26 Sep Mental Health and Wholeness for All
No matter how or when it happens, the news of someone taking his or her own life is shocking and horrifying. As a society, we have made important strides in mental health education and treatment, but suicide remains greatly stigmatized and misunderstood. The recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have brought this issue to the forefront of public consciousness and discussion which provides all of us with an opportunity to become better educated and equipped to recognize and respond to mental health issues.
Perhaps you have seen the disturbing statistics. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), in 2016 (the most recent statistics available):
- Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people.
- Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.
- There were more than twice as many suicides (44,965) in the United States as there were homicides (19,362).
These numbers are both sobering and staggering. Think of all the publicity that homicide receives, plus all the resources and manpower that are devoted to preventing it. Suicide is twice the public health threat of homicide as measured by death rate, yet receives only a fraction of the attention. Compounding the problem, years of funding cuts have left mental health budgets in many states and local jurisdictions completely inadequate to keep pace with the growing needs within our communities.
It sounds bleak, but that does not mean there is nothing we can do. Specifically, we can start by doing two things: becoming well-versed in the signs of suicide and second, becoming comfortable asking direct questions of people we know and care about. First, the signs. According to the website MentalHealth.gov, here are some of the warning signs of suicide:
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
- Looking for a way to kill oneself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
Particularly when we notice mood and/or behavioral changes, this is an opening to speak about our concerns. “I’ve noticed [this], and I am concerned about you.” It is okay to name what we are seeing. “It seems your darkness/despair/pain/etc, seems to be worse.” And there are the direct questions that may need to be asked: “Have you thought about harming yourself? Are you contemplating suicide?”
We cannot prevent all suicides. We can stay connected to people who are hurting, checking in on them, talking honestly and openly about hard subjects. “Presence” is a powerful tool that should not be lightly dismissed. Holding someone’s hand can be a lifeline. Prayer, too. “May I pray for you?” is a question I ask a lot, before proceeding to speak aloud with God about the situation at hand. (My silent prayers have been flowing long before I ever open my mouth.) Praying for peace and comfort, for love and grace—this is not a magic wand that when waved, solves all problems, but prayed from the heart, these words can have a calming impact. Sharing scripture together can also be a source of strength. These are activities that are best shared, if possible. The idea is not to talk “at” someone but to engage them in prayer, in reading scripture, in being reminded of the hope that is in God, hope that speaks to a future that is better than the pain and darkness they are currently experiencing.
None of this takes the place of asking the hard questions and being prepared to call the suicide prevention crisis line, if needed. That number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If someone you know is in immediate crisis, professionals advise us to stay with the person and call 9-1-1 immediately.
Suicide impacts us all, so we cannot afford to treat this subject as taboo. The church, of all places, should be a leading voice advocating for diagnoses and treatment of mental health issues of all kinds. And that means we can’t sweep difficult issues under the rug. Health and wholeness for all of us depends on being able to live in the light.
Yours for the Kingdom,