Permission Givers and Suicide

Over the past month, our community has experienced four suicides and one failed attempt.  Like many others, I’ve struggled with how we should respond as individuals and as a church.

In his book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell writes a chapter on cluster suicides and provides some interesting insight. While I’ll give a simplistic review, it is worth picking the book up to read.

In a study done by David Phillips, a sociologist from the University of California at San Diego- he found the when a suicide was reported in a newspaper- that the suicide rates in the area would increase for a brief time. He notes that Marilyn Monroe’s death led to a temporarily led to a 12% increase in suicides nationally. Phillips writes,

“Suicide stories are a kind of natural advertisement for a particular response to your problems. You’ve got all these people who are unhappy and have difficulty making up their minds because they are depressed. They are living with pain. There are lots of stories advertising different kinds of response to that. It could be that Billy Graham has a crusade going on that weekend- that’s a religious response. Or it could be that somebody is advertising an escapist movie- that’s another response. Suicide stories offer another kind of alternative.”

Gladwell goes on to say that an initial suicide can be a permission-giver for those who don’t know how to respond to the pain and despair they are experiencing. Which is why suicides can often appear in clusters. Others are empowered to consider suicide a viable option to choose from because others have done it.

So what can we do about suicide?
1. Continually teach that we are created in God’s image, we have sacred worth, and are loved by God.
2. Step away from escapist theology (so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good) and teach that the Kingdom is present now- and that we have a purpose to fulfill in the Kingdom. I find Ephesians 2:10 particularly helpful with young people.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (NLT)

3. Listen to our children and friends. Are we taking time to really listen to their concerns and their struggles? Do we create safe space in our homes for our children to share what is really on their minds?
4. Parents- who do are children look to for permission? Are there Godly men and women in their lives to invest in them, love them, and listen to them? Let’s encourage our kids to find mentors in pastors, youth pastors, and other men and women who set a positive example and who navigate the troubles of this world by the grace of God and with the hope that God brings.

How do you address suicide in your ministry context?

About Steve LaMotte

Husband of Andrea and father of four amazing children. Pastor at Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, Delaware.
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