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Just My Thoughts: September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month

Kerrie Kleppin-Winn
September 17 2020

September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month.

Sometimes it strikes me as odd that there IS such a thing, and that someone decided to set aside a whole month just for this issue.  Well, it used to.

At the ripe old age of not-quite-fifty, I can tell you that I have two very close friends who have both lost their husbands to the grips of mental illness and suicide.  They are widows.  And, in my opinion, much too young to be tagged with this moniker and its stereotypes.

I watch both of them struggle to make sense of senseless situations.  I try to love and support them through those struggles and the pain that comes with it.  But the reality is I cannot begin to understand that kind of grief. I can only stand along side and offer hugs and baked goods and a listening ear when they need it.

But because of these two dear souls, I now understand why there is a month – and ENTIRE month – dedicated to preventing one more death like this.

Research has found that 46% of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition. But there are other factors to consider: substance abuse, family history of suicide, history of trauma, even age and gender are considerations, believe it or not.  (Women are far more likely to CONSIDER suicide, but men are FOUR TIMES more likely to die by suicide.)  The statistics are never ending.  And frankly, overwhelming.

And because of those statistics, I’m now going to say to you all: raise your hand if you do not know any one single person that has somehow been impacted by suicide.

I’m going to be very shocked if any of you can raise your hand.

As a congregation, we all mourned with Rick Brenneman when we tragically lost Felix. For better or worse, that moment in time made us – the congregation of First Central – step up and put the wheels in motion to become a WISE (Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive and Engaged) Congregation for Mental Health.  I’m still heartbroken for the event that led us down that path, but I am grateful that we responded in that way.

The church office recently got an email inquiry from another UCC church in Wisconsin who is considering becoming a WISE congregation.  They wanted to speak with someone in our church about the process.  I wasn’t really sure I was the one equipped to answer their questions, but I felt I knew enough to at least say “let me get back to you on that one” if something popped up that was out of my league.

And so one day earlier this month I had a lovely phone chat with a new friend in Wisconsin.

He had lots of questions that I apparently was able to answer sufficiently for his fact-finding purposes. I can’t really remember exactly.  What does stick with me, and what I remember with absolute clarity is that he asked, “How did you know your congregation would be willing to take on the responsibility of a WISE congregation?”

“I don’t think that was ever in question, frankly.  That is just who we ARE,” I said without even really thinking about it.

There was silence on the other end of the phone.

When I went on to try to explain myself two things became crystal clear:  1) I don’t think I mis-spoke when I said that. We are a compassionate and kind and loving and caring group of souls.  But more than that, we all tend to put those things into action. And secondly, apparently, this is rare.

As I see it, I could pick up the phone at any point in my life and call any number of my church family, with any sort of question or request, and not only would I feel that I was heard, I would also be supported through whatever tangled mess I felt life threw at me. And, I would hope that any number of folks would feel the same if they picked up their phone to call me.

It’s just who we are.

And so, THAT is why it’s important for us to take a minute and recognize that we are smack dab in the middle of Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. To take a minute to reflect on the folks among your circles OUTSIDE of our church family that might be struggling. In case you hadn’t noticed, there is an awful lot going on in our greater world right now, not to mention what might be happening on smaller, more personal scales with friends and loved ones in your midst.

That whole “hands and feet” thing that Jesus talked about?  I think this is what he was talking about. I think this is where it comes into play.

Another one of the risk factors for suicide is … get this… periods of prolonged stress.  See also: Global Pandemic.  Joblessness.  Fires and hurricanes we cannot control.

So, please, I beg you, jump on the phone, or the computer and set up a drive way date if you need to, but please, please check in on your friends and your family. REALLY check in. Make sure they are OK.  And if someone is struggling, offer as much support as you are comfortable with and then reach out to others who can help.

And finally: It is OK to not be 100% OK right now. Really, it is.  We are all just trying to do the best we can on any given day in this weird world in which we now find ourselves living. But, and it’s a really big but, if you EVER, even for a second feel like it is just all too much, and it’s just too overwhelming, please, call someone.  Call me, call the church office, open the church directory and blindly pick a number. But do NOT for a single second think that you are facing any sort of crisis alone.

There’s a whole congregation of folks who love you, and who need you, and who are pretty willing to help you with just about anything life might have handed you.  I promise.

 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a host of resources to help identify the signs of suicide as well as helpful tools to help you navigate other mental health emergencies.  You can also call the national suicide prevention lifeline at any time: 800.273.8255