Suicide Watch

by Rev. Dr. Thomas Taylor

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.

It’s not that I was naïve about the risk of suicide. I’d work on a psych unit with a number 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 programs for suicide prevention).

This past winter the Lutheran Counseling Center conducted a series of workshops for clergy and church workers on this subject.  Although the workshops are now a thing of the past, interested persons or persons with questions about this issue are welcome to contact the Center to ask questions or to arrange for a meeting with one of the presenters.

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.