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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