Clergy are often in the front line of response when there has been a suicide death. As such, they are in a unique position to play a vital role in starting the healing process for family and friends who have lost loved ones to suicide. They are also likely to be asked theological questions related to the suicide death by those who are survivors of the loss, as they struggle to try to understand the complexities of the death of their loved one.
Those who have lost a loved one to suicide are at greater risk for suicide themselves and so they need to be assessed for this risk and connected to needed supports. Clergy should be familiar with the warning signs of suicide so that they can help to identify those at risk and link them to appropriate treatment services.
Memorial services provide important opportunities to increase awareness regarding the issue of suicide and provide a sense of hope and healing. It is important to note that the messages conveyed at this service can either increase or decrease the risk for suicide for those attending the memorial service that may be experiencing emotional pain or suicidal thoughts of their own. It is important not to glamorize the death or emphasize the sense of peace of the person who has died. The words used in the service should be carefully chosen in order to minimize the stigma associated with a suicide loss.
After a Suicide: Recommendations for Religious Services and Other Public Memorial Observances
This publication aids community and faith leaders who plan memorial observances and provide support for individuals after the loss of a loved one to suicide by offering a series of resources and recommendations.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) publishes a guide Supporting Survivors of Suicide Loss: A Guide for Funeral Directors that explains what is different about suicide death, what survivors may feel, the stigma and discrimination of suicide, how to show sensitivity, and steps to manage stress and burnout.
Access Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s The Role of faith communities in preventing suicide: A report of an Interfaith Suicide Prevention Dialogue. This is a Report of an Interfaith Suicide Prevention Dialogue that was convened by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) to further the progress of faith communities in preventing suicide, and was supported by the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Participants included representatives of the five largest faith groups in the United States.