Beliefnet
Doing Life Together

Like many of you, I  heard the very sad news that Pastor, Jarrid Wilson died by suicide last Monday. He left us shortly after he preached a funeral for a woman who also ended her life by suicide. It is all so hard to comprehend when you look at the photos of this 30-year-old man with a beautiful wife and two small children. Why would someone who championed mental health, depression and suicide meet such an end to his life? It’s heartbreaking and we need to pray for his family, friends and the church who are all dealing with the aftermath of suicide.

His death reminds us that pastors and leaders are not immune to the struggles of mental health. And that the church should do a better job of talking about mental illness and removing the stigma. We say this after a suciide, but does anything really change?

And what about those left behind who have to navigate the loss and their uncertain futures? What is the church’s response to those who remain? Children and parents are confused and struggle to answer, “Why?” knowing they may never really know this answer. And what about the church members who attended a funeral and are confused? How are they reacting and what impact does this have on their faith?

To answer these and other questions, we need a better understanding of suicide and mental health. We also need conversations informed by solid doctrine to help people navigate their faith. Suicide is complex and needs more than simply answers of have more faith and read your Bible more often. While there is power in the Gospel, most of us need help applying faith to complex situations, especially in the area of mental health. Myths and stigma need to be removed.

One of the important factors to know is that when someone dies by suicide, those left behind face an increase risk of suicide themselves. The Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention released a report in 2015 with these facts:

  • Someone who loses a first degree relative to suicide is at a three times increased risk for suicide. This is why mental health professionals ask about family history. This is a risk factor that needs to be known and monitored regularly. When people encounter a dark night of the soul, they need support to cope and get through the darkness.
  • For young people, when a peer dies by suicide, suicide contagion can occur and needs to be monitored. This is one reason there was so much out cry from mental health professionals regarding the show, 13 Reasons. Exposure to suicide and ways to do it, can lead to social contagion and an increase in suicide.
  • Men who have a spouse die by suicide have a 46 times increase in risk to do the same. Monitoring and coping skills are needed.

In the days that follow a death by suicide, family members often question so many things in their life they thought to be true. Their world is turned upside down. Grief is not linear. It hits hard, subside and catches them time and again. The “why” turns into incredible sadness and heart break. There is no timeline to stop grieving, but self-care and support are critical in the aftermath. Acknowledge the loss. Let the loved one take the lead and be a good listener.

Because of the stigma that still remains with suicide, others often underestimate the pain felt by those left behind. Compassion is needed. And talking about the loved one and using their name is healthy. Loss survivors often need help from grief counselors, clergy and doctors trained in how to respond to suicide. One survivor labelled this process, “Postvention,” and talked about how important it is to find meaning and purpose out of this type of loss.

The aftermath of a suicide requires more than a one time response of, “I am so sorry.” Follow up and monitoring of those left behind needs to be a part of healthy church and community care.

 

If you went to church today, was there any mention of  pastor Jarrid’s death and help offered?