Thursday, 14 June 2012

Suicide: The Church as a community of carers

I was distressed to read the recent research into the reasons that Scotland has a higher suicide rate than other parts of the UK.

The fact is that, in Scotland, suicide is a major cause of non- natural death, particularly among young men. A young death is always one of the most devastating events for a family, and when that death results from suicide, the tragedy is all the harder to bear. Those with mental health issues are more likely to attempt or complete suicide; other groups at risk include those leaving care, prison or the armed services, and people involved in substance abuse. The care of these vulnerable groups must be at the core of our work as Christians.

Doing all that is possible to prevent the tragedy of death by suicide is an important aspect of the work of the church concerned as we are to share new life and new hope on our journey through life. For us, as Christians, it is our faith, as well as our care and compassion, which calls us to ‘be there’ for, and to help and support those who are contemplating taking their own life. The Church of Scotland General Assembly of 2011 received a report on suicide, particularly among young men.

It is possible to undertake training to become more able to support 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.

The church often becomes involved after a suicide and it is just as important to look at how the church, in its parishes and communities, deals with suicide and with those bereaved by suicide. Bereavement by suicide does not necessarily take longer to heal than any other bereavement. However, 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? Grief may be mingled with feelings of anger, guilt confusion and shame. Added to these emotional stressors are the involvement of police, the need for a post mortem and the involvement of the Procurator Fiscals Office. Pastoral care for those suffering through this painfully difficult time is a real way the Church can show its "there-ness."

Any suicide, but particularly that of a young person, has a profound effect on the community to which the church seeks to minister. To our shame, the church in Scotland, at both a local and institutional level, has not always dealt with suicide with sufficient compassion. The booklet accompanying the report to the Church of Scotland General Assembly in 2011 has been used by many churches, and is also recommended by some NHS agencies.

I was distressed to read the recent research into the reasons that Scotland has a higher suicide rate than other parts of the UK. Let's do whatever we can to change these alarming statistics

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