Everyone should know how to help prevent a suicide, chaplain says
A UMNS Feature
By Tamie Ross
Every one of us, says the Rev. Jo Ann Mann, thinks at some point in our life about ending it.
Teenagers who hardly know the life they're throwing away. A corporation's chief financial officer, caught in misconduct. Christians who dress in their Sunday best and put on a smile to greet each other before worship.
"Absolutely, Christians think of suicide. When they are hurting, people often go to church looking for help. And when people ask you how you are, you say, 'Fine,'" said Mann, an elder in the United Methodist Church's Florida Annual (regional) Conference. "That's what you're supposed to say at church." Mann has spent years in the Florida Conference and as a U.S. Army chaplain counseling, educating and warning people about suicide risks: No one is immune. Everyone is susceptible. We all must listen better to those around us asking for help in ways we might not realize.
Suicide is a fleeting thought for most, an "I wonder what would happen" moment that lasts a few seconds and dissipates.
But for those in true crisis, that moment lasts longer. Sometimes it becomes an idea, taking on a form of its own. It swirls around the brain, eventually sticking. With time and thought, suicide becomes an option or even a preoccupation for those who conclude they have control over nothing about their destiny but its conclusion.
Mann, who is certified to teach two-day Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training workshops, says everyone should know the danger signals. Moreover, everyone should be able - and willing - to help prevent someone from ending his or her life, and to lead that person to professional care.
Since her retirement from the Army in July, and on the heels of a one-year sabbatical from her work in Florida, Mann spends her days in a home in South Carolina, reading and writing about suicide prevention. She attends Rehobeth United Methodist Church in Columbia.
What can United Methodists do to keep themselves and those they love from killing themselves? she wonders.
"It's an easy answer, in theory," Mann said. "We have to care. We have to listen. We have to love people and make time for them."
It sounds simple. But in practice, taking time from our own busy lives to notice and help others who are struggling can be tough.
The General Conference of the United Methodist Church has had a longstanding resolution for awareness, study and funding for educational programs to increase suicide prevention. The resolution, "Suicide: A Challenge to Ministry," was reworded last spring, with dual emphasis placed on prevention and helping those affected by suicide.
Last May, General Conference also approved $375,000 to fund work proposed in a resolution called "Teen Sexual Identity and Suicide Risk," brought by the Women's Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. The resolution cited statistics that show teens dealing with issues of sexual identity are two to three times more likely than other youth to attempt suicide.
The funding will help a United Methodist task force with research, to publish educational materials, and to suggest resources and programs for families, congregations and pastors on the issue.
The Rev. Jackson Day, pastor of the Grace United Methodist Church in Upperco, Md., has worked with the General Conference on suicide issues and had a major role in rewording the resolution. He also serves as vice president of the National Conference of Vietnam Veteran Ministers, working with veterans suffering from "Post Traumatic Spiritual Disorder."
Historically speaking, Day said the United Methodist Church has gone from demonstrating suicide's "wrongness" as a way of deterring others to an approach of awareness, education and an invitation to work with preventive efforts in communities.
Day was inspired to focus on suicide prevention after his work with Vietnam veterans and the aftermath of a suicide attempt by a family member.
"Suicide, for the most part, is really the result of mental illness that affects a person's ability to think and make decisions," Day said."Those left behind will suffer anyway, but the old way of thinking made things worse."
By speaking out on this topic, Day said United Methodists can make a difference in the lives of others on a personal level, with secondary regard to statistics.
"On a national and regional basis, the church is making a difference by aligning its efforts with those of other groups," Day said. "At a congregational level, you're dealing with specific individuals. You're not thinking of large numbers. Every person there has the opportunity to make a difference in the life of someone else."
Teens, the most at-risk age group, pose the greatest communication challenges, Day and Mann said.
As every generation is labeled by consensus, the current group of teens has been called dark and troubled by some groups. Others say this is just a reflection of popular culture -- literature, music and other arts -- and a society struggling with social issues and an international war on terror.
At his congregation, Day said the teens are encouraged to talk about their feelings, and he believes most of the young people take life seriously.
"Teens have their own way of joking... Beneath the veneer, though, teens take the appropriate things very seriously," Day said. "If someone's talking about suicide, they know there is something significant going on that needs immediate attention."
Keeping hope alive is the key, Mann said. For Christians, this is assumed, but it never should be.
"The common denominator among people who kill themselves is a loss of hope," Mann said. "When you lose hope, it's real hard to keep going. We have to let people talk and not judge them when they're having a crisis of faith, as is obviously the case when someone is thinking of ending their life."
Ross is a freelance journalist based in Dallas.
Do we really have open hearts?
College enrollment roller coaster
National & World News
Back to The Call Home Page