Pastors, You Need to Know How to Spot Suicide Risks

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Can you see the signs when a member of your congregation is really hurting?
Can you see the signs when a member of your congregation is really hurting? (iStock photo)

He was a business acquaintance and a good friend. We did not commonly spend time together outside of necessary meetings, but when we did there was a mutual enjoyment of each other's company.

From the outside looking in, his life seemed to be perfect. The father of two children, he had a marriage that seemed to be well established and a good career. I had no idea of what was behind the curtain.

He and his wife were having some real issues that stemmed from financial pressure. At dinner one night he made some comments about being depressed and gave a slight peek at some of the difficult issues he was facing. As someone who had struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past, I should have recognized the warning signs. Although it crossed my mind, I just couldn't bring myself to believe that he was the type of man who would ever end his life.

I was completely devastated when I got the call a few weeks later that he had hanged himself in his bathroom. The screams of his wife through the telephone will never be forgotten nor will the guilt that I carry for not being more proactive. Sometimes it's incredibly difficult to see how dark the tunnel is that many people are trying to navigate.

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Unfortunately, the situation I just described is not an anomaly. There are multitudes just like my friend who are silently suffocating in a bubble of regret, guilt and depression they do not know how to escape. The past, impossible to understand, is too difficult to face, and the future is viewed as nothing more than an inescapable, hopeless, never-ending torture chamber.

Maybe, just maybe, I hurt and understand because I already walked the same grueling trail when I was 21 years old—a time when my greatest fear wasn't dying; it was living. A painful season when it appeared more unreasonable to just exist than it did to put a gun to my head.

Thankfully, God had other plans for me. When my roommate who was supposed to be at work unexpectedly came home, my plans were thwarted, and I was set on a path that eventually led me to hope through a real and personal relationship with Christ.

There are many others who need this same hope I found. Suicide is a pandemic that affects the young and old, rich and poor, Christian and non-Christian community. No one is immune.

Unfortunately, suicide is widely misunderstood by pastors, educators, school workers, family and friends—the very people who could offer true hope. It is important to become aware of the myths surrounding suicide so the church can help provide the truth and help the suffering individuals most in need:

Myth No. 1: Talking about suicide should be avoided, because it puts the idea in a person's head.

Truth: Knowing others are struggling with similar issues and hearing their escape enables individuals to cope. It is very comforting to know that other people understand and are overcoming similar feelings.

Myth No. 2: People who talk about suicide don't commit suicide.

Truth: Most people who actually commit suicide have already attempted it or displayed tendencies in the past in forms such as cutting or making comments. Study has shown that those who talk about suicide are more likely to act on those discussions.

Myth No. 3: The majority of suicides happen without indicators.

Truth: Most often trouble has previously been expressed through words, actions or attitudes. There are almost always numerous warning signs. However, sometimes they can be difficult to detect.

Myth No. 4: Suicides only happened to certain groups of people like teenagers or elderly people who are terminally ill.

Truth: No one is immune from suicide, and it happens in every demographic group.

Myth No. 5: People who have previously attempted suicide and overcome their thoughts of self-violence are highly unlikely to make the attempt again.

Truth: For many, this was a second or third attempt. Just because someone has overcome thoughts of self-harm does not guarantee they will not encounter similar feelings in the future.

Ultimately, we all need to be compassionate and on alert. An open line of communication, intentional interaction that includes listening, accessibility and sympathizing are the prevalent needs. The use of professional counselors, rehabilitation or even prescribed medicines should never be avoided.

Ultimate healing comes from the Hand of the Great Physician. Dedication to prayer and displaying the love of Christ bring supernatural results and spiritual healing.

Jay Lowder is a full-time evangelist and founder of Jay Lowder Harvest Ministries, an international organization based in Wichita Falls, Texas. He is also the author of Midnight in Aisle 7.

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