Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Elephant in the Room: Discussing Suicide

When I first became a minister it seemed like I only had to officiate at a funeral for a suicide every two to three years. Now it seems that I do such funerals 2-3 times each year.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 34,598 deaths annually.1 They also report that there are an estimated 11 attempted suicides for every suicide death and that almost four times as many males as females die by suicide.1 Though I have not kept written records, in my recollection, I believe that every funeral I have done for suicide victims were for men.

Though we often think that high school students are most the likely to commit suicide, the college age population actually has nearly twice the rate of suicide as high school students. However, most of the funerals I have done for suicides have been adult men, most of who were married and had children.

Family members often ask me why their husband, father or son took such drastic action. To be honest, I seldom have an answer that I feel is adequate. I usually try to remind families that certain risk factors contribute to suicidal tendencies more than others. For example depression, mental illness, and substance-abuse account for more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide each year.2 Therefore, if those factors are present in the family dynamic, we should be more concerned. Though less common, sometimes people commit suicide because other members of their family took that path. That is one reason why families need to be open about discussing this issue so that we can find healthy ways to express our feelings on this issue. On rare occasions people commit suicide because they are unable to deal with the trauma of physical or sexual abuse. People who have had terrible things happen to them should seek help from a trusted friend, who should in turn help them find a professional who is skilled in helping people overcome such trauma.

Though we may never understand exactly what a person was thinking when they decided to take their own life, people who attempt suicide often say that they felt that their problems were too great to overcome. When people are that overwhelmed, they are often not thinking clearly. They are often facing real life issues that are quite significant and may require complex solutions. However, their problems could be overcome with the help of a strong support network and professional assistance. Unfortunately, they choose the path of suicide instead of reaching out for help. Suicide becomes a permanent answer to the temporary problems they were facing. Suicide does not solve any of the issues. Suicide actually increases stress on the families who are left behind and normally makes the issues that were being dealt with harder to address than before. Suicide is NEVER the right answer.

Medical professionals have a number of ways to treat people with suicidal tendencies. Since each person is unique and each situation is different, the methods used to help people overcome these feelings are individualized to that specific person. What works for one person might not work for another and vice versa. But EVERY person can be helped!

Honestly, I’m tired of burying my friends and their loves ones. It hurts so much. I think it is time that we overcome the uncomfortable feelings we have about discussing this issue and talk openly about suicide. Talking about suicide is not being insensitive to the feelings of others. On the contrary, discussing suicide expresses great love for others when we are willing to overcome our own uncomfortable feelings for the sake of someone’s well being.

The National Institute for Mental Health gives this advice:
“If you think someone is suicidal, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get the person to seek immediate help from his or her doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room, or call 911. Eliminate access to firearms or other potential tools for suicide, including unsupervised access to medications.

If you are in a crisis and need help right away call this toll-free number, available 24 hours a day, every day: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You will reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a service available to anyone. You may call for yourself or for someone you care about. All calls are confidential.”


  1. Thanks Todd and Marisa. The funeral I did the other day really got me thinking about this. I'm determined to get people talking about this.

  2. I had a good friend in junior high take his life back in about 1984. I still think about that from time to time as I now minister to teens on regular basis. Thanks for sharing this informative and helpful post.

  3. This caught my eye because I'm currently dealing with the depression of my 21 year old son...your statistics for his age group were eye-opening. Going down this path in just the past 2 weeks has left me feeling vulnerable, fearful for him, guilt-ridden as a parent, totally caught off guard. While an attempt was not made that I'm aware of, actions were still disturbing enough for him to seek inpatient help although only for a few days. We are now in the long, difficult process of finding the right outpatient help. Thanks for the phone number - I was also told that NAMI National Alliance on Mental Illness) would be a good place for me to go for support. I plan on checking out that resource this week, but have been relying heavily on the prayers of close friends and learning from several of them who have been on this journey in one form or another. I've been shocked at how prevalent depression and anxiety are - and how many I know have either dealt with it personally at some point in their lives or have a family who has/was dealing with it.

  4. Bryan,
    Thanks for sharing your experience with young people. It helps them realize that suicide leaves behind a lot of people who then have to work through very difficult emotions and feelings. Suicide is a very selfish act which basically pushes one's problems onto others to deal with.


  5. Toni,
    I have just stopped what I was doing and spent time praying for you and your 21 year old son. I have asked God to give your son a sense of peace in the midst of his struggles. I have asked God to give you the wisdom to know how to help him. I'm glad you are in touch with professionals, as few people can overcome these issues without some help. God bless you.


  6. Pastoring just outside of the Navajo Nation I see it quite frequently. I have had to personally cut someone down from their closet. In a one year period we had about 23 suicides between teens and adults. 16 were teens. And this in a community of about 1900 people.

  7. Wow Mark, that is much worse than what I have had to deal with. Taking a moment to pray for you and the people you serve right now!

  8. I was also thinking about this a little while ago and instead to express what I was feeling I wrote lyrics instead of a blog... But here it is:

    Reason of Existence

    Another day spent on the cold tiles of the bathroom floor. Your hoping
    that someone, anyone will walk through the door.
    Bottles of pills are scattered everywhere. You pick them up thinking
    no one will care.
    But there's more to life than this. There's a reason why you exist.
    I know your pain, your sorrow but I promise I'll never leave you.
    Take me hand, hold it tight and together we can get through

    Another night in your room underneath the setting sun. Your only
    companion tonight comes in the form of a gun.
    Bullets on the ground scattered everywhere. You pick them up thinking
    lifes unfair.
    But there's more to life than this. There's a reason why you exist.
    I know you feel empty and alone but I promise I'm always with you.
    Grab my hand, don't let go and let me be your rescue.

    Put down the gun, your knife, throw the pills away.
    Can't you see that no one wins this way?
    I'll hold you in my arms, everything will be okay
    Wipe your tears, believe me, breathe me in today.

    1. Thank you for opening up were others cannot. I understand as I have been/am there. I take some comfort knowing I am not alone in my thoughts but I am sad that others have had to feel and think the thins I have. Thank you for your words and I hope one day because I will be alive, to hear these lyricto music and helping so many others!!! I thank you again from the very core of my heart!!! Sincerely, Me

  9. Leo,
    That is fantastic. Can I share them with the youth group?


  10. Yeah, definitely.

  11. This is normal conversation in my work with Vets. I ask them weekly if they are suicidal...I think i drive them crazy! The CASE Approach is a widely used method of assessment. It would be good for you to read up on as a pastor...any pastor! Hi Terry! Are you going to be at BCNE? I would very much like to meet you!

  12. Yes, I'll be at the BCNE meeting. I'll look forward to meeting you.

  13. Leo, just posted your lyrics at the FCC Youth Group page.

  14. Watch this powerful youtube video made by a young man in our church who struggled with thoughts of suicide when he was only in the 6th grade.

  15. This post was a blessing. We said our finally goodbye to Christopher on July 3. It was a very nice military funeral. Now I pray for the healing to being for all of us that have been effected. As people return to their lives may they remember to pray for daily recovery and strength to go thru the process. Lord be beside each and everyone of us that will need to loving guidance and strength and comfort. Amen