Do we notice the reality of suicide in our parishes and communities?
The topic of suicide is very challenging and sensitive, and many people understandably don’t like to discuss it. However, with a thirty percent increase in the rates of suicide from 1999-2016, we can no longer turn a blind eye towards this horrific tragedy. With our passion for the dignity of all human life, Catholics need to take a strong stand against the scourge of suicide.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, so this is an excellent time to discuss ways that we, as a Church, can come together to help create awareness for — and prevent — suicide.
1. Recognize that suicide affects all of us.
Even if your life hasn’t been directly touched by the tragedy of suicide, we are all affected and impacted by it. Joined together in this human family, we are all connected. We see this particularly in our deep unity as Catholics; we are part of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. Each year, members of the human family — some of them our brothers and sisters through Baptism — die from suicide. We may not see just how directly suicide impacts our lives, but this does not mean that we are unaffected by it.
2. Hold a Mass of Remembrance in memory of those lost to suicide.
I was profoundly touched last year when a woman from my parish organized a Mass of Remembrance specifically in memory of those lost to suicide. Catholics and non-Catholics came together as we honored the lives of friends, relatives, and acquaintances who have died. Prior to Mass, people were invited to light candles in memory of their deceased relatives and friends. After Mass, there was a small reception which included a short reflection from a member of the community, displays about suicide prevention, and information about a support group in the parish for those impacted by suicide.
As we learned, talked, and petted the adorable therapy dogs who walked among the tables, I was struck by the power and beauty of so many people coming together with joyful hope amid their deep sorrow. This event was an incredible opportunity to pray, become more aware of suicide, and practice the spiritual works of mercy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if these types of events were held annually at Catholic churches in every diocese?
3. Destigmatize mental health.
Although it is slowly becoming more widely discussed, the topic of mental health is frequently given a negative image. Many people avoid discussing it altogether, or if they do talk about it, the conversation is very hushed. However, we need to take a holistic view of the human person and remember that we are both body and soul. Just as we care for our souls, so too we need to care for our bodies and minds. There is no shame in this!
Every person could probably benefit from working with a mental-health professional at some point in his or her life, so we need to recognize this in our words and actions. We can also seek to understand the realm of mental health more fully. The Catholic Psyche Podcast is one excellent resource that helps educate people on the issue of mental health. By openly learning and talking about mental health in a positive way, we can hopefully break the stigma that has sadly stuck around for far too long.
There is a lot of pain, silence, and loneliness surrounding the issue of suicide. We have a wonderful opportunity in our parish communities to provide comfort, resources, and solidarity to others. Our work cannot stop here, though. While it is important to create initiatives in our churches, we by no means should stay within these comfortable boundaries.
If your area is holding an event that promotes suicide prevention and awareness, invite some friends and join with your local community. Learn about the warning signs of suicide and add the number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) to your phone’s list of contacts.
We don’t have to do anything tremendously large, but we need to do something. This month, take just one step. It may be something small and seemingly insignificant, but with this act of love and mercy, God can move mountains.
Copyright 2018 AnneMarie Miller