Suicide: the Church as a community of carers

image Published: Jun 29, 2016

In Scotland, it is a sad fact that suicide is one of the major causes of death among young people, particularly among young men. A young death is always one of the most devastating events for a family or a community, and when that death results from suicide the tragedy is all the harder to bear.

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Russell Barr, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said, ‘Of all the many pastoral issues I have dealt with over 38 years of ministry, supporting the family and friends of someone who has taken their own life has been the most challenging. The feelings of anger and guilt can be quite overwhelming for those left behind so doing all that is possible to prevent the tragedy of death by suicide is an important aspect of the work of the church’s work. The gospels tell us that Jesus often spent time with people who were in desperate circumstances so trying to ‘be there’ for people who feel like ending it all is an important part of the church’s ministry.

“The Church of Scotland General Assembly report on suicide, particularly among young men, included an 8 page booklet aimed at stimulating discussion on this subject in Kirk Sessions (see and I am pleased to commend this booklet to you.

Dr Barr continued: “Any suicide, especially the suicide of a young person, has a profound effect on the community to which the church seeks to minister and our approach should always be marked by compassion and understanding rather than blame and recrimination. The General Assembly booklet has been used by many churches, and is also recommended by some NHS agencies dealing with issues such as mental health and suicide.”

“The church often becomes involved after a suicide and it is important to look at how the church, in its parishes and communities, deals with suicide and with those bereaved by suicide. From my own pastoral experience there can be some questions in the aftermath of a suicide which make coping with that particular bereavement difficult: Why did this happen? Why could we not stop it? and grief may be mingled with feelings of anger, guilt confusion and shame.’ It is possible to undertake training to become more able at supporting others who feel desperate or suicidal: among the organisations recommended is Scotland's Mental Health First Aid, and we have recommended that churches avail themselves of local courses which are run free from time to time.

Mental Health Minister Maureen Watt MSP said: “We welcome any work which helps highlight the importance of suicide prevention action, and of sources of support for people who may be at risk of suicide. The Scottish Government treats suicide prevention as a priority area and is working with partner agencies including the NHS, Social Services, Police Scotland and the Voluntary Sector to continue to improve the support available. The Suicide Prevention Strategy 2013-16 sets out a range of evidence-based commitments to continue the downward trend in the suicide rate which we have seen over the last decade and more.

“We provide funding to support the Breathing Space helpline for people experiencing low mood, depression or anxiety; as well as funding to support the work of Samaritans.  We are also working with NHS Boards to make mental health services safer for people at risk of suicide, for example: risk management, better observation and improved management of medicines.”

For further information, or if you would like multiple copies of the booklet, please contact the Society, Religion and Technology Project

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