Faith and Suicide

A therapist asked those who participated in his group therapy sessions to write down one thing about themselves that they would not want other people to know.  The slips of paper were to remain unsigned.  

Over the years, one answer consistently emerged as the most frequently written: “I feel utterly worthless,” or “No one would want me if they knew me.”

My sense is that thoughts like these are indeed widespread.  They are also symptomatic of deeper issues that lead many people down the difficult path of depression and, in a growing number of cases, suicide.

We need to address the growing rate of suicide in our country (and other countries too, for that matter).  Before the pandemic, these rates were already climbing.  The social constraints of Covid and the impact of the disease itself have only caused those statistics to climb.

The suicide deaths of former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst and Hyattsville, Maryland Mayor Kevin Ward have highlighted this reality in the news recently, but thousands of others take their own lives outside of the headlines.  

Young people are particularly at risk.  The isolation of Covid protocols compound the struggles that young people face without the pandemic: finding one’s identity amid bullying, dealing with active racism (rates among black males 12 and under is on the rise), and a general sense of despair about the future.

Worchester Polytechnic Institute had experienced 2 student deaths by suicide in the past 15 years.  This year they have had three in a single academic year.  They are not alone. 

Elderly people are also choosing to end their lives at a higher rate outside of a terminal disease.  The reasons, again, revolve around a lack of purpose, a loss of identity, isolation, and overwhelming despair. 

Within our own church, there are those whose lives have been directly touched by these losses.  In fact, I would venture to say that nearly all of us know of someone who has experienced this tragedy.

We live in a society that underfunds and understaffs psychiatric care.  Right now, when I need to refer someone to counseling outside or beyond pastoral care, the wait to find a therapist can be months and many people simply give up searching.

Often, the National Suicide Hotline is shown after news reports of suicides.  What isn’t reported is that the wait-time after you call that number can be upwards of an hour sometimes which is hugely problematic considering that it takes great courage to call that number in the first place and it is usually done in a moment of utter desperation. 

Our church can help.  One of the reasons we need to promote our church is because FCC is a place where people can find validation, community, and a sense of purpose in their lives.  These are key ingredients to finding emotional stability.  People need to know that they belong somewhere.  

Ours is a non-judgmental, invitational church.  We are not in the business of cramming the Christian faith down anyone’s throat.  We invite people to look at faith in a new, fresh way; on their own terms.

This is a place where we work to remove the stigma of mental illness.  As I said once in a sermon, each of us and all of us are somewhere on the spectrum of mental illness.  None of us has a stable, healthy outlook on life all of the time.  It is what we do in those times when we don’t that’s important.  

A good starting place is to know that being vulnerable is okay.  It is okay to stop pretending you have it all together when you don’t.  I’m here to listen and to talk with you when you don’t.  More importantly, God is ready and willing to not only listen to you but to enfold you in the calm that your spirit is yearning for.  

Faith is an important element in this whole equation.  It can provide healing to those who have lost a loved one in this way and it is the doorway to hope and a new beginning for those who are struggling.

Faith is the means by which you can discover that you matter, that you are loved, and that the one who created you…cares.

See you in church,

–Rev. Dominic