9 Ways the Black Church Can Aid in the Prevention of Suicide
As a teenage girl, as I am sure happens with many teenage girls, the thought of what it would be like not to be here on earth briefly crossed my mind more than once. I never attempted suicide and thankfully those thoughts never lingered for more than a few seconds. As a young woman, struggling in a failing marriage, there were many occasions when I did not welcome the dawning of a new day. More than once I said to God, “Oh no, not another day.” Although I did not think to take my life, I thought that to simply not awaken would be a joy that I could embrace. Fortunately, I had one small son and another on the way and I determined that my life was necessary. Eventually, thoughts of not facing another day turn to thoughts of how to survive and overcome our situation. Still, I never forgot how it felt to feel the opposite of glad that “He woke me up this morning.”
Practically every time the church doors opened I was in there. Sunday School, regular service, revival, Bible Study, VBS, you name it, I was there and often playing a leading role. Like so many other people I know, the church has always been a major component of my life. The church is a staple in the lives of Black people and provides support in many areas of need. The church must however, do a more effective job of addressing mental and emotional health concerns. Even today when I hear preachers and ministers implore the listenesr to praise God because “He woke you up this morning,” I think about those who are not glad that He did and wonder how many are in the church service with me.
September is designated National Suicide Prevention Month. For the entire month a concerted effort is made to educate the public on how to assist those who may be contemplating suicide as well as how to identify suicidal factors in onesself and others. Such a serious health concern deserves continued attention. During this time of the pandemic, heightened awareness of systemic institutional racism, lack of political and social justice and with the holidays fast approaching, people are experiencing grief at high levels. For many, suicide is an appealing alternative to their existing condition and the church must be poised and prepared to offer appropriate assistance.
Most churches have divisions of ministry that are designed to address the needs of people. Churches have feeding ministries, women’s ministries, lay ministries, deacon ministries, etc. Church ministries must think beyond their traditional mindset concerning the purpose of their existence and formulate strategic plans for meeting the needs of people on ever level; spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, social and political. Church ministries must become educated on the many issues that surround the lives of people. That includes suicide.
Just as it does in other issues, ethnicity plays a vital role in the approach used in suicide prevention. For example, Black women who comtemplate suicide are more likely to speak with a relative or friend in opposed to first seeking help from a therapist. Children experiencing suicidal thoughts may first talk to parents, teachers or friends about how it feels to die. Racism causes Black people to experience stress on a level that is unknown to other ethnic groups. Add in other factors, such as lack of adequate healthcare, lack of nutritional food sources, legal and political injustice, inadequate public school education, and we discover that Black people are forced to operate in a world under a level of stress unknown to other ethnic groups. Black churches can identify with these factors and offer understanding as it provides support and assistance.
What can the Black Church do?
1. Dispell the myth that suicide is a “white thing.” There has been a popular belief for years that because of the constant struggles that Black people have been forced to endure, Black people are “too strong” to commit suicide. This simply is not true, Studies show that although Black people, may not commit suicide at the rate of other ethnic groups, Black people do indeed commit suicide.
2. Get educated. During ministry meetings have an expert on suicide among Black people talk to your group. Read articles and have discussions concerning suicide prevention.
3. Develop a plan of support and share it. Know in advance, the steps to take when it is made know that someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts. Practice various scenarios during ministry meetings to perfect your approach and so as to not come off as judgemental or partronizing.
4. Develop a health information area in your church. Choose a high traffic area to display brochures and pamphlets concerning health issues including suicide. Include this information in group emails that your church might send.
5. Get the word out. Post information for local suicide prevention services in the church bulletin and on the church website.
6. Provide continued support. People dealing with suicidal thoughts are in a long running battle. Even after receiving professional help they still need support. Be available to offer it.
7. Listen and Pay Attention. Remember Black people are more likely to talk to friends and relatives concerning suicidal thoughts. Don’t brush them over to the side. Pay close attetion to sudden and consistent changes in behavior. Children will often act out in some way in opposed to verbally expressing themselves. It is always wise, when children act out, to find out why.
8. Pray. Through pray we gain guidance and strength to minister to people. Prayer is always appropriate. If someone makes you aware of suicidal thoughts, it is okay to offer prayer. Then, after you say “Amen,” help them seek out professional help.
9. Never, ever, ever, ever tell someone to “Get over it.” That is just cruel. If you are not sure what do when someones expresses that they are in need, refer them to someone who can help such as the pastor or some other member of the ministerial staff.
Preparation must happen now. Church ministries can us digital platforms to share information and develop a strategic plan of action. The Church is a wonderful resource for hurting people. With a little re-thinking, education and continuous training, the Church is unmatched in its ability to make a positive impact.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ tel:1-800-273-8255
The Crisis Text Line 741741