by Evan Owens
Suicide rates have been rising in nearly every state year over year for the past decade. Last year, over 47,000 Americans died by suicide, bringing suicide onto the infamous list of the leading causes of death. The American Association for Suicidology (AAS) estimates that there were 1.1 million suicide attempts in 2016. That translates to an attempt every 28 seconds.
We are experiencing the first-ever, self inflicted genocide. We are killing ourselves at a rate so astounding that it has caused the average life expectancy to decrease in America. In other words, statistically speaking, we aren’t living as long as we did twenty years ago. Fewer babies are dying at birth and people over the age of 80 are living longer, but drug abuse and suicide are skewing the data to paint a tragic picture.
Suicide is the second most common cause of death for ages 15-24, second only to accidental death. Those most common to die by suicide are white, middle-aged males. Your banker. The CEO of the healthcare company down the road. The guy in the pew next to you who lost his job last month.
Something has to be done – but what? How should the church respond to this epidemic?
We must continue to restore the value of human life.
As Christians, we believe that God breathes life into every living being. Genesis 2: 7, “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” This life has value simply because of the one who created it. It is a masterpiece, created to do great things. Psalm 8:5 says, “Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.”
Our existence cost God greatly. Romans 5:8, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The value of human life is rising for the unborn. Despite what you may hear or read on social media, the battle to protect the unborn is being won in large, due to the efforts of evangelical Christians. In 1990, over 1.4 million babies were aborted. That number has steadily decreased and projections show that by 2020 there may be less than 500,000 abortions. Christians are restoring the value placed on human life inside the womb.
We must deploy similar tactics and passion in an effort to stem the tide of suicide. Those who have attempted but not completed suicide must be given platforms to share their stories. We must remove shame and instead learn from their experiences. The goal is not to glorify the attempt but rather to inspire prevention.
We must talk about perseverance and give opportunities for it to be developed.
Suicide prevention is only part of the equation – and in my opinon – the less vital part. Romans 5:3-5 says, “Not only so, but we[a] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Catch this: in order for hope to be produced, we must first persevere through suffering. Remove perseverance and hope is lost. This is where the Christian message can flip this conversation on its head and offer a significantly different viewpoint. Scripture doesn’t say to avoid suffering, but rather to embrace it and let it produce something good in you.
As a culture we are losing our grit. Hard things that were considered part of the human experience are now being seen as illnesses to avoid. We seek comfort and wellness above all else. This is evidenced by a booming wellness industry and recording-breaking growth in pharmaceuticals. But while this search for more comfort allows us to numb the feelings that come along with hard experiences, it also robs us of their fruit. When we bypass the pain, we bypass the hope.
As contradictory as it may sound, the path to hope comes through experiencing pain, not avoiding it!
As Christians encountering those who are suffering or experiencing suicidal ideations, we shouldn’t make their life harder. But we should work to help them see the small victories. These small victories rebuild hope. We should encourage them that hardship doesn’t have to crush them, but instead can make them stronger.
We must all become first responders
It would be wonderful if heart attacks always happened in the emergency room, but they don’t! That’s why CPR is such a valuable skill to have. Every person who knows CPR has the ability to save a life with just a little bit of training. Imagine every Christian knowing trauma CPR or mental health CPR. How many lives could we save?
We aren’t all counselors, but we can all learn trauma CPR. Together, we can lead the broken-hearted to the Healer. The city on the hill becomes most visible during the darkest of nights. When people are suicidal, the city on the hill should be a beacon of light and life, offering hope to those who need it most.
Evan Owens currently serves as the Executive Director of REBOOT Recovery. He is certified in military ministry and has personally facilitated trauma recovery groups for over 350 combat veterans and military spouses. REBOOT is a non-profit that helps veterans, first responders and their loved ones to heal from the moral and spiritual wounds associated with service-related trauma.