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Youth Ministry

New Fringe Initiatives


We are excited to announce two new Fringe initiatives launching in the Summer/Fall of 2016. We’ll share more as get closer to launch dates but were are passionate about these initiative and hope you will be too.

The Voices Project – After a brief project of interviewing young LGBTQ students and giving them a platform to share their stories the immediate response was overwhelming. This marginalized people group all echoed sentiments that become the impetus for the Voices Project. Each person interviewed reported that they had never been asked to hare their story and further more non felt they even had a platform to do so. We were so deeply impacted by these humanizing stories that we are launching the Voices Project to provide a safe space for people to just tell their stories. That’s it. Nothing complicated. We believe in the power of human stories and hope that stories will challenge our assumptions we make about “others” and those “different” than us.

True-North Student Leadership Academy – Fringe recognizes the need for quality student leadership development and is working with other professionals in the youth-service field to provide affordable online learning opportunities that will equip students to shape the culture they live in. Students will learn from a diverse group of leaders from various industries, such as; health care, education, social services, non-profit management/ministry, and the business world. This is a one of a kind leadership development initiative that has the potential to impact your student for a lifetime.

Of course we still offer our Soul Care support and community education/workshops. If you are interested in learning more about any of our initiative email us cschaffner@fringeconversations.com

Building Bridges (pt. 4 – Sense of Belonging/Community)


In our research, the greater the disconnect, the greater the sense of marginalization among LGBTQ youth, the higher the likelihood of high-risk behaviors. To compensate for the deep depression of being isolated many would turn to drugs or alcohol to numb those feelings. Many contemplate suicide at higher rates than their non-LGBTQ peers. Often they would move towards unhealthy communities seeking acceptance and belonging and engage in unsafe and unhealthy sexual activity just to feel a sense of love and that of being wanted.

There are culturally accepted norms by which we hold all people to. The more they are like the norm, the greater level of acceptance and support we are likely to give them. It’s not pretty but it’s honest. Jesus flipped this upside down with his kingdom. One of his goals for the kingdom was to restore people to community with each other and with the Father. The more an individual is different from the norm (those with power) the higher the risk of marginalization.

Add to this tendency, the variety of intersections an individual might have that increases societal marginalization, such as; race, ethnicity, gender, religion, ability, disability, socio-economic status, location, etc.. The more different one tends to be the higher the likelihood of alienation and separation from mainstream society, thus impacting one’s ability to feel and maintain a sense of belonging and connectedness.

So, if we (humanity) are to work towards the reconciliation of all things, how might we better do this?

Where have our strategies failed? Where have they succeeded? What new strategies do we need? What posture might we take that increases the potential for restoration to occur?

Doing The Same Thing Over Again And Expecting Different Results


I’m concerned about the further criminalizing of people who suffer from substance abuse disorders. Any approach that isn’t balanced or leans heavily on law enforcement has historically proven to be ineffective. We are not going to arrest our way out of addiction. Here are other points to consider when looking at addressing drug use as a public health concern:

1) There needs to be a shift in resources to programs that work. Right now 2/3 of all federal and state funding for addressing drug use/trafficking goes into incarceration. This leaves very little for treatment.

2) Make treatment available on demand like other healthcare services. That’s great that law enforcement plan to make referrals for treatment but access to these services are limited due to budget concerns. Our state doesn’t have a budget and are currently holding up funds to increased treatment for heroin.

3) Invest in asset – based youth prevention services. Equipping youth with multiple pathways to a sustainable adulthood is essential in preventing substance abuse from developing. Unfortunately, prevention services for youth are typically the first to be cut.

4) Focus law enforcement resources on most dangerous and violent criminals. Right now, 1/2 of all drug arrests are low-level, non-violent drug users.

5) Demilitarize drug control efforts and focus on economic development. Jobs, better education, and business opportunities address the systemic issues contributing to substance use related problems.

6) Restore justice to the justice system (i.e., profiling, white bias in court, mandatory minimums, and corrupt law enforcement/lack of a accountability).

7) Respect state’s right to try new approaches. Often the federal government will block innovative state initiatives (researching medical marijuana).

8) Endorse real harms reduction approaches regarding substance use and HIV/other blood born diseases.

Just getting “tough on crime” is not effective. It never has been. We waged war on meth over the last couple decades and it didn’t make it go away it just changed how it looks. We waged war on crack cocaine in the 80s and 90s and destroyed entire generations of urban black communities.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insane.

Building Bridges (part 2 – acceptance/rejection and coming out)


“I was born a female but identify with the male gender. My sexual identity is gay. I am 16 years old and was kicked out of my home recently. Sometimes I think killing myself would save everyone a lot of trouble. I don’t know what else to do or where to go. There is no place that I know of that will accept me as I am. I never wanted this. It’s not like I want to be hated by everyone and all alone. I’m basically on my own now.” – Homeless transgendered teen

In an attempt to better understand the lives of young LGBTQ students I interviewed several teens looking for common themes related to the topics of rejection/acceptance, coming out, LGBTQ-related stress, other intersections of identity, trauma/bullying, mental health/substance use, suicide, community/sense of belonging, and faith and spirituality. What I discovered has changed me and I don’t think I will ever be the same and I’m hoping it will change how the church engages these precious and beloved children of God as well.

During the course of one interview, the student I was talking with used the term “straight privilege”. It stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t something I’d ever considered, let alone heard of. Those with privilege rarely do consider it. I mean, come on. I get white privilege or male privilege, but straight privilege? How much privilege could one man have? I quickly learned that the world I lived in lent itself to being straight. I have never experienced the stress of coming out or being rejected because I liked the opposite sex. The term “Hetero” has never been used as a derogatory term. Nobody shouts, “Look at that dude, he looks so straight!” or “That shirt is so straight. He must like girls.” I have never had to wonder if me being heterosexual was pleasing to God or if I was damned to hell because I was attracted to the opposite sex. I learned through these interviews that I am biased because of straight privilege and it was preventing me from seeing the world through the eyes of an LGBTQ individual.

Rejection/Acceptance

All of the students interviewed had a sense they were different at a very early age, some reporting as early as 7 or 8 years old. Most had a definitive awareness by 10 – 13 years of age. Most report initially rejecting the notion that they had same-sex attraction and many said they were repulsed by the idea. One teenage boy, who identifies as gender fluid and gay shared that when he was 6 years old he asked his mother if he could like boys.

The most common fear of identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered was the fear of rejection and all correlated this with not coming out at an earlier age. This shouldn’t surprise anyone reading this but it was an overwhelming majority of LGBTQ students that echoed this sentiment. Mallory, a 22-year-old lesbian told a story about being the center of gossip in her small rural town when she came out. She said repeatedly that her fear was that those closest to her would begin to look at her differently, like a pedophile who intended to steal and eat all of the children in town like a monster.

Coming Out

Most of the students interviewed report coming out to the safest people possible at first. This usually consisted of closest friends and siblings. Ironically, most of them report that the individuals they first came out to already had suspicion that they were not heterosexual. The average age of coming out among those interview was 16-18 years old. They all indicate that the time period between accepting they were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered and when they came out were the most difficult years. We’ll explore that a little later.

Several indicated that the process of coming out never ends. With each new person they tell the process starts over for them. The fear of rejection and anxiety resets and with each new person they meet for the rest of their lives will likely provoke some measure of anxiety as well.

One young woman shared that she believed there were three layers of coming out; to the first individual, family and friends, and publicly, each with their own unique factors.

Bree, a 20-year-old lesbian reminded me that these are issues I will never have to deal with because I identify as a white, heterosexual, Christian male and since I won’t have to deal with them I am likely biased to expect the rest of the world (including LGBTQ individuals) to experience the world just like I do.

If it’s possible to summarize issues so complex I would say this; the time between when a young person identifies internally that they are gay, lesbian, bi, or trans and when they actually come out to others is the time they are at the greatest risk for substance abuse, depression, self-harm, suicide and other mental health related concerns.

If that is even remotely true it beckons a response. So, then what is the best response(s) from people of faith?

New Trainings for 2016


We’re excited to offer two brand new training opportunities for 2016. Both address much needed conversations around important and urgent issues; the opiate overdose epidemic, and the need for cultural intelligence in a rapidly changing world. If you are interested in bringing either of these conversations or any of our other trainings/workshops/community conversations to your area, just email us at cschaffner@fringeconversations.com

Connecting with Marginalized Youth (increasing your CQ)

Do you have a diverse group of kids? Do you want to be more effective in reaching a more diverse cross-section of youth in your community? Do you desire to impact the lives of LGBTQ youth, kids with disabilities, cross racial and ethnic barriers, and get to know those who are strikingly different than you and those in your ministry? Do you desire to increase your cultural intelligence in order to build a bridge across the gap between your church and others? This training focuses on developing and increasing our cultural intelligence (CQ) in order to begin the bridge building process of learning how to love our neighbors that appear to be different that us.

Understanding the Opiate/Heroin Overdose Crisis

According to a government website heroin related overdose deaths have seen a 10-fold increase since 2001. Many of those impacted by this growing trend at adolescents and young adults. Prescription narcotics and heroin have become the drug of choice for youth across all classes, races, and socio-economic ranges. Learn about the impact of opiates on the developing adolescent brain and body as well as how someone becomes addicted to opiates. In this training you will earn how to use a life saving medication called Naloxone, an opiate overdose reversal medication that can save a loved one’s life. This workshop is in partnership with the JOLT Foundation. Visit JOLT Foundation for more information on Naloxone.


lgbt-bullying-infographic

Stages of Sexual Identity Development for LGBTQ Youth


October 11th is National Coming Out Day. It’s a day set aside for LGBTQ youth and adults to draw strength and courage from each other as they come out to family, friends, and the general public. Coming out is a complex experience that occurs not just once but over and over again for LGBTQ individuals. With each new person that is encountered the process starts over.

Coming out to oneself is a different experience and a process that can best be understood through the different stages one goes through until they reach total identity synthesis. The more we understand this process the we can provide a stable and consistent presence in the life of a vulnerable individual. The most common model is the Cass model of sexual identity development.

Most models of identity development do not take into account sociological variables that can impact the process. With that being said, our culture has become more accepting of LGBTQ orientations/gender definitions so the process of formation would naturally be impacted by that. And lastly, when considering developmental processes it is very unlikely that there is a linear path, from one stage directly to the next. Often stages are resolved quicker or slower or jumped altogether. One might also revisit stages more than once.

However this occurs, a coming theme that continues to emerge in our research is that of isolation during this process. Many of the youth interviewed report an increase in unhealthy, maladaptive behaviors as an attempt to cope with stressors related to their emerging identity/gender affiliation and sense of being socially invisible.

From Wikipedia

The six stages of Cass’ model

Identity Confusion

In the first stage, Identity Confusion, the person is amazed to think of themselves as a gay person. “Could I be gay?” This stage begins with the person’s first awareness of gay or lesbian thoughts, feelings, and attractions. The people typically feel confused and experience turmoil.

To the question “Who am I?”, the answers can be acceptance, denial, or rejection.

Possible responses can be: to avoid information about lesbians and gays; inhibited behavior; denial of homosexuality (“experimenting”, “an accident”, “just drunk”, “just looking”). Males may keep emotional involvement separated from sexual contact; females may have deep relationships that are non-sexual, though strongly emotional.

The possible needs can be: the person may explore internal positive and negative judgments. Will be allowed to be uncertain regarding sexual identity. May find support in knowing thatsexual behavior occurs along a spectrum. May receive permission and encouragement to explore sexual identity as a normal experience (like career identity and social identity).

Identity Comparison

The second stage is called Identity Comparison. In this stage, the person accepts the possibility of being gay or lesbian and examines the wider implications of that tentative commitment. “Maybe this does apply to me.” The self-alienation becomes isolation. The task is to deal with the social alienation.

Possible responses can be: the person may begin to grieve for losses and the things they give up by embracing their sexual orientation (marriage, children). They may compartmentalize their own sexuality—accept lesbian/gay definition of behavior but maintain “heterosexual” identity. Tells oneself, “It’s only temporary”; “I’m just in love with this particular woman/man”; etc.

The possible needs can be: will be very important that the person develops own definitions. Will need information about sexual identity, lesbian, gay community resources, encouragement to talk about loss of heterosexual life expectations. May be permitted to keep some “heterosexual” identity (as “not an all or none” issue).

Identity Tolerance

In the third stage, Identity Tolerance: the person comes to the understanding they are “not the only one”.

The person acknowledges they are likely gay or lesbian and seeks out other gay and lesbian people to combat feelings of isolation. Increased commitment to being lesbian or gay. The task is to decrease social alienation by seeking out lesbians and gays.

Possible responses can be: beginning to have language to talk and think about the issue. Recognition that being lesbian or gay does not preclude other options. Accentuate difference between self and heterosexuals. Seek out lesbian and gay culture (positive contact leads to more positive sense of self, negative contact leads to devaluation of the culture, stops growth). The person may try out variety of stereotypical roles.

The possible needs can be: to be supported in exploring own shame feelings derived from heterosexism, as well as internalized homophobia. Receive support in finding positive lesbian, gay community connections. It is particularly important for the person to know community resources.

Identity Acceptance

The Identity Acceptance stage means the person accepts themselves. “I will be okay.” The person attaches a positive connotation to their gay or lesbian identity and accepts rather than tolerates it. There is continuing and increased contact with the gay and lesbian culture. The task is to deal with inner tension of no longer subscribing to society’s norm, attempt to bring congruence between private and public view of self.

Possible responses can be: accepts gay or lesbian self-identification. May compartmentalize “gay life”. Maintain less and less contact with heterosexual community. Attempt to “fit in” and “not make waves” within the gay and lesbian community. Begin some selective disclosures of sexual identity. More social coming out; more comfortable being seen with groups of men or women that are identified as “gay”. More realistic evaluation of situation.

The possible needs can be: continue exploring grief and loss of heterosexual life expectation, continue exploring internalized homophobia (learned shame from heterosexist society). Find support in making decisions about where, when, and to whom to disclose.

Identity Pride

In the identity pride stage, while sometimes the coming out of the closet arrives, and the main thinking is “I’ve got to let people know who I am!”. The person divides the world into heterosexuals and homosexuals, and is immersed in gay and lesbian culture while minimizing contact with heterosexuals. Us-them quality to political/social viewpoint. The task is to deal with the incongruent views of heterosexuals.

Possible responses include: splits world into “gay” (good) and “straight” (bad)—experiences disclosure crises with heterosexuals as they are less willing to “blend in”—identify gay culture as sole source of support, acquiring all gay friends, business connections, social connections.

The possible needs can be: to receive support for exploring anger issues, to find support for exploring issues of heterosexism, to develop skills for coping with reactions and responses to disclosure to sexual identity, and to resist being defensive.

Identity Synthesis

The last stage in Cass’ model is identity synthesis: the person integrates their sexual identity with all other aspects of self, and sexual orientation becomes only one aspect of self rather than the entire identity.

The task is to integrate gay and lesbian identity so that instead of being the identity, it is an aspect of self.

Possible responses can be: continues to be angry at heterosexism, but with decreased intensity, or allows trust of others to increase and build. Gay and lesbian identity is integrated with all aspects of “self”. The person feels “all right” to move out into the community and not simply define space according to sexual orientation.

Building Bridges (Definitions): Part 1


This is a long post but a necessary one. If two people are trying to communicate and don’t speak the same language they will never fully understand each other. Spend some time studying this list of definitions before you enter the conversation. It will serve you well if you do

LGBPTTQQIIAA+: any combination of letters attempting to represent all the identities in the queer community, this near-exhaustive one (but not exhaustive) represents Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Intergender, Asexual, Ally

Advocate: a person who actively works to end intolerance, educate others, and support social equity for a group

Ally: a straight person who supports queer people

Androgyny: (1) a gender expression that has elements of both masculinity and femininity; (2) occasionally used in place of “intersex” to describe a person with both female and male anatomy

Androsexual/Androphilic: attracted to males, men, and/or masculinity

Asexual: a person who generally does not experience sexual attraction (or very little) to any group of people

Bigender: a person who fluctuates between traditionally “woman” and “man” gender-based behavior and identities, identifying with both genders (and sometimes a third gender)

Binary Gender: a traditional and outdated view of gender, limiting possibilities to “man” and “woman”

Binary Sex: a traditional and outdated view of sex, limiting possibilities to “female” or “male”

Biological sex: the physical anatomy and gendered hormones one is born with, generally described as male, female, or intersex, and often confused with gender

Bisexual: a person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction to people of their own gender as well as another gender; often confused for and used in place of “pansexual”

Cisgender: a description for a person whose gender identity, gender expression, and biological sex all align (e.g., man, masculine, and male)

Cis-man: a person who identifies as a man, presents himself masculinely, and has male biological sex, often referred to as simply “man”

Cis-woman: a person who identifies as a woman, presents herself femininely, and has female biological sex, often referred to as simply “woman”

Closeted: a person who is keeping their sexuality or gender identity a secret from many (or any) people, and has yet to “come out of the closet”

Coming Out: the process of revealing your sexuality or gender identity to individuals in your life; often incorrectly thought to be a one-time event, this is a lifelong and sometimes daily process; not to be confused with “outing”

Cross-dressing: wearing clothing that conflicts with the traditional gender expression of your sex and gender identity (e.g., a man wearing a dress) for any one of many reasons, including relaxation, fun, and sexual gratification; often conflated with transsexuality

Drag King: a person who consciously performs “masculinity,” usually in a show or theatre setting, presenting an exaggerated form of masculine expression, often times done by a woman; often confused with “transsexual” or “transvestite”

Drag Queen: a person who consciously performs “femininity,” usually in a show or theatre setting, presenting an exaggerated form of feminine expression, often times done by a man; often confused with “transsexual” or “transvestite”

Dyke: a derogatory slang term used for lesbian women; reclaimed by many lesbian women as a symbol of pride and used as an in-group term

Faggot: a derogatory slang term used for gay men; reclaimed by many gay men as a symbol of pride and used as an in-group term

Female: a person with a specific set of sexual anatomy (e.g.,  46,XX phenotype, vagina, ovaries, uterus, breasts, higher levels of estrogen, fine body hair) pursuant to this label

Fluid(ity): generally with another term attached, like gender-fluid or fluid-sexuality, fluid(ity) describes an identity that is a fluctuating mix of the options available (e.g., man and woman, gay and straight); not to be confused with “transitioning”

FTM/MTF: a person who has undergone medical treatments to change their biological sex (Female TMale, or Male TFemale), often times to align it with their gender identity; often confused with “trans-man”/”trans-woman”

Gay: a term used to describe a man who is attracted to men, but often used and embraced by women to describe their same-sex relationships as well

Gender Expression: the external display of gender, through a combination of dress, demeanor, social behavior, and other factors, generally measured on a scale of masculinity and femininity

Gender Identity: the internal perception of an individual’s gender, and how they label themselves

Genderless: a person who does not identify with any gender

Genderqueer: (1) a blanket term used to describe people whose gender falls outside of the gender binary; (2) a person who identifies as both a man and a woman, or as neither a man nor a woman; often used in exchange with “transgender”

Gynesexual/Gynephilic: attracted to females, women, and/or femininity

Hermaphrodite: an outdated medical term used to describe someone who is intersex; not used today as it is considered to be medically stigmatizing, and also misleading as it means a person who is 100% male and female, a biological impossibility for humans

Heterosexism: behavior that grants preferential treatment to heterosexual people, reinforces the idea that heterosexuality is somehow better or more “right” than queerness, or ignores/doesn’t address queerness as existing

Heterosexual: a medical definition for a person who is attracted to someone with the other gender (or, literally, biological sex) than they have; often referred to as “straight”

Homophobia: fear, anger, intolerance, resentment, or discomfort with queer people, often focused inwardly as one begins to question their own sexuality

Homosexual: a medical definition for a person who is attracted to someone with the same gender (or, literally, biological sex) they have, this is considered an offensive/stigmatizing term by many members of the queer community; often used incorrectly in place of “lesbian” or “gay”

Hypersex(ual/-ity): a sexual attraction with intensity bordering on insatiability or addiction; recently dismissed as a non-medical condition by the American Psychiatric Association when it was proposed to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version 5.

Intersex: a person with a set of sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit within the labels of female or male (e.g., 47,XXY phenotype, uterus, and penis)

Male: a person with a specific set of sexual anatomy (e.g.,  46,XY phenotype, penis, testis, higher levels of testosterone, coarse body hair, facial hair) pursuant to this label

Outing [someone]: when someone reveals another person’s sexuality or gender identity to an individual or group, often without the person’s consent or approval; not to be confused with “coming out”

Pansexual: a person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction for members of all gender identities/expressions

Queer: (1) historically, this was a derogatory slang term used to identify LGBTQ+ people; (2) a term that has been embraced and reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community as a symbol of pride, representing all individuals who fall out of the gender and sexuality “norms”

Questioning: the process of exploring one’s own sexual orientation, investigating influences that may come from their family, religious upbringing, and internal motivations

Same Gender Loving (SGL): a phrase coined by the African American/Black queer communities used as an alternative for “gay” and “lesbian” by people who may see those as terms of the White queer community

Sexual Orientation: the type of sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction one feels for others, often labeled based on the gender relationship between the person and the people they are attracted to; often mistakenly referred to as “sexual preference”

Sexual Preference: (1) generally when this term is used, it is being mistakenly interchanged with “sexual orientation,” creating an illusion that one has a choice (or “preference”) in who they are attracted to; (2) the types of sexual intercourse, stimulation, and gratification one likes to receive and participate in

Skoliosexual: attracted to genderqueer and transsexual people and expressions (people who aren’t identified as cisgender)

Straight: a man or woman who is attracted to people of the other binary gender than themselves; often referred to as “heterosexual”

Third Gender: (1) a person who does not identify with the traditional genders of “man” or “woman,” but identifies with another gender; (2) the gender category available in societies that recognize three or more genders

Transgender: a blanket term used to describe all people who are not cisgender; occasionally used as “transgendered” but the “ed” is misleading, as it implies something happened to the person to make them transgender, which is not the case

Transitioning: a term used to describe the process of moving from one sex/gender to another, sometimes this is done by hormone or surgical treatments

Transsexual: a person whose gender identity is the binary opposite of their biological sex, who may undergo medical treatments to change their biological sex, often times to align it with their gender identity, or they may live their lives as the opposite sex; often confused with “trans-man”/”trans-woman”

Transvestite: a person who dresses as the binary opposite gender expression (“cross-dresses”) for any one of many reasons, including relaxation, fun, and sexual gratification; often called a “cross-dresser,” and often confused with “transsexual”

Trans-man: a person who was assigned a female sex at birth, but identifies as a man; often confused with “transsexual man” or “FTM”

Trans-woman: a person who was assigned a male sex at birth, but identifies as a woman; often confused with “transsexual woman” or “MTF”

Two-Spirit: a term traditionally used by Native American people to recognize individuals who possess qualities or fulfill roles of both genders

– See more at: http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2013/01/a-comprehensive-list-of-lgbtq-term-definitions/#sthash.Wxs7jhhX.dpuf

Building Bridges (overview)


In an attempt to bridge the gap between the LGBTQ community and faith communities, we are hosting a blog series aimed at helping faith communities grow in their understanding of an often misunderstood people group. The series will consist of 6 posts, many of which are informed by actual conversations with individuals within the LGBTQ community. Here’s what you can expect from this series:

Part 1: Definitions: If you’re anything like me you’re lost in LGBTQ lexicon. Let’s start by clarifying what is meant when certain words are used.

Part 2: Major Themes Among LGBTQ Students: We will hear from LGBTQ students on theme such as Family Rejection/Acceptance, Coming Out, LGBTQ-Related Stress, Intersections with other Identities, Trauma/Bullying, Suicide, Social Invisibility, and Substance Use.

Part 3: Personal Factors Related to Health/Wellness: What factors promote health/wellness and impede health/wellness.

Part 4: Systemic Factors Related to Heath/Wellness: What factors promote health/wellness and impede health/wellness.

Part 5: Strategic Recommendations: We will begin a dialogue among readers with the intention to problem solve strategic ideas for closing the gap between our LGBTQ brothers/sisters and the local faith communities.

Part 6: A Story of Bridge Building: A first-hand account of the impact of effective bridge building.

Online discourse is encouraged and we want to create space for a variety of perspectives to be communicated here. We will not tolerate hate speech or trolling. Comments are moderated for this reason. We wish this to be a safe place for all to join the conversation.

Suicide: Risk Factors vs. Protective Factors


As a professional who works with a high risk population (individuals with an opiate use disorder) I am faced with the reality of suicide ideation/thoughts on a daily basis. As a community member that works with youth at risk I regularly hear suicidal talk. As a father of a young man with a mental illness I have been impacted by suicidal threat. I cannot seem to escape the dark subject of death by self murder. As a result I have made it a part of my life work to educate the public as much as I can and to build networks of communities to come alongside those who struggle with their dark passengers of hopelessness and helplessness.

Researchers have spent many years studying specific factors related those who are vulnerable to the allure of suicide, risk factors as well as protective factors. If the church is to come alongside those who suffer so much that they are considering taking their own lives, we must understand the complexities that lead an individual to those crossroads.

Risk Factors

Mental Health/Substance Abuse

One national survey reports that 82% of people with suicidal thoughts had a mental health disorder. The same survey reports that 94% of individuals had made a plan to commit suicide, and 88% had a previous suicide attempt in the last year.

There are five mental health disorders that increase the risk of suicide; Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), bipolar disorder, major depression, schizophrenic, and anorexia with major depressive disorder being the most common among those who attempt suicide.

Stressful Life Events

  • Sexual orientation
  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Social isolation
  • Owning weapons (particularly firearms)
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Lower class
  • Economic recession
  • Chronic pain
  • PTSD (combat trauma)
  • Immigration

Protective Factors

  • Strong social support
  • Engagement in faith communities
  • Spiritual disciplines
  • Moral conflict about suicide
  • Having a sense of purpose/meaning
  • Emotional regulation skills
  • Coping skills/problem solving skills
  • Having people who will miss us
  • Internal perseverance
  • A sense of responsibility

Talking about suicide will not “plant” the idea in someone’s head.  The idea is likely already there and speaking about it validates the struggle of the individual suffering.  It removes the shame and stigma surrounding it.

  1. Can you identify any of the risk factors in the young people you love?
  2. How can our ministries, families, and communities upon the basic understanding of risk and protective factors to support those in our care?
  3. What is the next step for your ministry, family, or community towards increasing protective factors and reducing risk factors? How will you go about doing this?  Who will you ask for help?  What barriers stand in your way?  What resources/assets do you already have available?

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