Suicide is a sad reality of life under the sun and clergy are often asked to help. According to Karen Mason’s book, Preventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors, approximately 25 percent of respondents to a large national survey—people who had all types of mental health disorders — said they had contacted clergy for help.” This is, of course, a great opportunity to help people but it can be overwhelming if you lack a basic knowledge about suicide or don’t have any guiding principles on how to help. If that’s you, whether you are a Christian minister or not, Preventing Suicide can fill in the gaps and give you some confidence. Mason offers advice I’ve followed for many year and with good results.
Karen Mason is a professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has training in biblical studies. She also has a PhD in Counseling Psychology and has worked full-time on suicide prevention in Colorado’s Department of Public Health. Drawing from this wide range of knowledge and experience, she walks readers through the basics about suicide: statistics, frameworks for understanding suicide, common myths, and suggestions for helping. And since suicide involves matters of the soul as well as the body, spiritual questions are also addressed such as Do real Christians get depressed? and What about prayer for healing? These are answered questions succinctly and biblically.
The big question—Is suicide a sin? And can it be forgiven?—gets its own chapter. In chapter three, Mason outlines reasons why some think suicide is a sin and why some think it isn’t; why some think it can be forgiven and why some think it can’t. She points out that all these positions, ultimately “choose life.”
In the following chapter, “Theories of Suicide,” Mason surveys the various ways people have answered the question: Why does a person commit suicide? It’s an interesting chapter that reveals the speculative nature of the question, which, in addition to the variety of opinions about the answer, suggests to Mason an open approach, one that explores all possible causes suicidal thoughts and actions—biological, social, psychological, and spiritual. This is wise.
Preventing Suicide covers a wide range of topics but is written well and at an introductory level. It never feels overwhelming, which is a blessing for such a serious topic. In this way, Mason provides a great place to start thinking about how to prevent suicide and help those who are struggling. And, I would add, unless you are considering becoming a mental health care professional, it might even be a good place to end.
One of the things that comes through in the book is how valuable professionals are in dealing with serious mental health challenges. Their expertise can’t be learned in one book. However, she also makes clear that you don’t have to be an expert to be helpful. Just being lovingly present, encouraging, and connecting them professionals who can help in other ways is an big deal. This book will help you understand why that is true and what that kind of help looks like.