What’s faith got to do with suicide?

Melinda Moore
Melinda Moore

Recently, a young lead pastor, Andrew Stoecklein, of Inland Hills Church in Chino, Calif. took his own life.

It left his congregation, community and thousands of Facebook members understandably shocked, grieved and in disbelief. However, the conversation around his death demonstrates a shift in how we are now talking about suicide.

There is more understanding based in science, compassion and access to resources, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). Clergy and other medical and mental-health caregivers may have unique risk for suicide because of their isolating and stressful positions. They are not immune.

Many may assume that preventing suicide is the job solely of the mental-health community. In fact, research show that many individuals who may be experiencing thoughts of suicide frequently turn to faith community leaders for help before they will seek care from mental-health professionals.

Clergy are in a powerful position to demonstrate leadership on the stigmatized topic of suicide, encouraging help-seeking and leading their flock to life-saving resources. Additionally, part of preventing further suicide is talking about the effect this death has on us. It is called “suicide postvention” and, like suicide prevention, it aids in helping to address those unique contributors to risk for suicide attempt and death.

There is evidence that having an active faith and being involved in a faith community helps protect people from suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and death by suicide, as well as help those who have lost loved ones to suicide.

Knowing the power of faith communities to provide those meaningful connections and hope for life, Kentuckians across the state and faith communities nationwide are joining together — during National Suicide Prevention month and World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept. 10 — to promote hope and offer help to those who may be feeling helpless, hopeless, and alone.

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the nation’s public-private partnership championing suicide prevention as a national priority, and its Faith Communities Task Force united hundreds of faith communities — regardless of creed — across the U.S. for last weekend’s National Weekend of Prayer for Faith, Hope, & Life. Both the Catholic Diocese of Lexington and Restoration Lexington, a non-denominational church, held events honoring these efforts.

On Sept. 12, from 5 to 8 p.m., Eastern Kentucky University is hosting ArtVention at Noel Studio, an event using writing and collage-making for individuals whose lives have been touched by suicide.

Suicide prevention is really everybody’s business. For every one of the 700 Kentuckians who die by suicide annually, there are 135 individuals who are exposed to the death. That’s 94,500 Kentuckians who are exposed to suicide every year.

Of those, about 30 percent may have felt close to the individual who died, experience significant impact from the death, including depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and suicide attempt. This person may be a family member, a friend, classmate, work colleague, neighbor or church member. Faith communities that know this have and will continue to act, because they know their mission is to minister to suffering of all kinds.

Melinda Moore is an assistant pyschology professor at Eastern Kentucky University and co-lead of the Faith Communities Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.