June 15, 2018

Suicide, Individualism, and the Church

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention now classifies suicide as a public health crisis in the United States. In light of Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and Avicii’s recent deaths, suicide is on everyone’s minds. Still, such a serious topic threatens to fall into the background amidst political news. For the Church, the mental and emotional anguish prompting an individual’s suicide cannot be overlooked.

America is known for coining the phrase, “pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps.” Citizens revel in the possibility of making anything out of life. Immigrants come to this country looking to start over, knowing it is feasible to do so here. Though this sounds good in theory, it also fosters a society of individualists, loneliness, and high suicide rates.

On a scale that ranks countries based on its citizens’ individualism, the United States scores a whopping 91 out of 120, settling in as number one in the world. Émile Durkheim, a French sociologist during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, linked individualism and suicide after conducting a comprehensive study of the possible causes of death. He found the more an individual depends upon himself and less upon a group of people, the more likely he is to commit, what he calls, egoistic suicide. In other words, when citizens in a country become increasingly self-centered, the number of suicides rises.

Though at the forefront of many discussions, suicide is a topic many feel ill-equipped to deal with, especially within the Church. Interestingly, 25 percent of people going through a suicide crisis turn first to clergymen, a higher percentage than those who turn to doctors and psychiatrists first. Since people are turning to the Church for answers, it is crucial that members of the congregation feel prepared to handle such issues.

Much-needed counseling is customarily made available in local congregations. But those of us who are not clergy may still wonder how we can help those battling suicidal thoughts.

One of the more simple ways laypeople can help, is by fostering a community in which people are encouraged to trust and lean upon one another. In today’s individualistic environment, building community among our neighbors, fellow students, and acquaintances  is vital. By establishing a Christian community, those feeling hopeless can find friendships, accountability, and ultimate hope in Jesus Christ.

Galatians 6:2 implores us, as Christians, to carry one another’s burdens.  Exodus 17:12 shows an example of Moses’ friends physically upholding him when he was tired. And Philippians 2:4 instructs us to look out for the interests of others.

Fostering community happens more naturally within a Church setting than in some other spheres of daily life. Small groups are one way congregants are brought together. People are ushered into a scenario where they are asked to interact with those they may not talk to on a regular basis. Church ministries, ideally, form a type of support system for men and women. Other examples of fostering community are hospitality teams, mingling with friends after Sunday sermons, and serving others alongside fellow parishioners at local food banks, charity benefits, or children’s homes.

Secular society sends the message that if we are reliant on others, then we are weak. Jesus Christ sends the message “come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden.”  May we share His message of hope and love with those who need to hear.

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