The following is an excerpt from Unanswered Bible Study, a six-session bible study based on the book Unanswered by Jeremiah J. Johnston. Both resources are available to order Nov. 3 from lifeway.com/unanswered.
Invisible Illness: A Strategy of Compassion, Concern, and Intervention
Kim was in the prime of her life and was a devout Christian who regularly attended our church. She was married, the mother of four beautiful children, a lover of animals, and a nominee for teacher of the year. However, Kim, age 43, struggled with chronic depression. One day, seeing no way out of her desolation, she went into the woods and committed suicide. The family asked me to officiate and give the message at Kim’s funeral service. I also worked with the family to try and pick up the pieces. The why questions will never end. My experience with Kim and her family awakened me to the stark reality of mental illness—the invisible illness—in our church families.
Suicide has reached epidemic levels. Yet suicide is preventable. Unfortunately, most people do not know where to start.
When someone close to you talks about suicide or exhibits signs of suicidal desires, you can respond by taking five specific action steps. This is a strategy of compassion, concern, and intervention.
STEP 1: CAREFULLY LISTEN AND OBSERVE THE PERSON. When someone is suicidal, do not dominate the conversation or preach at the wounded person. Emotions are raw when a person is suicidal. Think of how gently you would respond to someone who had a broken arm, wrist, or leg. Approach the person with the same care, calmness, and attentiveness. Ask the suicidal person to explain to you what is bothering them. Let them talk. Even though it may be difficult, remain calm, listen, and look the person in the eyes. When someone is suicidal, they frequently self-medicate by abusing drugs and/or alcohol. When a friend or a family member is dependent on drugs, they are communicating to you by their behavior, not just their words. Care enough not to allow their addiction to grow worse year after year. A suicidal individual is counting on you to go the extra mile by carefully observing them, listening to their words and actions, and loving them enough to intervene. Listen and keep listening.
STEP 2: IDENTIFY WITH THE HURTING PERSON. If you do not identify with the suicidal person, there is a much higher risk that you will lose them to suicide. Do not use guilt by suggesting that if they were closer with God, they would not have suicidal thoughts. That is a myth. A Christian who acts like a judgmental Pharisee overlooks the fact that statistically, most people have entertained a momentary or perhaps more prolonged thought of suicide under intense stress.
STEP 3: INITIATE A LOVING, CALCULATED RESPONSE, BEING VERY CAREFUL AND SENSITIVE. Ignoring the suicidal person is the worst possible scenario. Perhaps you were raised in a family that never addressed issues and always swept problems under the rug. That approach is dysfunctional. A healthy person seeks healing for a friend or a family member who is struggling with suicidal thoughts. Saving your family member or friend will require you to interrupt your normal schedule. That is OK. Remember that most people spell love t-i-m-e. Invest time in creating an action to bring the person out of the depth of their suicidal struggle.
STEP 4: ASK THE KEY QUESTION. Whenever you suspect that someone close to you is contemplating taking his or her life, an essential question must be asked: Do you have a plan or method to take your life? Have you considered an actual time to do it? If they have a plan, method, or timeline, they are in immediate danger. Stay with the hurting individual at all times. They should never be left alone. You must also commit to the time and expense of professional help. You do not need to lead the person to healing alone. Perhaps the person might need to be hospitalized. I always encourage a reputable Christian counselor and/or psychiatrist or a trained, experienced pastor to lead an intervention with specific healing steps.
STEP 5: ACCESS THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE. “Like” the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Facebook page: facebook.com/ 800273TALK. This phenomenal organization interfaces with Facebook to geographically pinpoint suicidal comments on Facebook and intervenes with responses to provide assistance. Or phone them at 800.273.TALK.
Excerpted from Jeremiah J. Johnston, Unanswered Bible Study. © 2015 Lifeway Press. Used by permission.