A partner ministry of The General Commission on Religion and Race
September 2021    
Volume 11, #3

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord, Romans 8:38 CEB is printed on a green scroll.
of the
United Methodist
 Disability Connection

Greetings in Christ! 

September is Suicide Prevention Month, but even if you are reading this in another month, I hope you will find this issue helpful. Pastor Coleen Wilsdon writes about Youth Suicide and gives us several helpful links to address this growing concern. And I write about the related but more broadly applicable issue of grieving.

I hope you find this newsletter and these links useful for your congregational ministries and outreach!

Yours in service to Christ,

Sharon McCart, Deaconess
Chair, Mental Health Task Force
Learning About Suicide
The rate of suicide has been increasing recently, whether due to COVID-19, increasing stresses in life, or for other reasons. Suicide is a way to end a life so full of pain that dying looks like the only way out. Suicide is not a selfish act, as some believe, but rather is caused by a mental health crisis that leads a person to believe that loved ones will be better off without them.

Please, let’s not say that a person “commits” suicide. We are committed to good causes, to caring for our families, to serving God and many other things, all positive and constructive. Suicide is not positive, not something we want to strive for. Instead, it is a very tragic and preventable way to die. Instead of saying someone “committed” suicide, it is more accurate to say they died by their own hand. Using this terminology also decreases the stigma.

Feeling alone, unloved, in desperate need of belonging, or hopeless in the aftermath of difficult circumstances or decisions can lead to suicidal thoughts. Loss of a loved one, either because the relationship ended or the loved one died, is also a potential trigger.
5 steps of Be the 1 to: Ask. Keep them safe. Be there. Help them connect. Follow up are printed over a photo of hands. Web address and phone number are below.
Church members and pastors, when properly trained and aware, can intervene and prevent a suicide attempt, assisting a person in danger to get help. But even before acute situations arise our congregations can be places of unconditional love, support, and belonging that can prevent the desperation and loneliness that may lead to self-harm.

I want to emphasize that there is nothing in scripture to justify calling suicide a sin. As we read in Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:38, Common English Bible), “…nothing can separate us from God’s in Christ Jesus our Lord...” Classifying suicide as a sin does nothing to prevent it and only increases the stigma that survivors and families feel.
Contributed by Deaconess Sharon McCart, California-Pacific Conference
Teen Suicide
Imagine being a 12-year-old girl. You are bullied due to being overweight and new to town. For two years, you have been called names, had your hair pulled, and had personal items taken. The emotional pain is so great that you stand in front of the medicine cabinet and hold a palm full of various drugs. Would it be better to simply end the pain?
That 12 year old girl was me. Forty years later, the subject of teen suicide is still stigmatized, and numbers of preteens and teens contemplating or completing suicide are currently the second-leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24.[i] Completion of suicide touches every race, economic and religious demographic. The rate of teen suicide is 3.5 times greater for LGBTQ+ youth compared to heterosexual youth.[ii] The chance of suicide rises greater still in children whose parents attempt or complete suicide.[iii] Although some media outlets have reported there was no data to support an increase in teenager suicide during COVID-19, a new government study shows that suicide rates among teenage girls increased by half during the pandemic.[iv]
As believers we need to recognize there is no guarantee our youth will not seek suicide to end their emotional pain. We should be aware of the facts, risk factors and warning signs of teen suicide. Causes and risk factors may include anxiety, isolation or lack of support, substance abuse, exposure to violence, and relationship conflict. Warning signs can be talking about death, irritability, withdrawing from friends, giving away possessions, or changes in sleep, school performance or appearance.[v] It is important to look at overall patterns of behavior, as small changes may otherwise be undetected.
The stigma surrounding mental health in some religious households can discourage young people from seeking help and cause shame to the families of those who completed suicide. Families of faith must consider an important point: scripture teaches we are all fallen people. Whether you are a teen or adult, parent or child, believer or unbeliever, none of us is perfect or immune from a fallen state. From a medical, spiritual, and human perspective, Christians are not exempt from suicidal thoughts or tendencies.
Room door with poster of diverse children and words We are all wonderfully made over another Welcome poster,
This is not to deny God's influence or the importance of faith and worldviews. On the contrary, biblical values play a role in how a person regards the value of their life. One's hope in Christ can shield against hopelessness but in the depths of depression some may fell alienated and alone. Fear of God’s judgment may also be a deterrent to suicide but we want everyone to know that God loves them and doesn't judge them for having suicidal thoughts. Most believers potentially have access to a powerful support system in their church, but that means such a system must be cultivated and others made aware of people who care. 

We call on churches to take seriously their responsibility to care for the mental health needs of teens and serve as safe havens for youth in distress. Consult the Resource section below for ideas on where to begin this important ministry.

Contributed by Rev. Coleen Wilsdon, Michigan Conference
Resources that Address Suicide
General Resources (recommended by Sharon)

Brief synopsis with several links to other documents

book and study guide by Rachel A. Keefe, 2018, Chalice Press.
Short but incredibly helpful, balanced between personal experience and practical, usable information. The appendices offer specific helps, scriptures, and prayers.
Red cross and words: Mental Health First Aid from National Council for Mental Well-Being
Training is comparable to First Aid in that it prepares people to render aid until professional help can be brought in. If all clergy and church members became certified Mental Health First Aiders, many lives could be saved and many people with mental health challenges would get the help they need.

Webpage includes warning signs, behaviors, and risk factors as well as ways to support a person in a crisis.

Veteran-run support organization specifically for service members and veterans.

Extensive list of interfaith resources including videos. articles, guidebooks, and brochures, many of which are geared for pastors.

90 page pdf that addresses suicide as a public health crisis and offers evidence-based strategies to counteract risks and enhance care.

Group of teens with Keep them safe step of Be the One to campaign overlaid and web address and phone number 1-800-273-8255 below.
Youth-specific Resources (recommended by Pastor Coleen and others)

This page outlines five action steps for communicating with someone who may be suicidal, and is supported by evidence in suicide prevention and offers related toolkits in many formats.

Research-based emergency room screening tool that accurately predicts a teenager's suicide risk.

Free 24 hour text access to a crisis counselor.

Steps for youth and family members to take, resources to contact, plus a 24 hour lifeline to call.

Resources aimed at LGBTQ young people and their circles of support.
The Importance of Taking Time to Grieve
Ocean waves below beach grass.
I have been married for almost 50 years. That means my mother-in-law has been in my life for that many years and a few more. Our relationship began with me being rather afraid of her but over time I came to appreciate her. Finally I realized just how much I love her and that ours was not just a legal relationship anymore. I began calling her my “mother-in-love.”

At the end of July we celebrated her 101st birthday. We held a quiet celebration because she was experiencing medical problems. She slept the entire day while small groups of family members visited. The next day she went to the hospital. When she was released, she went into hospice care.

We were not surprised, then, when she passed away recently. We were waiting for her death, but that doesn’t mean we were prepared for it. How do you prepare to say good-bye to someone who holds such an important place in your life, such a large space in your heart?

My world seems to be in slow motion these days. I have lost the ability to focus. Or maybe it’s not a matter of focus. Maybe it’s that I don’t feel any other emotion or that nothing else is as important to me right now as grieving the loss of someone I love.

The last time I felt this kind of grief, I tried to push through. I kept busy working. I tried and tried to be at my best and ignore my emotions. My mental health was very rocky. I had trouble sleeping. I sobbed and paced, shouting my pain in the night. I felt, at times, that I had lost myself and didn’t know where I had gone.

Work was always there. I was a pastor and visited people in hospice care. I officiated many funerals. Each visit, each service, triggered my grief and I stuffed it down, refusing to recognize that I needed to work through it. I was near to having a breakdown several times and yet pushed to work harder, do more, and go faster, not slower. I was incapable of seeing my own needs.

Some cultures allow for a time of grief. Jews “sit shiva,” for example. But not mainstream US culture. If we grieve too hard, we “should control our emotions.” If we are still grieving a month or twelve later, we are told we should be over it already.
Young garden plants in front of cement block wall.
I am going to be countercultural and advise you to do what I am planning to do this time. Slow down. Whatever it is you need to do for self-care, do it. Set boundaries. Take time for yourself. Ask a friend to watch your kids. Ask a co-worker to fill in for you. Read. Sleep. Pray. Walk. Garden. Go to the beach or your favorite place. Go to church. Whatever you need to do, do it. Cry. Cry some more!

When you think you’re past the worst and your grief is triggered again, don’t stuff it down. You are more important than any of the other things you take care of. Take care of yourself, because grief is love without the loved one. Do what you can to turn that love around and love yourself as well as you can.

That’s what I am going to do!

Contributed by Deaconess Sharon McCart, California-Pacific Conference 

Please address correspondance to our committee e-mail address, and let us know what your congregation is doing around Mental Health ministries!

Disability Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church