenting a high-quality, proven suicide prevention method
and sharing how to care for families impacted by suicide loss.
There is hope. There is help. Let’s talk about it. We are willing to start the conversation to learn more about suicide awareness and prevention. Will you join us?
*Statistics reported by Benton Franklin Community Health Alliance, Community Health Needs Assessment
Gould MS, Marrocco FA, Kleinman M, et al. Evaluating Iatrogenic Risk of Youth Suicide Screening Programs: A Randomized Controlled Trial. JAMA. 2005;293(13):1635–1643. doi:10.1001/jama.293.13.1635
Hedegaard H, Curtin SC, Warner M. Suicide rates in the United States continue to increase. NCHS Data Brief, no 309. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2018.