A recent article in the Washington Post notes that suicide in the US is on the rise. Why does anyone take their own life? The answer to this is a highly contextualized and conditioned by the individual’s situation.
Immediately, we should avoid the error of assuming that it was a cry for help gone too far, or simply and only a selfish action. Crippling finances, a crumbling marriage, depression, isolation, the loss of loved ones, a combination of reasons and more could all be in play. Because the reasons are so many, our assistance in helping someone grieve and prevent a suicide looks different from person-to-person and story-to-story; but there are recurring trends that Christians can press into to help mount a defense against the ideation of suicide in themselves or others.
One of these recurring themes is the community – or lack of community – that we live in. The average person has over 338 friends on Facebook. This cultural artifice is representative of one of our deepest problems in the West – lack of community. Social media, among other things, has caused our relationships to spread a mile wide and an inch deep. Only the best and most sanitized version of ourselves is neatly portrayed before a virtual world lacking the flesh of the relationships we were designed for. Even our consumeristic habits underscore this lamentable reality. We live in one place, work in another, shop for our groceries in two or three more, do our recreation in yet another, and when it comes to loving our neighbor, we have only one thing in common with them: We live next door. If we miss the basic geographic contour of the gospel (love they neighbor), spreading from physical location to its nearest proximity, we miss out on some basic aspects of community.
By multiple and varied accounts, one of the greatest recurring themes in suicide is isolation and depression, and I believe they feed into one another. If you are in isolation (or quarantine) for too long and unable to express yourself in any semblance of community, depression will soon be on the heels of prolonged isolation.
So what do we do?
Our lives are too disparate and spread out among segmented networks and relationships. As much as it is possible and reasonable I suggest we disentangle our lives from those networks and consolidate ourselves geographically. Live closer to where you work. Shop, go to church and find recreational things to do closer to where you call home. The combined effect of all these consolidations is the increased likelihood of bumping into the same people, and you will be home more, so you can meet your neighbors. Bump into the same people enough over a small span of time and this can begin to express a small, but necessary, feature of a community. The combined effect on a community level is that relationships can form where otherwise people would pass each other as strangers in a store. Someone who might be wiling to hear another’s stories and walk with them might already be in their life and bring them closer after this consolidation takes place.
The first defense to preventing a suicide is authentic relationships in in gospel communities. Where we begin is also where we end. When grieving the loss of a loved one, whether by suicide or something else, we must press into gospel communities. It is here that Christ gives us the means of grace to be expressed and ministered to the brokenhearted and grieving. By pressing into community, we can be life-affirming, holistic and more compelling in our Christian witness.
Josh Holler is an associate pastor at First Baptist Church Duncan, in Duncan, OK, and is the author of the forthcoming book, Redeeming Warriors: Veteran Suicide, Grieving and the Fight for Faith (Christian Focus).