By Baptist Press
WASHINGTON — With the U.S. suicide rate increasing 24 percent over the past 15 years according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, mental health experts have called pastors to prepare for ministry to suicidal individuals.
While a pastor need not mention mental health issues every week from the pulpit, “a bit of regular exposure to such human realities has a way of breaking down the walls of shame and secrecy,” Tony Rose, pastor of LaGrange (Ky.) Baptist Church, told Baptist Press. Rose also served as chairman of the Mental Health Advisory Council, appointed by Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank S. Page.
Among the suicide-prevention recommendations of Rose and Texas psychologist Matthew Stanford, also a member of the Mental Health Advisory Council, are asking troubled individuals whether they are contemplating suicide and mentioning mental health issues in sermons.
According to data released in April by the National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. suicide rate increased from 10.5 to 13 per 100,000 people between 1999 and 2014. The only age group to record a decline in suicide during that period was 75 and older.
Males are more likely to commit suicide than females, but researchers noted a 200 percent increase in suicides among adolescent girls ages 10-14, increasing from .5 suicides per 100,000 girls to 1.5.
Stanford, CEO of the Hope and Healing Center in Houston, said simple conversation can go a long way to preventing suicide.
“Actually asking someone if they are contemplating suicide decreases the likelihood that they will commit suicide,” Stanford told Baptist Press. Specifically, pastors should ask individuals threatening suicide “if they have a plan” to carry it out.
Someone without a specific plan is not likely to be in immediate danger of attempting suicide, Stanford said, although anyone with suicidal thoughts should be referred to a trusted mental health professional.
Rose said church attendees contemplating suicide need to hear about the grace of God and hope in Jesus. He advised pastors ministering to potentially suicidal individuals, “I would look as hard as I could at the gospel — like I would when helping someone face any other problem. I would look for promises and assurances and warnings. Then I would pray for the sensitivity of the author of Hebrews to know when to offer the comforts and assurances, and when (if ever concerning the suicidal person) to offer the warnings.”