Episcopal churches observe National Suicide Prevention Month to promote education, destigmatization

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Sep 13, 2023

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal churches nationwide are observing National Suicide Prevention Week, an annual campaign to raise suicide awareness and help prevent it.

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is one church planning an event. 

“Walking the way of love is tough, especially for those who don’t feel loved or seen,” the Rev. Matt Holcomb, St. Michael’s rector, told Episcopal News Service. “As a church, we are called to show them the way of love, especially if they’re having thoughts of suicide or self-harm. There’s an important part of being part of the community helping one another and sitting with those who need it.”

“As a church, we’re in a good position to speak and minister to their lives. There’s a lot we can do to offer support for healing,” Holcomb said. “Ultimately, when we’re living into our baptismal covenant, we can offer hope, healing and help to those around us.”

St. Michael’s offers a list of local mental health resources on its website.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, especially among men, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2022, 49,449 deaths were ruled a suicide, an increase of 2.6% from 2021.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. National Suicide Prevention Week is underway through Sept. 16, and began on World Suicide Prevention Day, Sept. 10. The International Association for Suicide Prevention designated Sept. 10 as the annual prevention day in 2003 to destigmatize suicide. 

At its 73rd General Convention in 2000, The Episcopal Church approved Resolution D008, pledging prayer, support and advocacy for suicide prevention awareness. In 2021, General Convention passed resolution C014, which recognized that “clergy and adults who work with youth are often on the frontlines of suicide prevention.” Under Co14, institutions and diocesan programs are encouraged to offer four hours of evidence-based suicide prevention training education for priests, deacons and any adults who work with younger people. Additionally, congregations are encouraged “to call on state and federal leaders to develop and implement strategies to increase access to quality mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention services.”

The following is a list of some parishes hosting suicide prevention events in the coming weeks. Check online for additional events hosted by local congregations.

Rawlins, WyomingSt. Thomas Episcopal Church is currently hosting a free, one-day Soul Shop workshop to train religious leaders in how to equip their congregations to tend to church members who’ve been impacted by suicide and how to minister to anyone having suicidal thoughts. A national organization founded in 2012, Soul Shop offers workshops nationwide in partnership with organizations such as the Episcopal Parish Network and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Macedonia, Ohio — For the second year in a row, St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church is hosting an eight-week suicide loss support group on Monday evenings throughout autumn. The support group is facilitated by an Episcopal priest whose daughter died by suicide and a nurse practitioner whose fiancé died by suicide. The support group is a designated safe place. It is open to anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide and provides an opportunity to discuss their experiences and share coping resources. Meals and support materials are provided at the beginning of each group session by the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation. Contact St. Timothy’s at (330) 467-1103 or stimec@windstream.net for more information.

Jackson, Wyoming — The Teton County Health Department will host a free community suicide prevention training program on Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mountain at St. John’s Episcopal Church. The evidence-based training program, titled safeTalk, teaches participants how to identify the warning signs of someone contemplating suicide and how to prevent it.

“There’s a myth that asking someone about suicide gives them that thought. That does not inspire someone to think about suicide or to even act on it. It actually starts to de-escalate if they are having those thoughts,” Beverly Shore, community prevention coordinator for the Teton County Health Department, told the Jackson Hole News & Guide weekly newspaper.

Colorado Springs, ColoradoSt. Michael’s Episcopal Church will also host a Soul Shop workshop on Oct. 21 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mountain.

Anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts or emotional distress can call the 24-hour Suicide & Crisis Lifeline toll-free at 9-8-8 to receive local mental health assistance, or they can text 435748 for support and resource information. Having health insurance isn’t required. The Episcopal Church’s Department of Faith Formation also offers a list of mental health and suicide prevention resources on its website, including free online intervention training through LivingWorks, creator of safeTalk.

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.