You Can Help Your Suicidal Friend
Paul Tautges has served Immanuel Bible Church in Sheboygan, Wisconsin as pastor since 1992. He is also an adjunct professor of biblical counseling and conference speaker. Paul has authored eight books including Counsel One Another, Comfort Those Who Grieve, The Discipline of Mercy, and Brass Heavens. He is also the editor of the popular Help! discipleship counseling booklet series (24 titles). Paul is a NANC Fellow and a Council Board member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. He and his wife Karen are the parents of ten children. Paul blogs regularly at counselingoneanother.com.
- 2013 May 11
In yesterday's post, Bruce Ray corrected eleven myths and misconceptions commonly believed about suicide. Today, he introduces us to the horrific reality of how prevalent suicide has become in our fallen world. He also encourages us to get involved by preparing ourselves to help, especially since those who work in the field of crisis intervention tell us, “A significant number of suicides are preventable, provided help is available." The following words are from the Introduction to his new booklet HELP! My Friend Is Suicidal.
We had responded to our third suicide call in less than a week when one of the detectives working the case, a veteran investigator, looked at me and muttered through clenched teeth, “Too much death!” Then, without another word, he turned and walked off the scene. I should have gone after him, but I didn’t.
The questions that drove my detective friend away that day were also swirling around my own weary mind. What’s going on? Why would Kathy, a friendly and popular employee of a local business, take her life on her lunch hour? Why did Jimmy, barely in his teens, end his life before it had really begun? And how could Matt, a loving husband and father, abandon his young wife and children when they needed him so much?
We understand that people die. They die of old age and cancer. They die in traffic accidents and disasters and wars. We even understand that some people are victims of homicide. But suicide is different. Suicide is self-inflicted. Suicide is a choice. Why? Why do so many people today think suicide is the solution to their difficulties? I’ve had to think a great deal about suicide in the past twenty-plus years, and I’ve learned a great deal about suicidal subjects, too.
Suicide is not new. But its acceptability and even popularity are quite new. Early in the 20th century, Masaryk called suicide “a social ailment peculiar to modern society.” Only fifty years later, Myers labeled depression “the common cold of psychological disorders.” Today there are more than 36,000 confirmed suicides in the US every year (2009=36,909). More than 101 people take their own lives every day; four every hour; one every fifteen minutes. That’s “too much death!”
The actual numbers are under-reported. For every completed suicide there are an estimated 25 attempts. In 2006, there were almost 600,000 hospital Emergency Room visits attributed to suicide attempts. That means there are a lot of friends who are suicidal!
Statistics like these provide useful information, but we must never forget that these numbers represent husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends, neighbors, coworkers and classmates.
Suicide literature often distinguishes between suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. “Vention” comes from the Latin venire (to come) plus pre (to come before), inter (to come between) and post (to come after).
This booklet addresses suicide prevention and intervention. It will help you to recognize the warning signs of suicidal thinking and to be able to defuse a suicidal subject before a suicide takes place. You have a good possibility of being successful.
You Are Qualified to Help
If you know and love the Lord Jesus then you are able to help the suicidal person more than you realize. Bruce Ray writes, "You may not feel prepared, but you have what you need to help. Long before there were professional counselors, people in trouble relied upon family and friends to help them through difficult times. Writing to believers in Rome, the Apostle Paul said to the whole church (not just the church leaders), “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14)." You possess three very important qualifications:
- You have the character to help others. As a believer redeemed by Jesus Christ and filled with his Spirit, you are “full of goodness.” You care about others and you seek to do them good, not harm.
- You have the knowledge to help others. You may not know everything about the problems your friend is confronting, or be an expert on suicide, but you have access to divine wisdom revealed in the Scriptures.
- You have the motivation to help others. You are “competent to instruct one another.” The word translated “instruct” in the NIV means to put or place into mind and is elsewhere translated “admonish,” “warn,” or “counsel.” It carries the idea of lovingly confronting someone with the purpose of bringing about desirable change in his or her thinking and living. Your motivation for helping others is their welfare, not your own personal gain.
Remember, don't try to be a hero. If your friend or family member is in imminent danger then you need to employ the civil authorities whom God has provided to protect his or her life (Rom 13:1-7). Once safety is regained, however, don't merely leave your friend "to the professionals." Even if there is a role they must have at certain points in time you are the person your friend needs right now. Trust the Lord to use you and His Word to direct the mind and heart of your friend to Jesus Christ, the one who came to give not only eternal life, but also the abundant life (John 10:10).