Every death touches a web of people. People may react in unexpected ways to the waves of complex feelings that grief brings, whether or not they were close to the person who died. When that death has come by suicide, grief is compounded with haunting questions about what we might have done to prevent the tragedy, if only we had known. Sometimes we might even realize we had a hint or a hunch, but were afraid– or didn’t know how– to talk about it.
The recent suicides of two teens within two weeks at Fordham Prep have touched our church community in White Plains, and we feel the challenge not only to pray, but also to act to try to prevent more such tragedies. It is a sad fact that suicides, especially among teens, sometimes occur in clusters.
It is frightening when a child or teen talks about wanting to end his or her own life. It does not square with our fantasy of childhood as a happy, carefree time of life. Some people, especially when talking with children or teens, are afraid that if the subject of suicide is discussed, that it becomes more likely. This is not true. Fear of talking about suicide prevents people, including children and teens, from getting the help they need.
If you don’t know what to say or how to respond when someone confides in you that they wish they were dead or are thinking about killing themselves, these are skills you can learn. As a start, consult the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for basic information.
The Advocacy, Education and Networks Team of Hudson River Presbytery has committed to developing a list of resources and strategies for churches to help prevent suicide, including suggested public service announcements and community resources.
If you are considering suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Teaching Elder Lynn Dunn serves as Minister of Christian Education and Spiritual Formation at White Plains Presbyterian Church.