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Preventing Suicide: 5 Tips Every Church Leader Should Know

Suicide is an issue that touches many lives and is a concern every ward needs to take seriously. It affects many good people and isn’t something that individuals or even a community can simply pray away.

Suicide is preventable. It is rarely impulsive—most people think about suicide for a period of time that may last from a few days to weeks to months. Learning what to watch for can save lives.

In the short church video “Understanding Suicide,” Elder Dale G. Renlund said, “We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the church as a community coming together and helping each other through this life. Heavenly Father knew it would be a challenge, and He knew we would need each other’s help. What we need to do as a church is to reach out in love and caring for those who have suicidal thoughts, who have attempted suicide, who feel marginalized in any way.”


Whether you work with the youth or the adults in your ward, here are five practical tips all Church leaders should know so they can help prevent suicide:

1. Watch and listen for warning signs.

About 80 percent of the people who died by suicide spoke to someone about it before taking their life. Knowing what to listen and watch for is critical. Take all warning signs and suicide threats seriously. Warning signs can be direct verbal signs, indirect verbal signs, behavioral signs, or situational clues.

  • Direct verbal signs would include any statement where the person expresses acute pain and the desire not to live or “wake-up.” Examples are: “I wish I were dead,” or “I’m going to end it all.”


  • Indirect verbal signs would include statements that hint of suicide but do not actually state that they want to die. Examples are: “I’m just tired of it all.” “My family would be better off without me.” “Goodbye, I won’t be here when you return.” “You are going to regret how you’ve treated me.”


  • Behavioral signs include a large variety of observable acts. Examples are giving away prized possessions, making funeral plans, putting personal affairs in order, buying a gun.


  • Situational clues are events that put a person at higher risk. Examples are the death of a person they are close to such as a spouse, parent (especially if it is a youth), child, or close friend; diagnosis of a terminal illness; unwanted separation or divorce.

2. Ask "the question."

When you see warning signs, it is important to ask if they have had thoughts of suicide. Research shows that people who are suicidal feel relieved when asked if they have thoughts of suicide. They have a great need to talk with people that can empathize with and understand them. Most want to live and need help finding a way. 

It is a fallacy that asking a person about suicide increases their desire to kill themselves! Instead, this simple question reduces anxiety and increases hope.

There are many ways to ask a person if they are thinking of harming themselves. It can be direct or indirect. Find a way to ask that feels natural to you. This needs to be practiced so it feels comfortable to you. 

3. Listen! Listen! Listen!

Once you ask if they have thoughts of suicide, it is important to just listen. Most people at risk for suicide do want to talk. It is important to not interrupt, give them your full attention, and wait for the person to finish before speaking. Once you do speak, do not judge or condemn. Focus on the person and try to understand and empathize. This is the first step to helping them find a way to want to live. Empathy is truly the Balm of Gilead when done correctly and with sincerity.

4. Persuade.

After active empathetic listening, it is important try to persuade the person to get help. You can recognize their pain while still helping them find alternative solutions. Assure them of your support and offer hope in all the ways you can. If possible, assist them in making an appointment with a mental health provider.

5. Find Help.

It is important for all adults to be trained in suicide prevention. Initially many people want to talk to someone they already know instead of a mental health provider. Help them with their initial choice.  This can include their bishop, Relief Society president, Young Men or Young Women leaders, and other key people in their lives. Calling 211 can be helpful. It is a resource number to local health and human services and other resources. If it is a serious crisis, call one of the suicide hotlines for help. More than 50 percent of the people who call these hotlines are the people helping instead of the person who is actually in crisis. Those hotlines are designed to help you know what to do.

► You'll also like: Preventing Youth Suicide in Our Wards and Families (+ Valuable Resources)


In a recent suicide prevention video produced by the Church, Sister Carol F. McConkie said, “We have the ability to help to those that might be considering suicide. . . . We have a covenant responsibility to look out for one another. That’s part of what we committed to do when we said that we would bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. . . . When anyone says they’re contemplating hurting themselves or they’ve had thoughts about a specific plan to take their own life, it is shocking. . . . Seek the spirit of the Lord to guide you to help you feel what He would say, to help be able to express love for that person and assurance that you are there for them. That you will stand by them and that you’re not going anywhere until they find help. . . . This is probably the preeminent thing that we can do in that moment. We are with them and willing to walk with them and be for them what the Savior would be.”

Resources

Anyone can learn to recognize warning signs and learn the skills to save a life.

Training

QPR Training: Three steps anyone can learn to help prevent suicide. (QPRinstitue.com)

 Suicide TALK: Competencies when helping people at risk of suicide. (LivingWorks.net)

Key Websites

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (suicidepreventionlifeline.org)

American Association of Suicidology (suicidology.org)

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (afsp.org)

Suicide Prevention Resource Center (sprc.org)

Suicide Prevention and Ministering (lds.org)

Books

Why People Die by Suicide, Thomas Joiner (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005)

Comments and feedback can be sent to feedback@ldsliving.com