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Facing Suicide In The Church

By March 6, 2023June 5th, 2024Liability, Safety Articles

Within the church, there are any number of things you never want to be faced with and learning of a suicide or threat of suicide would definitely rank among the top. 

We recently received a concerned call from a church where this situation became front and center.  A youth group member had indicated to one of the volunteers that they had contemplated suicide. The church responded as they should have and immediately contacted the parents.  In this situation, the parents were aware of the youth’s issues and were taking appropriate actions.

But is the church obligated to any additional duties?  Are they even obligated to report this to the parents?  Texas is a mandatory reporting State so does that apply to this situation?

We reached out to Frank Sommerville, noted non-profit attorney.  Frank advises that the church has no further duty to report the situation to “authorities” – unless the youth self-harms.  Then mandatory reporting may become effective.

Let’s remind ourselves that in terms of suicide concerns, the law is the absolute minimum.  While the courts and statutes may not hold church or school staff to a ministerial duty to even report a student’s suicidal concerns to parents, most will likely agree that’s it the ethical thing to do.

But what more should we know? 

  1. At a minimum, know the telephone number for the suicide prevention hotline.

Help is available
Speak with someone today

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
Hours: Available 24 hours. Languages: English, Spanish.

  1. We’d also like to suggest that those who volunteer to work with youth should undergo some suicide prevention training. Numerous resources are available for training but one easily available to you is through the National Mental Health Association.

For millions of people across the U.S., suicidal thoughts trouble millions of people in the U.S. every year and claim tens of thousands of lives becoming the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S.

While suicidal tendencies are hard to predict, certain warning signs can alert leaders to trouble. Warning signs include: *

  • Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling empty or hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
  • Feeling unbearable emotional or physical pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Giving away important possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family
  • Putting affairs in order, such as making a will
  • Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
  • Talking or thinking about death often

Other serious warning signs that someone may be at risk for attempting suicide include:

  • Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
  • Making a plan or looking for ways to kill themselves, such as searching for lethal methods online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling great guilt or shame
  • Using alcohol or drugs more often
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Changing eating or sleeping habits
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

Suicidal thoughts or actions indicate extreme distress and should not be ignored. As stewards of the greatest message of hope, churches are uniquely positioned to minister to those grappling with thoughts of self-harm.

*National Mental Health Association