We don’t speak of the fear and the desolation that drives someone to take their own life. It evokes in us a deep unease. Nobody likes to think about someone reaching into the depths of darkness; especially someone who we see has everything to live for.
Moreover, we aren’t sure what to say. We are (hopefully) equipped to share the light of the good news… we can be reluctant to spend our time talking about such despair when we are desperate for people to experience the hope of Jesus.
I want to challenge you that talking about suicide needs not be divorced from our message of hope.
By speaking out, we can create a climate that says it’s okay to struggle with matters of life, and of death. People need to hear us speak about the reality of suicide as something tragic and heartbreaking – but not unspeakable. The fact is, that by raising the issue sensitively, we can perhaps make ourselves available to hear about someones’ suicidal thoughts.
I love the tender and firm way God hears Elijah’s cries for death. In truth, we can never know what was really going on in his head when he fled to Mount Horeb. What we do know, however is that he talked about it! 1 Kings 19 says:
“He prayed that he would die. “Lord, I’ve had enough,” he said. “Take my life. I’m no better than my people of long ago.” Then he lay down under the tree. And he fell asleep.”
God listens to Elijah’s cries for death, before supplying him with food, rest and counsel.
It is the most gloriously practical suicide prevention strategy.
I don’t advocate that we try to deal with peoples’ feelings of suicide alone. The likelihood is that not only do we need help dealing with it, they might need some more specialist care, too.
What we can do though, is try to eliminate the shame and stigma that so often surrounds suicide.
Here are three really key things that we can do to help.
You don’t need to deal with it alone. Get support for you and the person you’re trying to support by speaking with your leadership, mentors and doctors.
Don’t assume you know how they’re feeling or what they need. As hard as it might be for you to hear, let them speak about their suicidal thoughts. Contrary to popular belief, speaking about suicidal thoughts decreases the risk of suicide.
Change the way you talk about suicide. Language matters:
- Instead of “Committed suicide/successful suicide” – use phrases such as “Died by suicide/ended his (or her) life”
- Instead of “Unsuccessful suicide/ Failed suicide attempt” – use phrases such as “Attempt to end his/her life”
There are plenty of things we face that the Bible doesn’t speak about explicitly – but it does speak of suicide, with grief, compassion – and a hope for the future.
We don’t need to avoid speaking of suicide.
We need to speak up and speak differently.
(For more information on ThinkTwice’s Speaking of Suicide (SOS) Campaign, visit www.thinktwiceinfo.org or find us on twitter @thinktwiceinfo)