The Catholic Church and Suicide Prevention?
Holy Spirit Parish at Geist Catholic Church invited teen mental health and suicide prevention expert, Jeff Yalden to Fishers, Indiana to speak truth to parents and the congregation about today’s youth and the suicide epidemic plaguing our country.
For more than two hours, Jeff mesmerized the nearly 500 people that came from all over the outskirts of Indianapolis to hear his straight talk about today’s teens growing up in the digital age – and the potential adverse effect these devices are having on them.
Jeff asked one question before speaking: “What is the Catholic religion’s stance on suicide among its congregation?”
Jeff wanted to make sure that he was going to be safe talking about teen suicide in the church, and it turned out that he was. His point of contact and the pastor, Father Dan, were incredible human beings – and they sat with him for an hour before people started arriving. They had a great discussion about God, the church, the people, faith and so much more.
“I was so honored and excited after spending this time with Pastor Dan and his leadership team,” Jeff said.
The Catholic Church has changed over the years when it comes to suicide. According to theology of the Catholic Church, suicide is considered a grave matter, an element required for mortal sin. They believed that one’s life is the property of God and that one’s body is a gift to the world. To destroy life is to wrongly assert dominion over what God wanted for his child – and this act of taking one’s life was held as despair over salvation.
Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God. – Catechism of the Catholic Church
Suicide is seriously contrary to justice, hope, and charity. It is forbidden by the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”
As of most recently, the official Catechism of the Catholic Church indicates that the person who committed suicide may not always be fully right in their mind, and thus not 100 percent morally culpable: “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.”
Theological author Jonathan MS Pierce puts it this way:
“The Catholic Church prays for those who have committed suicide, knowing that Christ shall judge the deceased fairly and justly. The Church also prays for the close relations of the deceased, that the loving and healing touch of God will comfort those torn apart by the impact of the suicide.”
In days past, people who made the forever decision to commit suicide were denied a Christian funeral. That’s beyond harsh – and Pope Pius X said, “In the Fifth Commandment God forbids suicide, because man is not the master of his own life no more than of the life of another. Hence the Church punishes suicide by deprivation of Christian burial.”
Today, thankfully, it’s understood that God is ultimately the final judge of people places and things – and the Catholic Church has lightened up on its stance on suicide.
It’s understood today that God ultimately is the final judge of people, places, and things and thus the Catholic Religion has lightened up its stance on Suicide.
National Suicide Prevention Week takes place in September in the United States – where mental health professionals and advocates share tips and advice on suicide prevention – and lay out warning signs, symptoms, myths, facts and more in the hope of stemming the tide and preventing suicide.
Mr. Jarrid Wilson . . . Pastor and Mental Health Advocate Dies by Suicide
In September, pastor and mental health advocate Jarrid Wilson took his life. He was only 30.
Just a few hours before his forever decision, he tweeted about Jesus’ compassion for the depressed and suicidal: “Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that.” This was his last and final tweet before he chose to take his life, leaving behind many fans and followers, a wife and two children.
This act of selfishness really hurt Jeff and made him very bitter about who advocates for mental health – and especially those who would also call themselves pastors. Jeff is very protective of this conversation – the conversation around suicide and about eliminating the stigma surrounding it – and feels strongly that whomever advocates must be vigilant about doing the work themselves.
If someone with a sizable following is sending a message of hope, that person’s responsibility to others is great. If that person decides to die by suicide, this sends a more powerful message than the original one, the implication being that it was all for naught.
“It’s been a tough month.” says Jeff.
Wilson had been a long-time advocate for mental health. He and his wife founded “Anthem of Hope,” a Christian outreach for the depressed and suicidal. His death followed that of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein, another young, vibrant evangelical pastor and mental health advocate who committed suicide last year.
Teen Suicide is an Epidemic and The Catholic Church has a Responsibility
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] reports that suicide rates among working-age Americans (from 16-64) 34 percent between 2000 and 2016. Among Americans aged 10-24, the spike was even more dramatic – CDC data shows a 50 percent increase in suicides in this group between 2000 and 2017.
The suicides of these two pastors highlight this concerning upward trend in suicide, especially among young people – even among those who are part of a Christian community.
During his visit with the community at Holy Spirit Parish at Geist Catholic Church, Jeff talked about some things our youth are dealing with today that young people didn’t deal with as few as ten years ago. A key point was the fact that today’s youth are connected 24/7/365 and constantly stressed and anxious – living in a world where they are always comparing their lives to those of others.
Jeff says in his book, “Teen Suicide: The WHY Behind Today’s Suicide Epidemic” . . . that if you spend more than four to five hours a day on social media or your smartphone you are 70 percent more likely to have major depression in your life.
Jeff’s book doesn’t get into the psychological sciences and Catholic spirituality, philosophy and theology. Jeff wrote the book as today’s youth think, reason, and act. It is straightforward and to the point, written in a concrete manner that makes it and easy to understand the depth of teens, their brokenness and why they’re feeling the way they’re feeling.
Certainly, one of the driving factors of an increase in suicide among teens and young adults is their constant connectedness to the world through smartphones and the social media platforms, combined with a lack of greater meaning in their lives.
According to a 2015 article from the peer-reviewed research journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, “frequent social media use in children and teenagers is associated with poor psychological functioning, as it limits their daily face-to-face interactions, impairing their ability to keep and maintain meaningful relationships.”
“The lack of coping skills and problem-solving skills make it very difficult for today’s youth who live in the here and the now to understand that not all things are taken care of in the present moment. Our youth don’t understand that today,” says Yalden.
One of the biggest suicide prevention tools that communities of faith can provide, Yalden says, is being full communities of faith, where people feel connected and non-judged, valued, and validated as whole people.
Our Churches have to be more involved with families, our youth and more present in our communities – but in non-judgmental ways. Every child needs to have a significant and trusted adult they can reach out to and our churches are filled with so many loving and kind people. Our churches are a great place where a difference can be made immediately.
Jeff sends a special thank-you to Holy Spirit Parish at Geist Catholic Church and to Pastor Dan and his staff for having this conversation.
If you are interested in Jeff coming to your Church or School Community, please visit www.JeffYalden.com.
Purchase you copy of Teen Suicide: The “Why” Behind America’s Suicide Epidemic.