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We face a mental health crisis today in a suicide rate that is among the 10 top causes of death nationwide — as high as top 3 for some age groups. Suicide kills more people than auto accidents, HIV/AIDS, or homicide. Suicide is killing bullied children, military veterans, and our older men deprived of meaningful work.

Among the reasons that the death rates are now relatively lower for auto accidents, HIV/AIDS, and homicide are hard work we have done, as citizens, as civic organizations, as government agencies, and as businesses. 

  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving has tirelessly worked to keep dangerous drivers off the roads. We haven’t had the collective will to reduce highway speeds, but research and auto industry investment have given us airbags so effective that it is almost impossible to have a fatal accident in a new vehicle.
  • In part because of HIV/AIDS, the LGBQT community has pressed us all to recognize them as members of our families, work colleagues, neighbors, and friends. We have proven unwilling as a nation to let our families and friends die. We have invested in research, in new drugs, in funding payments for those drugs, in providing community-based care. I know someone who has lived for nearly 30 years (so far!) since his diagnosis — don’t you?
  • It can be hard to believe that the homicide rate has dropped, especially when you live in a small city like mine where the Parents of Murdered Children support groups got their start. But the numbers tell the story. The murder rate between 1971 and 1999 was, on average, nearly twice as high as today. Unfortunately, the rate of all violent crimes — including armed robbery and rape — has proved more intractable. It has only in the last five years dropped to the levels seen before the 1970s increases began.

So the question is: Will we work as hard to battle suicide deaths as we have to fight back the deaths we have faced on highways, from homicide, and from HIV/AIDS?

The Research: Authentic Community Prevents Suicide

Some of the nation’s top psychiatric researchers are saying that keys to preventing suicide is ensuring that people have an authentic sense of belonging and purpose for their lives. Thomas Joiner at the University of South Florida and Anthony Pisani of the University of Rochester are both developing evidence-based models for suicide prevention that rely on making sure that people feel important and connected.

Doesn’t that sound like what the church wants to do?

How is your church helping people with mental illness?