Resources for Suicide Prevention, Intervention and Postvention
August 2, 2017
Updated April 28, 2018
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If you are contemplating suicide or know someone who is, call 911.
Or in the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In Canada, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention maintains an up-to-date list of distress lines by province and territory. Be sure to get help. If someone is thinking of taking their own life, it’s not a secret to keep. Know that there is hope! Pastors will also want to find out the best number for their local helpline and keep it at the ready.
The Mental Health Task Force of CRC and Reformed Church in America Disability Concerns ministries has curated resources on suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. In addition, we created a bulletin insert and worship resources (attached) to assist congregations in thinking about this painful but important subject that touches so many people. See links below to order printed copies of the bulletin insert from your denominational office.
The following is a quick reference list of signs that may indicate someone is at risk for suicide. Risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss, or change:
What do we mean by the terms suicide prevention, intervention and postvention?
Suicide prevention refers to diminishing the risk of self-inflicted harm with the intent to end life. It may not be possible to eliminate completely the risk of suicide but it is possible to reduce this risk. Intentional efforts to reduce the risk (i.e. education), in addition to the presence of natural protective factors (i.e. social support and connectedness), can aid in suicide prevention.
Suicide intervention refers to a direct effort to prevent someone from intentionally attempting to end their own life.
Suicide postvention refers to measures occurring after a suicide has taken place that address the needs of those affected. Postvention can take many forms, but its purpose is to support those affected to cope with the loss, reduce the risk of suicidal behavior and support healthy recovery in the aftermath of a suicide. Postvention also serves as prevention when it promotes healing of those affected which then can reduce their risk of suicide.
What is mental illness?
Mental illnesses can take many forms, just as physical illnesses do. Mental illnesses are disturbances that affect mood, thinking and behavior; interfere with daily functioning at work, school and in the community; and contribute to problems in relationships. Although the causes of mental illnesses are not fully known, research shows that genetic, biological and life-event factors are involved. Research also confirms the positive impact support and friendship has upon the life of someone living with a mental illness.
The great majority of people who experience mental illness do not die by suicide. However, of those who do die by suicide, more than 90 percent have a diagnosis of a mental illness. People who die by suicide are frequently experiencing undiagnosed, undertreated or untreated mental illness, most often depression.
A word about language regarding suicide
Pastoral sensitivity extends to using careful and thoughtful language when we talk about suicide. Some words and phrases can bring additional pain and further stigmatize people in tragic circumstances. This increases the shame, secrecy and isolation people experience and makes it even more difficult for people affected by suicide to reach out for help. The Mental Health Commission of Canada lists this helpful guide regarding the language we use:
With any language we use, it is important to convey a tone of compassion and understanding and above all to talk about.
A faith perspective on life and suicide
Life is a precious and good gift from God to us. We are called to protect life and to honor the sacredness of life by not harming ourselves or others. Suicide speaks to the tragic brokenness and pain in human life. Because of mental illness or life’s complex circumstances, some people are filled with despair, torment and hopelessness, and they may attempt suicide or die by suicide. A common thought among people of faith is that if you died by suicide you will be sent to hell, or that suicide is an unforgivable sin.
A more helpful faith perspective on suicide begins with the affirmation that nothing, including suicide, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39). While we don’t support the act of suicide, we should not condemn or shame the person or their loved ones. God does not judge the life of a person by one single action. People who attempt suicide need support, love and therapy, not condemnation. The church is challenged to address the value of life, to speak realistically about the pain in people’s lives and to offer hope in Christ’s presence and strength.
Reasons people may think about taking their own lives
There’s no single cause for suicide. Suicide most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, and it is often undiagnosed, undertreated or untreated. Conditions like depression, anxiety and substance problems, especially when unaddressed, increase risk for suicide. Yet it’s important to note that most people who actively manage their mental health conditions lead fulfilling lives.
Just as there are factors that can reduce the potential for someone being at risk of suiciding, there are risk factors that can predispose them. The following is a list of risk factors which are characteristics or conditions that increase the risk that a person may try to end their life:
Prevention refers to increased awareness, education and interpersonal support regarding the behaviors and risk factors that may result in suicide.
Intervention refers to direct efforts to prevent someone from intentionally attempting to end their own life.
It may take many forms:
Postvention Resources for Faith Communities after a Suicide
Postvention refers to “activities that reduce risk and promote healing after a suicide death.” It may take many forms:
Suicide postvention answers questions such as: What do you do after someone dies by suicide? How do you communicate this information with others? What language do you use? What does pastoral care and follow-up care look like for those bereaved by suicide?
One of the most helpful resources for postvention care for faith communities is found in a document called Coming Together to Care, gathered for communities in Texas. The chapter Suicide Postvention with Faith Communities and Funeral Homes is found on pages 82-88 in the Coming Together to Care document. There you will find information about:
We welcome your feedback about this page. If you have suggestions about these resources, ideas for additional resources, or other comments, please comment below by September 1.
The resources on this site are provided for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the specialized training and professional judgment of a healthcare or mental healthcare professional. Christian Reformed or Reformed Church in America Disability Concerns ministries cannot be held responsible for the use of the information provided. Please always consult a trained mental health professional before making any decision regarding treatment of yourself or others. Self-help information and information from the Internet is useful, but it is not a substitute for professional assistance.
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Good article. I especially appreciated the fact that mental illness was mentioned as an important factor in suicide attempts, particularly when it is under-treated or untreated altogether. Having had suicidal thoughts myself when my illness was not diagnosed, let alone treated, I think it is very important that this issue be addressed by the church with compassion BOTH for those who are contemplating it and those who live with survivor guilt, "Why didn't I see the signs?" Neither would benefit from a condemning attitude.
Michele, yes, with regard to suicide, a gracious Christian community can be a powerful healing presence. I appreciate the article you sent me via email: Striking differences in rates of suicide attempts between provinces revealed in mental health findings. I didn't realize that teens and young adults have highest rates of suicide attempts, and yet have the most difficulty getting mental health care. Here too, the church can play a critical, healing role. A friend who has lived with depression and who attempted suicide told me that she told her story recently to her church youth group. She said that the young people were not only attentive, but really benefitted from her dispelling some of the stigma of mental illness by her talking so openly about her own journey.
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