September 2, 2019

What Catholics need to know about preventing suicide

What Catholics need to know about preventing suicide

By Melinda Moore, Ph.D.

Melinda MooreOver 47,000 Americans die by suicide every year, and suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. It’s getting worse. The suicide rate in 2017 (the most recent year for which we have data) was 33 percent higher than the rate in 1999.

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Faith Communities Task Force has developed the Faith.Hope.Life Campaign and the National Weekend of Prayer, encouraging all congregations, parishes, mosques, temples and other faith gatherings to simply prayer for those individuals whose lives have been touched by suicide. Whether they are a parishioner who is struggling with suicidal ideation, suicide bereavement, or suicide attempt, this simple act of praying for individuals fosters hope, a sense of belongingness, and signals a supportive community willing to provide both spiritual and practical support.

Here are five important points for Catholics to be aware of for preventing suicide:

  • Suicide is rarely caused by a single factor. Although suicide prevention efforts largely focus on identifying and providing treatment for people with mental health conditions, research from the Centers for Disease Control has found that more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death. Relationship problems or loss, substance misuse; physical health problems; and job, money, legal or housing stress often contributed to risk for suicide.
  • Each suicide death leaves 135 people behind who were in some way impacted by the death. These may not just be family members, but classmates, neighbors, co-workers, team members, fellow parishioners and others who cared about them. How emotionally close they felt to the individual who died by suicide predicts the impact of the death. About 30 percent or 48 individuals, called “suicide bereaved,” may have higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempt as a result of losing someone they know to suicide.
  • Religion and spirituality reduce the risk of suicide. Faith communities may be the ideal setting to help people whose lives have been touched by suicide in some way. Having sustaining beliefs, a compassionate community of support, and helpful resources can give life meaning during good times and make it bearable in the worst times. Given their powerful reach, clergy, lay faith leaders and communities of faith are in a position to reduce stigma and shape and change norms on help-seeking and mental health.
  • There are mitigating factors. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, suicide is influenced by “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide” (No. 2282). Father Charles T. Rubey of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the founder of Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide, explains, “There are still some priests who view suicide as a mortal sin. … That has been categorically denied by Church leadership. … It is critical to the healing process for priests and Church leaders to talk openly with parishioners and avoid fearmongering over the Church’s view of suicide.”
  • If you or a loved one are having thoughts of suicide, please call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or text CONNECT at 741741, the Crisis Textline. If you want to learn more about the National Weekend of Prayer, please visit: https://theactionalliance.org/faith-hope-life/national-weekend-of-prayer

Melinda Moore, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky. She is in private practice in Lexington, Kentucky, and routinely trains clinicians in suicide-focused treatment. She received her Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America and attends the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington.

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