From the Hills: Speak Up in the Face of Suicide 

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The United States of America prides itself on being a “land of opportunity.” We are (for the most part) a free people, enjoying “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” as written into our Declaration of Independence. Food is plentiful. Educational opportunities abound. Employment is available for virtually everyone who wants a job; social services are funded for everyone else. 

With so much good in our country, I cannot justify this statistic. Over a hundred thousand Americans will die this year from suicide or “accidental” overdoses. 

A quarter of them will be veterans — let that sink in for a moment. The men and women who fought for your life, have lost the desire to fight for their own.

Mental health practitioners say we need more therapy. Physicians want to prescribe more medication. Addiction specialists insist we need more treatment centers. We probably need all three — but in that moment when someone chooses to take their last breath, it’s too late for therapy, antidepressants, and/or inpatient treatment. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps statistics on suicide. Mental health disorders and substance abuse are the most significant risk factors. Males are 3.7 times more likely to commit suicide than females. Indigenous people are at a significantly higher risk than other ethnic groups. Older adults kill themselves more often than younger people. (The highest suicide rate is non-Caucasian men over age 65 who live in rural communities.)

In the next year, 10 million Americans will contemplate taking their own life. Someone you love has thought about it, is thinking about it, or will think about it. (Maybe that person is you.) 

What will you say to them? What will you say to yourself? 

Every time I hear that someone I know has committed suicide, it rocks me. Should I have known he or she was hurting that badly? Could I have stopped them? Where was God in that person’s life on that particular day? 

God is the Creator, Jesus is Savior, and the Holy Spirit is our comforter. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Unfortunately, when you are hungry, angry, chemically imbalanced, lonely, addicted, or just plain tired, a few words of scripture can feel like more of an insult than a relief. Practical, tangible help is needed.

The Director of Foursquare Chaplains International, Jason Reynolds, spoke about the multi-faceted pain people often experience when threatening suicide. He asks two questions: “Are you tired of living? Or are you tired of living like this?” Most people will say, “I don’t want to live like this anymore.”  

That opens a conversation to identify the problem and set up specific need-based services: safe housing, chemical dependency treatment, food and clothing banks, public financial aid, or even a cup of hot coffee and a listening ear. 

If someone you know is expressing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, it is an emergency. How you respond is a matter of life or death. Don’t know what to say or do? Call the crisis line and ask for their recommendations. He or she may not be able to make that call on their own behalf.

One of the most important things I have learned is that God doesn’t expect me to exceed my education, experience and wisdom. Suicide intervention is one area where I always partner (or punt) to professionals. 

In the time it took you to read these 600 words, two more Americans will end their lives. 

Seek help right away if you or someone you know is experiencing signs of committing suicide. (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  800-273-8255)

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Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at sylviap7@comcast.net. 

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