Faith and Mental Health Quarterly
September 2, 2021
Special Issue: Suicide Prevention and Support
September is National Suicide Prevention Month
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time set aside to reduce stigma around the topic, share resources, and raise awareness about actions we all can take to prevent suicide.

For example, according to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, "Evidence shows that providing support services, talking about suicide, reducing access to means of self-harm, and following up with loved ones are just some of the actions we can all take to help others."
Faith communities can commemorate Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in a variety of ways, including learning more about suicide's warning signs and risk factors, and sharing resources for suicide loss survivors - friends and family members affected by the suicide loss of a loved one.
We hope you find this resource helpful. Feel free to share this newsletter, as well as the bulletin insert and worship slide with your faith community.

  • Suicide Prevention Awareness Bulletin Insert - PDF

  • Suicide Prevention Awareness Bulletin Insert - Word

  • Suicide Prevention Awareness Worship Slide - PowerPoint
Faith Communities: A Natural Setting for Suicide Prevention
Faith communities can provide a natural setting for suicide prevention.

In fact, one of the protective factors against suicide is religiosity and a connection to a faith community, says Dr. Munther Barakat, director of behavioral health at Aurora Behavioral Health Center in Wauwatosa, Wis. “Faith communities can provide a sense of belonging and a source of support during difficult times,” he said.

Faith communities can get involved in Suicide Prevention Awareness Month by sharing resources from the CDC, National Alliance on Mental Health, and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention on suicide's warning signs.

Warning signs can differ between adults and children. For example, children and adolescents often externalize their symptoms. “They may act out or there might be some opposition and resistance,” Dr. Barakat says. “And the symptoms will happen abruptly. A lot of time, when there is a change in behavior, it’s pretty evident they are not acting the same. It’s going to be something you notice as being different about that person.”

Experiencing a loss is one of the risk factors for suicide. Faith leaders and congregants can check in on those who have experienced the death of a loved one, divorce, separation, or the inability to do an activity that was once part of their personality or self-concept. “Look for changes in eating habits, sleep and self-care, which can be warning signs,” Dr. Barakat says.

Helping someone in crisis

“Oftentimes, people may feel ill-equipped to help someone in crisis,” Dr. Barakat says. “They may think they need to have a magical statement that will fix things, but oftentimes people just need someone who will listen to them in that moment.”
“You should stay with them because it gives you an opportunity to walk with them to the emergency room if needed,” he says. “You can normalize their feelings and emotions by saying, ‘We all have ups and downs and there are times when we have to get help.’”

Don’t be afraid to ask directly, “Are you having thoughts about hurting yourself?” or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” “It’s okay to ask those questions. You won’t put ideas in their head,” Dr. Barakat adds.

Know the Warning Signs of Suicide
Courtesy: NAMI

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 3rd leading cause of death among adolescents. Suicidal thoughts or behaviors are considered a psychiatric emergency. Someone experiencing these thoughts should seek immediate assistance from a health or mental health care provider.

Know the warning signs

  • Threats or comments about killing themselves, also known as suicidal ideation, can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like “I wish I wasn’t here” but can become more overt and dangerous.
  • Increased alcohol and drug use.
  • Aggressive behavior. A person who’s feeling suicidal may experience higher levels of aggression and rage than they are used to.
  • Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community.
  • Dramatic mood swings indicate that your loved one is not feeling stable and may feel suicidal.
  • Preoccupation with talking, writing or thinking about death.
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior.

Click here to download the NAMI infographic, "It's Okay to Talk About Suicide." See additional infographics here.
If you are thinking about suicide or are worried about a friend or loved one, call:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
  • The NAMI HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. ET.
  • The NAMI Crisis Text Line: Text NAMI to 741-741.
  • Call 911 and request a responder with prevention training to help de-escalate a situation
Accompanying Survivors on Their Healing Journey
Many of us probably know someone who has been impacted by suicide.

According to the CDC, every individual who dies by suicide leaves behind an estimated six or more close family members, friends, and other loved ones. In 2019, for example, more than 45,000 Americans died by suicide. That means at least 270,000 people lost someone they cared deeply about in that year alone.

Suicide affects the wider community, as well. According to a study, for every U.S. suicide death, 135 people are exposed to that suicide. That can include co-workers, classmates, neighbors, and members of a person’s faith community.

“For people who lose someone to suicide, the healing process is a lifelong journey,” says Amy McNicholas, LCPC, mental health specialist and manager of Advocate Health Care Faith and Health Partnerships in Illinois. “What starts out as a roller coaster could come into a gentler ebb and flow. The loss never goes away, but it does soften over time.”

What can we do to walk alongside survivors of suicide and bring them to a place of healing and recovery? According to McNicholas:

First and foremost: listen. "Active listening means really paying attention to what someone is saying,” McNicholas says. “Be empathetic not sympathetic. Empathy fuels connection. You may not be able to relate to their experience, but you can connect with the feelings of sadness and grief.”

Be a continued and consistent presence. “In the early moments, that person may get a lot of support, but in the weeks that follow, may not have as many people surrounding them with support,” McNicholas says. “Try to be a consistent presence and check in with them. Being a companioning and relational presence is such a gift.”

Suicide Awareness in the Jewish Community
By Diane Kushnir Halivni, JCFS Chicago Community Educator and Coordinator, Suicide Prevention and Support

To affect change across the Jewish community, let’s take the month of September —Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month - to become familiar with the increased risks of suicide and lead ourselves and our loved ones to a New Year filled with empathy, kindness and practical skills that can help in a time of crisis.

If you give it some thought, could you answer this question: where were you the first time you heard the word ‘suicide’ used? Was it whispered? Was it someone you knew? Was it someone close to you? Did you think it was something you could catch if you said the word out loud?

If this recollection was a long time ago for you, as it was for me, the topic shrouded itself in mystery. Suicide was secretive, something adults discussed privately. There was little opportunity to understand the circumstances, get clarity on the risks, and learn about preventative steps. Today, more people are talking publicly about suicide, but sadly, often only in the aftermath of a crisis.
Diane Kushnir Halivni is a JCFS Chicago Community Educator and Coordinator, Suicide Prevention and Support. JCFS ChicagoMISSD (The Medication-Induced Suicide Prevention and Education Foundation in Memory of Stewart Dolin) and No Shame On U are partnering to provide suicide prevention education and support in the Jewish community with support from JUF’s Breakthrough Fund.

For more information about mental health resources and suicide prevention training, contact Diane Halivni at
There is no one cause of suicide. Sometimes, there is a known mental health condition or brain disease, like mood or eating disorders, but not always. Other factors may include: chronic pain, financial stress, prolonged grief, history of abuse or trauma (including concussions), addiction, and marginalized identities. Suicide risk might increase because of side effects of certain medications (Akathisia).

If you have had a loved one die by suicide, we extend to you our deepest condolences and compassion. Nearly 6 million adults will know someone who died by suicide this year. Survivors of suicide loss have unprecedented access to peer support through online communities. But the shame and confusion that follows a suicide death often means that families get less support when they deserve more. No one should suffer in silence — not the person struggling with suicidal thoughts, nor the family who lost a loved one to suicide.

The Stigma of Suicide
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Recently I read, in succession, three books on suicide, each written by a mother who lost one of her children to suicide. All three books are powerful, mature, not given to false sentiment, and worth reading: Lois Severson, Healing the Wound from my Daughter’s Suicide, Grief Translated into Words, lost her daughter, Patty, to suicide; Gloria Hutchinson, Damage Done, Suicide of an Only Son, lost her son, David, to suicide; and Marjorie Antus, My Daughter, Her Suicide, and God, A Memoir of Hope, lost her daughter, Mary, to suicide. Patty and David were in their mid-twenties, Mary was still a teen.

You cannot read these biographies and not have your heart ache for these three young people who died in this unfortunate manner. What these books describe in each case is a person who is very loveable, oversensitive, has a history of emotional struggles, and is in all likelihood suffering from a chemical imbalance. Hearing their stories should leave you more convinced than ever that no God worth worshipping could ever condemn any of these persons to exclusion from the family of life simply because of the manner of their deaths. Gabriel Marcel had an axiom which said: To love someone is to say of that person, you at least will not die. That’s solid Christian doctrine.

As Christians we believe that, as a community of believers, we make up the Body of Christ along with all of those who have died in faith before us. Part of that belief is that Christ has given us the power to bind and loose which, among other things, means that our love for someone can hold that person inside our family, inside the community of grace, and inside of heaven itself. In all three of these books, these mothers make it clear that this is exactly what they are doing. Their family, their circle of grace, their love, and their heaven includes their lost child. My heaven too includes these three young people, as should any true understanding of God, of grace, of love, and of the family of life.

Used with permission of the author, Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser. He can be contacted through his website, Follow on Facebook
Opening Up About Suicide
By Paula Jacobs

This story originally appeared in Tablet Magazine, at, and is reprinted with permission.

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner’s life changed forever on July 17, 1996. While leading a USY trip in Israel, he received the news about the suicide of his beloved oldest brother, Gabriel. He still recalls the kindness of the couple who comforted him during his flight home to the U.S. for the funeral, the challenge of concentrating on his studies as a second-year rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and how he felt solely responsible for healing his parents’ wounds because his other two brothers were married with families. “I felt I was carrying the world on my shoulders,” he said.

Over time, Kirshner began to heal, thanks to a supportive professor, therapy sessions, and reciting Kaddish daily for 11 months. “It never gets easier; you just learn how to live with it better,” he said. Since then, Kirshner has made de-stigmatizing mental wellness and suicide a life mission, speaking and writing regularly on the topic.

Upon becoming spiritual leader at Temple Emanuel in Closter, New Jersey, 14 years ago, Kirshner dedicated his first sermon to Gabe and his lifelong struggle with mental wellness. His goal was to address the issue upfront, create a safe communal space to discuss sensitive issues, and let congregants understand that their rabbi, too, has endured life struggles. 

“We need to fight the stigma; 54% of Americans have some connective tissue to suicide. If we still whisper the names of diseases and don’t treat it as the way we treat cancer or a car accident, we are not fixing the problem,” said Kirshner. “Talking about it, seeing the signs, and creating safe spaces are mission critical to helping the cause.”

It has taken years for the Jewish community to break its silence on suicide. Not until 2009, with the founding of Elijah’s Journey, did a Jewish organization focus specifically on suicide awareness. Today, suicide—which is closely intertwined with mental health—is gradually surfacing on the radar of the Jewish communal agenda. That includes programs and services for different ages and backgrounds, as well as resources for clergy.

Family & Youth Institute Offers Suicide Prevention Resources for Muslim Community
“Whoever saves one life, it is written as if they have saved all of humanity.” [Qur’an 5:32]

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in America (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2017). According to the CDC, Americans attempt suicide 1.1 million times a year and a life is lost to suicide every 12.3 minutes. Suicide is present within the Muslim community. To address this issue, The Family & Youth Institute (FYI) developed community resources to help suicide attempt survivors, suicide loss survivors, those with suicidal ideation, and family and friends affected by suicide. These suicide prevention and intervention resources include: 1) a community action guide, 2) prevention infographics, 3) intervention infographics, 4) a toolkit and 5) a video by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention featuring Dr. Sawssan Ahmed, an FYI researcher.
The FYI has worked on providing this extensive information to help the community not only better understand those affected by suicide, but also how to best support them. These resources are available at The FYI Suicide Prevention and Intervention Resources page.

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention created the “National Day of Prayer for Faith, Hope, and Life Video.” It features people of different faiths to bring awareness to suicide prevention and spread messages of hope. The video is short and impactful and can be used for any community presentation to highlight the importance of Muslims supporting those who have been touched by suicide.
Suicide Prevention Resources
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

The NAMI HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. ET.

The NAMI Crisis Text Line: Text NAMI to 741-741.

Warning Signs of Suicide. What to do if You Suspect Someone is Thinking About Suicide: NAMI. English version. Spanish version.

#BeThe1To campaign materials#BeThe1To is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s message for National Suicide Prevention Month and beyond, which helps spread the word about actions we can all take to prevent suicide.

Faith.Hope.Life suicide-prevention campaign for faith communities.

Navigating a Mental Health Crisis: A NAMI Resource Guide for Those Experiencing a Mental Health Emergency: NAMI. English versionSpanish version.

Webinar: Empowering Faith Leaders to Save Lives From Suicide
Sept. 30, noon-1:00 p.m.

Sooner or later, suicide is something every ministry leader will encounter. Whether it’s someone experiencing suicidal thoughts or a community that needs comfort after a loss, what’s important is to be ready.

In this webinar, Glen Bloomstrom, the developer of LivingWorks Faith, will give an overview of the LivingWorks Faith program, an online skills training program that gives church workers readiness and confidence in suicide competencies. Blending Scriptural wisdom and proven best practices, LivingWorks Faith is designed for all Christian ministry leaders to learn key skills for suicide prevention, intervention, and post-vention within their faith community setting through engaging evidence-based video instruction and realistic scenario simulations.

Register here.
SAMHSA Offers "Creating a Healthier Life" Guide
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) has developed “Creating a Healthier Life – a Step-by-Step Guide to Wellness" that offers a broad approach for things we can do—at our own pace, in our own time, and within our own abilities—that can help us feel better and live longer.

The SAMHSA Wellness Initiative envisions a future in which people with mental or substance use problems pursue health, happiness, recovery, and a full and satisfying life in the community.

SAMHSA invites participants to think of wellness as meaning being healthy in many dimensions of our lives. That includes the emotional, physical, occupational, intellectual, financial, social, environmental, and spiritual parts.

The guide includes information on creating balance, embracing support from others, valuing routines and habits, and activities to help participants improve wellness to help participants live well and experience joy and fulfillment in their lives.

Access the guide here.
Faith and Mental Health Specialist Services Available for Faith Communities
Amy McNicholas, LCPC, Faith and Mental Health Specialist and Manager of Faith and Health Partnerships, Illinois, is committed to supporting the emotional well-being of faith communities through a variety of programs and services:

  • Individual clergy consultations
  • Informational webinars (topics to fit your needs)
  • Online support groups
  • Virtual Mental Health First Aid
  • Emotional well-being resources

Please email or call if you need support: or 630-929-9103.

Behavioral Health Care Resources
Advocate Health Care

Additional reading from Advocate Aurora Health health enews
Observances and Commemorations
Faith and Mental Health Quarterly provides updates on mental health resources, events and news to support the well-being of people in your congregation and community.

Please contact Cindy Novak if you have news to share, topics you'd like addressed or if you have questions or concerns. Thank you!
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