Suicide taboo rarely talked about and pastors left clueless - research reveals

Suicide is rarely talked about in church and pastors are likely to be unaware of a person's struggles before they take their life, new research reveals.

The polling suggests suicide is still a taboo among churchgoers with a quarter of victims attending services in the months before their death but only four per cent of families affected say church members or leaders knew of their loved one's struggles.

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But churchgoers do recognise the problem with 76 per cent saying suicide needs to be addressed in their community. Eight in 10 Protestant senior pastors believing their church is equipped to intervene with someone who is threatening suicide.

'Despite their best intentions, churches don't always know how to help those facing mental health struggles,' said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, who carried out the poll.

Although church members (86 per cent) say their church would be a safe place for someone to disclose suicidal thoughts, most realise that friends and families affected are often isolated by the stigma of suicide.

More than half (55 per cent) of churchgoers say people in their community are more likely to gossip about a suicide than to help a victim's family. And few churchgoers say their church takes specific steps to address suicide or has resources to assist those experiencing a mental health crisis.

'Suicide in our culture has for too long been a topic we are afraid to discuss,' said Tim Clinton, president of the American Association of Christian Counsellors who co-sponsored the study. 'Our prayer is that this research will start a national conversation on addressing the suicide pandemic in our nation, and we started by assessing the church's perspective on and response to the issue. We need a clinically responsive approach that gives the gift of life back to those who feel filled with emptiness.'

Lifestyle