Turn On Your “Suicide Watch” Radar

by Rev. Dr. Thomas Taylor
September 18, 2015

As active and faithful church members, church workers and clergy, we often do not turn on our “suicide watch” radar. It took me years of life in a parish and in parish ministry before my “suicide watch” radar was jolted into “on” mode. Jolted I was by a middle of the night call from one of my most faithful members threatening to commit suicide. I, and this parishioner, were fortunate that she had the wherewithal to reach out to someone before she proceeded with her plan of action.

Psalm 118It’s not that I was naïve about the risk of suicide. I’d worked on a psych unit with a number of suicide attempt survivors. I’d spent 2 years handling people in crisis as a telephone hotline counselor. But, as a parish pastor, serving a Lutheran congregation, I seemed to set all that aside. I operated as if our faith and faith community immunized our parishioners from a depth of human pain that tempts people to consider ending their life. But, it doesn’t work that way.

People of faith (even Lutherans!) are not exempt from pain, distress, depression, anxiety, relational turmoil, decision-making angst, physical and mental illness. In short, we’re human like everyone else whether we are involved in the life of the church or not! Suicidal thoughts, even actions, are not caused by a failure of faith.

We all need to have on our “suicide watch” radar within our homes and church homes, while we’re working and when we’re at play with our friends and family. Rarely do those seriously considering suicide hit us over the head with their thoughts, plan and means of action. Our radar needs to be “on”. We need to better detect those around us who are at risk and have tools available to move the at risk person from “imminent danger to current safety” (quote from Dr. Anthony Stephens, developer of suicide prevention program).

To provide this awareness, knowledge, tools, and basic skills, The Lutheran Counseling Center is offering clergy of any denomination a free 2 ½ hour Suicide Preventions & Intervention workshop at 8 different locations throughout Metropolitan New York. In short, this workshop helps clergy better determine who is at risk and how to intervene to protect that person.

Clergy members should register early as space is limited. Our first workshop is October 8th at Trinity Lutheran Church, Islip. For a listing and more information, please see our website at: https://www.lccny.org/suicide-prevention-workshops/ . Reservations can be made by calling LCC at 1-800-317-1173 or emailing our office at Center@LCCNY.org.

We are asking you, our church members, to encourage your pastor to take this training and support him or her through your prayers.

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The Rev. Thomas S. Taylor, Ph.D, LCSWR and certified psychoanalyst, is a Clinical Supervisor with LCC and Pastoral Psychotherapist at Advent Lutheran Church, New York, and Village Lutheran Church, Bronxville.

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