"The Church is the inn and the infirmary for those who are sick and in need of being made well." Martin Luther
Montana and Wyoming have the unfortunate distinction of rating high in per capita suicides, usually in the top 3. There are a number of factors that put our populations at risk-isolation, lack of mental health resources, availability of firearms, high rates of alcohol and drug use. Some of the groups most at risk include American Indian youth, veterans, those with chronic health issues or disabilities, and youth in general.
The ELCA Church Council's Social Message on Suicide Prevention, adopted in 1999, is still relevant almost 20 years later. Despite progress on a number of medical and mental health fronts, suicide remains a significant and preventable tragedy that is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Again in 2016, the Churchwide Assembly reaffirmed the importance of ongoing work of suicide prevention, and urged congregations, synods and individuals to increase funding for suicide prevention research.
The message states: "Suicide testifies to life's tragic brokenness. " Quoting Galatians, it goes on: "We who lean on God's love to live are called to 'bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.'" Explaining why suicide is a concern of the church, it goes on: "Our efforts to prevent suicide grow out of our obligation to protect and promote life, our hope in God amid suffering and adversity, and our love for our troubled neighbors."
The first step is becoming aware. The statement gives statistics and details about who commits suicide and what some of the extenuating factors are. Not all the statistics are accurate, given that it was written in 1999, and that suicide rates have increased, particularly among certain groups. Up to date information is available on various suicide-prevention websites. The document contains a Suicide Prevention Helpcard, which gives people steps to follow when someone they know threatens suicide.
There is a section on Receiving and Giving Help, in prevention, and in aftercare. It suggests a host of resources already available in congregations to support mental health, assist with grieving, and speak openly about the kinds of factors that lead to suicide. The intent is to find a myriad of ways to prevent suicide. "What in our community, we should ask, are the cultural and social dynamics that lead to isolation and hopelessness?" "We are given a reason to live, forgiveness to start anew, and confidence that neither life nor death can separate us from 'the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'"
The resource contains several pages of national suicide prevention organizations. And since the document was written, there is now a Lutheran Suicide Prevention Ministry that woks specifically with Lutherans. Their website www.lutheransuicideprevention.org has a brief video with Bishop Eaton, and resources for caregivers, preventers, survivors, people contemplating suicide.
"The Church Council urges synods to support members, congregations, and affiliated institutions in their efforts to prevent suicide." It concludes: "We are not alone, abandoned, and without hope. The Lord's name is 'Emmanuel,' which means, 'God is with us.'"
Jessica Crist, Bishop
This is the fifth in a series of reflections on the Social Messages adopted by the ELCA Church Council over our history. The messages can be found at www.elec.org/socialmessages, and these reflections will be archived at www.montanasynod.org.