By Jack Wellman
The rates of suicide are increasing worldwide and a pastor needs to know what to say and what not to say and how to engage the suicidal person. Here are five things that a pastor should consider when counseling someone contemplating suicide.
Ask them Questions
There are ways to approach people who are considering suicide but one approach is to ask them questions which are open ended. That is, ask them questions that don’t require a yes or a no but require more of a comprehensive response. Here are some good questions you might use when counseling someone who is suicidal.
- When did you first begin to feel this way?
- Have you felt this way before?
- Did something happen that made you start to feel this way?
- How can I best help you and support you?
- Please help me understand why you are feeling this way?
- Have you sought help already or before?
- Have you been turned away when you sought help (if they respond to the previous question with a “yes”)?
- (If yes), How did that go?
- If you feel like you want to give up, what could change things for you?
- How do you think your family/friends would react?
- Have you ever suffered from depression? If so, have they ever seen a doctor before about it?
Make Statement like
- I am glad that you reached out to someone like me.
- I have had concerns that you haven’t been yourself lately.
- I can’t really understand all that you are going through but I care about you and want to offer any help that I can.
- You know that you are not alone in feeling this way.
- There are a lot of people that felt this way, even in the Bible.
- Have you ever called a suicide hotline (e.g. an actual hotline is: 1-800-SUICIDE 1-800-784-2433)?
The Dos and Don’ts
- Be honest, open, and forthright and don’t try to solve their problems.
- Speak to them in a calm, reassuring voice.
- Don’t tell them to “snap out of it.”
- Don’t say “It’s not that bad.”
- Continue to be supportive.
- See if you could go with them to get help.
- See if you could meet with them right now (if they’ve called you on the phone or you were told to call them by a family member or friend).
- Be careful what you say to them…don’t be negative toward them or regarding their feelings.
- Don’t be judgmental.
- Try to encourage them.
- Do not argue over their thinking about suicide.
- Listen, listen, listen. Be slow to speak and eager to listen.
- Don’t interrupt them while they’re talking.
- Don’t try to shrink their problems for them or make them think that their problems are not serious.
- Keep continual eye contact and pay close attention.
- Turn off cell phones while you’re speaking with them.
- Offer to come over and speak to them in person or go out together and meet at a neutral sight if they’re speaking to you over the phone.
- Don’t lecture them or quote the Book of Job.
- Try and offer hope about tomorrow but don’t force it if they reject that.
- Show them that you are taking them seriously.
Signs or Symptoms of Impending Suicide
- Withdrawing from church services.
- Lethargic, unemotional reactions to others in services.
- Withdrawing from Sunday school, church functions, or other church-related activities.
- Withdrawing from relationships like church members, family, and friends.
- Substance abuse, alcohol abuse.
- Anger or violent overreaction to minor things.
- Weight loss.
- Divorce or separation.
- Trouble with the law.
- Giving away of personal, valuable possessions, while having made out a will and telling you or others about it.
- Asking about whether suicide is the unpardonable sin.
- Saying “Good bye, I’m done, thanks for trying to help me, I’m going away,” and “you won’t have to worry about me anymore.”
- Reckless behavior like reckless driving, drinking, drugs, or other dangerous activities.
- Sleeplessness (signaled by continual yawning).
- Physical ailments; headaches, nausea, fatigue.
- Self-inflicted injuries, cuts, burns, bruises, head banging, hitting themselves.
- Rejecting any praise or encouragement.
- Neglect of personal appearance, unkempt clothing, hair, etc.
- Extreme boredom.
- Inability to concentrate.
- No interest in conversation with anyone.
What to Do When Suicide is Impending
When you get the feeling or know for sure that they’re going to end their life, drop everything and immediately seek a one on one audience with them or at least stay on the phone with them.
- Do not leave them alone or if you’re on the phone, seek to see them at once.
- Directly ask them, “Are you feeling so bad you’re thinking about committing suicide right now?”
- Have you actually thought about how to do it?
- Ask when are you going to actually do this?
If they answer yes to most or all of these questions, this person may well be seriously considering suicide and is in the “high risk” category, especially if they have a plan made out already. This is urgent. Ask to come over immediately. If they refuse, call one of their parents, siblings, pastor, counselor, or one of their closest friends. Don’t hang up the phone or if you are with them, don’t let them go home or leave your house or wherever you are alone. Offer to pray with them and if they refuse, pray silently while staying with them. People rarely commit suicide when someone is with them. If they intend to commit suicide immediately, you might consider calling 911.
Pastors may be the person’s last, best hope of avoiding suicide. We have to be prepared because this problem is growing at a rapid rate. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that almost 3,000 people a day commit suicide and worldwide rates are growing like never before, having grown by 60% in the last 50 years and the trend is increasing every single year. Christians are not immune to this either.
Even though suicide is the third leading cause of deaths for those ages 15-34, it is not a young-person’s problem. The highest suicide rates are for those 60 years and older. That segment of the population is the fastest growing group in the world but they also have the fastest growing rate of suicide. Many want to put a period where God intends a comma so pastors will need to keep their eyes and ears open. Some of these suicides may have been avoided if the person had sought medical help because sometimes it is as simple as a brain chemical imbalance that is treatable with medicine. Life is precious. People are fragile. It’s a fallen world, and a good shepherd must keep a constant, vigilant watch over his flock.
Take a look at some more of Jack’s article here: Jack Wellman at CMM