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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Subject No One Wants to Talk About, But Should

Spiritual Gifts for Suicide Survivors - Lori Cangilla, PhD, Licensed Psychologist, Samaritan Counseling Center of Western PA

Did you know that it is estimated that more than 5 million Americans*** have been directly impacted by suicide—more than twice as many as have been directly impacted by homicide? These people are suicide survivors: people left to live in the wake of the suicide death of someone with whom they had a significant relationship.

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and the theme is “Suicidology: A Place for Everyone.” What is the place for suicide survivors, and what is the role of the Christian community in creating that place?
These questions are near to my heart, because I am a suicide survivor. My father died by suicide 26 years ago, after decades of mental and physical health problems. At the time, the field of suicidology did not necessarily focus on the needs of suicide survivors.

We have come to recognize that suicide survivors need all of the same resources that anyone who is grieving needs—supportive people, a means to express their emotions, and acceptance of the normal range of emotions associated with the grief process. However, because death by suicide continues to be misunderstood and stigmatized, the suicide survivor needs additional compassion, information about suicide, and connection to other survivors. Child and adolescent survivors additionally need access to developmentally-appropriate supports and information.

The Christian community has the potential to be an advocate in the healing process. Clergy, lay leaders, and church members must first educate themselves about suicide myths and the needs of suicide survivors, then commit to reducing ignorance and stigma within their communities.

In ministering to suicide survivors, the Christian community should take a comprehensive approach, not leaving the task to clergy or a church subcommittee. A diverse group of people bringing the Gifts of the Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, reverence, and fear of the Lord, Isaiah 11:1-2) can best support the hurting suicide survivor as s/he moves through the grief process.

I speak from experience when I say that, if you or someone you know is a suicide survivor, there is hope for your healing. Counseling is available for people of all ages at Samaritan, regardless of how long ago the death by suicide occurred. The sites below may also be helpful. Most importantly, no survivor should walk the grieving journey alone. There is always hope.

If you or someone you know needs immediate assistance in a suicide crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
American Association of Suicidology

Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors


***All statistics taken from the American Academy of Suicidology’s website, www.suicidology.org.