Friday marked the beginning of the National Weekend of Prayer for Faith, Hope and Life, an important start to National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Churches, ministers and clergy are gaining greater awareness of the mental health issues and other factors that may lead to thoughts of suicide, and they are finding ways to broach the subject, which is a huge departure from the past.
This offers a ray of hope for a problem that is dark and seemingly hopeless for too many people.
The involvement of clergy is vital. As Melinda Moore, co-chairwoman of the Faith Communities Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention told the Deseret News, churches play a vital role. They offer a sense of worth and purpose, in addition to the social benefits of belonging to a congregation of fellow believers.
Efforts must go beyond that, however. Every individual has a responsibility to be aware of the people around him or her and to be sensitive to their needs. That can be challenging, of course. But it is absolutely necessary at a time when suicides are on the rise.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now lists suicide as the 10th leading cause of death nationwide. Utah ranks fifth in terms of suicides among the 50 states.
Experts have said prevention efforts require cooperation, creativity and doggedness. No one strategy will work in all situations, because a variety of factors appear to lead people into despair.
The CDC recently listed some of these factors by order of how prevalent they have been in suicides. The list includes relationship problems (42 percent), acute crisis (29 percent), problematic drug and alcohol use (28 percent), poor health (22 percent), job loss and money troubles (16 percent), legal issues (9 percent) and loss of housing (4 percent), among others.
This suggests friends and relatives can be acutely aware of risks during times of obvious stress, as well as when they notice certain behaviors, such as various kinds of substance abuse. Most important, however, is for people to engage with one another and to not be afraid to talk about problems.
Last January, Gov. Gary Herbert convened a task force to study Utah’s troubling suicide rate, especially among young people, and to recommend any official government action. At the time, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox spoke about the need to break with tradition and actually speak openly about the topic.
"One of the issues that we have the hardest time talking about can be solved by talking about it," he said.
That brings us back to the clergy. If a greater awareness leads to sermons, a study of scriptural references on the subject and a greater willingness to reach out to those who are suffering or who are mourning the loss of a suicide victim, much good could be accomplished. Perhaps then, the stigma surrounding this problem can disappear and people can confront it frankly and effectively.