In a recent open letter to faith leaders across Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert had the grace, compassion and moxie to articulate what most chief executives would not: Each individual is precious in God’s eyes and everyone plays a role in suicide prevention, including faith communities.
He encouraged faith leaders throughout Utah to participate in the National Weekend of Prayer for Faith, Hope, & Life, Sept. 7-9. Within Utah, Gov. Herbert has led the way on state-level policy development and creation of infrastructure to support meaningful suicide prevention in every quarter. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox has spoken repeatedly about his own lived experience and the need to connect with individuals who feel marginalized, like a burden, and like they don’t belong, placing them at risk for suicide. If this isn’t leadership, I don’t know what is.
Many may assume that preventing suicide is the job solely of the mental health community. In fact, research shows that many individuals who are 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.
For every one of the 620 Utahns who die by suicide annually, there are 135 individuals who are exposed to the death. That’s 83,700 individuals 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 and themselves need help. This person may not even be a family member, but a friend, classmate, work colleague, neighbor, church member — really any number of relationships. If you feel close, then your impact from the death will be more significant than any individual who does not feel as close.
Faith communities that know this have and will continue to act, because they know their mission is to minister to suffering of all kinds. 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 is uniting hundreds of faith communities — regardless of creed — across the U.S. for the National Weekend of Prayer for Faith, Hope, & Life. The National Weekend of Prayer for Faith, Hope, & Life is an unprecedented opportunity for faith communities to offer prayers, educate community members and focus on tangible ways to be there for those in distress. This growing movement was started by the Action Alliance’s Faith Communities Task Force, which aims to equip faith communities with resources to help prevent suicide. Since the movement began in 2017, we have been able to reach thousands of places of worship and hundreds of thousands of faith community members nationwide — and we hope to expand that reach in 2018.
As co-lead of the Faith Communities Task Force, I will be participating in multiple events in my home state of Kentucky, but will be carefully watching the events in Utah, because of the outstanding leadership demonstrated here and the potential for impacting so many lives in such a significant way.