Sunday, Sept. 10, marks the 14th year that World Suicide Prevention Day has been acknowledged by governments and public-health institutions internationally to draw attention to the nearly 1 million who die worldwide by suicide, including 44,000 Americans and over 700 Kentuckians.
This year the Faith.Hope.Life Campaign, an initiative of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, is spearheading an unprecedented effort aimed at uniting hundreds of faith communities across the United States for the National Day of Prayer for Faith, Hope & Life. This aims to bring together faith communities — all traditions, regardless of creed — to break the silence around suicide and focus on tangible ways to be there for those in distress.
Increasingly there is awareness that those in distress are not just those who are wrestling with ways of coping that include thoughts of suicide, but those who are left in the wake of these tragic deaths.
New research from the University of Kentucky indicates that for every one of these deaths, there are 135 individuals exposed and potentially impacted, with 35 of these individuals seriously impacted, raising their own risk of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and potential for suicide.
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Many of these bereaved individuals require treatment themselves, endlessly looking for health care and mental health professionals who understand their unique loss and its consequences. Lexington and Richmond are lucky to have survivors of suicide support groups for individuals with such losses.
The recognition that the suffering around suicide extends beyond the suicidal individual has been hindered by the relative newness of Suicidology, the study of suicide, and the theory, treatment and understanding of what helps all individuals who have been touched by suicide in some way.
This offering of a National Day of Prayer for Faith, Hope & Life is a long-awaited olive branch that people of faith who have wrestled with suicidality and suicide loss — and those who are not of faith or lost their faith — have waited for a very long time. Acknowledging and honoring with compassion these losses addresses publicly what is usually marginalized, hidden and cloaked in shame.
Understanding, prayer and love — along with improved resources and clinicians who know how to treat suicide — are the appropriate reactions.
Alternative strategies for expressing, surviving and making meaning out of these experiences is also necessary. The Susan G. Komen Foundation Race for the Cure and the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program are examples of making meaning and significant cultural and medical progress out of loss. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s campaign is a wonderful first step, but these steps take communities, churches, synagogues, mosques and small efforts to stitch together big change.
The Eastern Kentucky University’s Suicide Awareness and Focus on Education (EKU SAFE), funded through a SAMHSA Garrett Lee Smith campus suicide prevention grant, recognizes that good suicide prevention addresses the needs of those whose lives have been touched by suicide either by loss or suicide attempt.
“ArtVention” is an event that uses art as an important approach to both suicide prevention and post-intervention. It recognizes the healing and therapeutic impact that art provides. Universities and art communities are only a part of this fabric. Faith leaders of all persuasions are sanctioned to provide leadership on many issues of culture and health.
Fostering good mental health and helping to prevent suicide by ministering appropriately to faith community members — especially those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, in crisis, or have lost a loved one to suicide — is one way to provide that leadership. If we are ever to address suicide fully, we must fight it with every means, and that means every member of our community.
Melinda Moore is an assistant professor of psychology at Eastern Kentucky University and clinical division director of the American Association of Suicidology. She recently co-edited with former Lexington Rabbi Dan Roberts,“The Suicide Funeral: Honoring their Memory, Comforting their Survivors” by Wipf & Stock.