Despite its frequency, suicide remains a taboo subject in the majority of Churches. And it is costing lives. A new LifeWay study found that third of churchgoers have lost a family member or a close acquaintance to suicide, yet few people seek help through the Church before taking their own lives. Much of this has to do with the unhealthy stigma that still surrounds mental illness in the Christian community.
Despite 80% of senior pastors declaring that their church can intervene with someone who is suicidal, just 4 percent of churchgoers who lost a close friend or family member to suicide say church leaders were even aware of their loved one’s struggles. “Despite their best intentions, churches don’t always know how to help those facing mental health struggles,” said LifeWay Research executive director Scott McConnell of the new study, which surveyed over 1000 pastors and a similar number of churchgoers.
Tragically, Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans ages 15 to 34 and the fourth leading cause of death for those 35 to 44. Each year, 45,000 Americans die by suicide. For every suicide, there are 25 attempts. This is absolutely heartbreaking and must spur the Church into action. We have to rid our congregations and leadership of stigma and provide adequate mental health services.
Here’s another issue: more than half of churchgoers say people in their community are more likely to gossip about a suicide than to help a victim’s family.
“Suicide in our culture has for too long been a topic we are afraid to discuss,” Tim Clinton, president of the American Association of Christian Counselors, says in the study’s report.
“Our prayer is that this research will start a national conversation on addressing the suicide pandemic in our nation, and we started by assessing the church’s perspective on and response to the issue. We need a clinically responsive approach that gives the gift of life back to those who feel filled with emptiness.”