Below is the introduction to a round-table discussion from the perspective of several faith traditions. To see more videos in this series along with the follow-up questions and answers, click here. Click to the side of the video to hide the video control bar.

Faith leaders often counsel and work with people who are experiencing pain and considering suicide as a way to escape. Many people seek counseling from their religious leader before they might consider seeking help from a mental health professional. In many ways religious leaders are the frontlines of where people turn in a moment of crisis.

For a number of reasons, faith communities promote protective factors for people who may be experiencing a suicidal crisis. As a group, religiously committed people tend to report greater subjective well-being and life satisfaction.1 Most faith communities offer a source of hopefulness and a place to find a listening ear of comfort. All of the major religions of the world share a common belief: life is to be valued and regarded with respect and dignity.

Special Issues:

  • Using the tenants of faith and religious texts to encourage dialogue around issues of suicide rather than to evoke shame. For instance there are several stories and parables in the Bible and other religious texts that highlight someone in a suicidal crisis. These passages can be used to examine the feelings and decisions facing the people in those situations and how we might look at those feelings and decisions today. Another model for programming is to hold a faith forum where members of diverse faith communities come together to explore how different perspectives handle the issues of suicide prevention, intervention and response.
  • Memorial services, funerals and healing ceremonies for those bereaved by suicide create special challenges for faith leaders because of the delicate nature of the situation. On one hand, services should not romanticize or glorify the suicide death for risk of the contagion (or copycat) effect. On the other hand, a respectful service is a critical ritual for the grieving survivors. Generally permanent markers (e.g., plaques, trees) are not recommended to memorialize a death by suicide. See suggestions for safe messaging here.
  • Pastoral care versus crisis intervention. Those trained in pastoral care are often not prepared to handle a suicide crisis, and thus, knowing additional referral resources and providing on-going training are essential. In addition, many pastoral care providers as well-trained in the grief response; however there are several complications to the grieving process when the death has been caused by suicide including:
    • Survivor guilt – what could I have done to prevent this?
    • Ostracism from the community
    • Feeling blamed for not preventing the suicide
    • Believing loved one is in hell
    • Feeling relief that person has died and the subsequent guilt
    • Training faith community staff as suicide prevention gatekeepers.

Downloadable Tools:

  • Social Marketing Posters: Life Happens, Suicide Does Not Discriminate, Meaning When Life Doesn’t Make Sense
  • Suicide and Spirituality Brochure
  • Healing Ceremony Scripts

For more information, please check out the following links:

  • Fierce Goodbye – a website, book and DVD for faith communities examining issues of suicide
  • After Suicide: Recommendations for Religious Services
  • Suicide Prevention Resource Packages

Resources for survivors of suicide loss:

  • SOS Handbook
  • On-line resources including discussion boards
  1. Handbook of Psychotherapy and Religious Diversity. Richards & Bergin.