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Trigger warning: This Alban Weekly deals with issues related to suicide and suicidal ideation. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.

What do Christians do when faith or prayer is not enough to keep someone safe from themselves?

Nearly once every 11 minutes, someone in the United States dies by suicide. That staggering statistic should help all of us see the need to pay attention to mental well-being.

Suicide has far-reaching implications — for example, the victim’s surviving family and friends can suffer from debilitating guilt and depression. We also know, however, that suicide can often be prevented when we understand and implement evidenced-based interventions.

Congregations play a vital role in supporting positive mental and emotional health. One study estimates that as many as 40% of people in the U.S. approach clergy as the first point of contact when seeking guidance with mental health issues. The way clergy handle these interactions will either reduce or increase the stigma associated with psychological well-being. It’s not enough to send vulnerable congregants home with an encouraging hug, a verse of Scripture and a prayer. If someone is courageous enough to seek out their minister when they are struggling or considering suicide, that’s a real cry for help.

A first step for churches is to normalize the reality of psychological distress. When someone thinks they are the only struggling person in a crowd of perfectly balanced individuals, they feel isolated, and they are less likely to be transparent about their needs. We must put mental and emotional health on the same level with physical health. Just as we go to the doctor when we break our arm, we may need a therapist to tend to our emotional wounds. Becoming more welcoming to people who are experiencing psychological distress is another opportunity for churches to practice radical hospitality. As the resources this week make clear, churches can provide real help when we love our neighbor as we love ourselves.


Before you go…

Based on descriptions in the biblical narrative, Naomi (Ruth 1:20-21) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:4-5) may have struggled with depression at certain periods in their lives. Even those whom God calls to lead others are not exempt from the need to invest in their well-being. If clergy never make appropriate disclosures about their inner struggles, people will assume that the goal of the Christian life is invulnerability.

Friends, while you’re helping others, be sure to get the help that you need, too. Your life matters to God. Peace and blessings.

As always, you can email me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading! 

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

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