When someone is struggling with depression and other illnesses that can lead to suicidal thoughts, their world can feel bleak, and hope can be hard to find. In the New Testament, we read many stories about Jesus healing others of their physical illnesses and impairments. But does that also apply to mental health? How can we apply these stories of healing to those struggling with suicidal ideation or mental illnesses such as depression?
Even a sick woman wo touched Jesus’ cloak was healed. Sickness and disease are incompatible with the kingdom of heaven, and Jesus was sent to bring his kingdom to us here on earth.
This does not mean that medical and mental health treatment are not necessary. Pastoral care is not solely the cure for depression and suicidal ideation. Instead, proper mental health treatment coupled with God’s presence and faith can help provide hope.
But what do you do if confronted by someone who may be at risk of suicide or self-harm? First, it’s important to remember that talking about suicide is more likely to decrease suicidal ideation rather than increase it. It may feel uncomfortable to ask someone if they have considered suicide, but it’s an essential part of suicide intervention.
Intervening when you notice someone displaying warning signs can help prevent suicide. Consider the following steps recommended by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (NAASP) that you can take to help prevent suicide.
Steps for suicide intervention:
1. Talk to them – if you have noticed a change in behavior or other warning signs in someone in your community, try to find time to talk with them in private. Ask the Holy
Spirit to provide you with the right words and remember – you’re not alone, the Holy Spirit is with you. Use that strength to start an informal conversation. Then transition into asking them directly if they are thinking about suicide and if they have plans in place. This may feel uncomfortable but remember talking about suicide often reduces rather than increases suicidal ideation.
2. Help keep them safe – reducing access to lethal means is a crucial part of suicide prevention. Urge them to use gun safes, reduce access to medications, electrical cords, sharp objects, and anything that could be used for strangulation. Encourage them to involve a loved one in creating a safety plan to help keep them safe.
3. Be there – community support and connection are among the most important protective factors against suicide. If someone is feeling isolated and has expressed that they are thinking about suicide, try to find simple ways to help them engage and connect with their community. God created humans to be inherently relational, as evidenced in the Bible’s stories of Christ-centered community, where deep relationships are formed. Embrace this opportunity to involve your community in suicide prevention efforts.
4. Help connect them with resources – when you’re talking with someone who has expressed thinking about suicide, listen to their story and let them know that you care
about them. Encourage them to seek treatment or contact their doctor or therapist. If they have told you that they have a plan to imminently attempt suicide, stay with them and call the crisis line (988) or ensure that they are connected with emergency mental health services.
5. Follow up – After your initial conversation, follow up with the individual, ask them how they’re feeling, and if they have had a chance to connect with appropriate mental health care. While you are not equipped to provide mental health care, your support and reminder that God loves them and wants good things for them can help provide the connection and hope needed for someone struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts. The church community should act in supporting individuals to both access care and walk alongside them throughout care. Consider forming a team of individuals, either from staff or chosen by you, to become a community for follow-up.
Beacon of Light is creating a curriculum to assist churches navigate many aspects of mental health, including suicide intervention. If you are interested in learning more, contact us at email@example.com.