A majority of Protestant pastors believe that their church is equipped to help people threatening suicide, but very few turn to the church for help before ending their own lives, according to a new survey.
A study conducted by LifeWay Research has found that 80 percent of senior pastors believe that their church can intervene with someone who is threatening suicide. However, only four percent of churchgoers who have lost a close friend or family member to suicide say church leaders know about their loved one's struggles.
Suicide remains to be the second leading cause of death among Americans aged 15 to 34 and the fourth leading cause for those 35 to 44, the study noted. The Center for Disease Control reported that more than 44,000 Americans have committed suicide in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
The study found that about a third of suicide victims attended church at least monthly during the last months prior to death. But only eight percent of those friends and family say church members or church leaders knew about their loved one's struggles.
"Despite their best intentions, churches don't always know how to help those facing mental health struggles," said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.
The survey also revealed that 76 percent of churchgoers say suicide is a problem that needs to be addressed in their community, while 32 percent say a close acquaintance or family member has died by suicide. Forty-two percent of churchgoers who were affected by suicide said that they lost a family member, while 37 percent said they lost a friend. Six percent lost a coworker, and five percent said they lost a social acquaintance. Two percent lost a fellow church member, while eight percent said they lost other loved ones.
The study, which surveyed 1,000 Protestant senior pastors and 1,000 Protestant and nondenominational churchgoers who attend services at least once a month, was sponsored by the American Association of Christian Counselors, Liberty University Graduate Counseling program, the Liberty University School of Medicine, and the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.
"Suicide in our culture has for too long been a topic we are afraid to discuss," said Tim Clinton, president of the American Association of Christian Counselors.
"Our prayer is that this research will start a national conversation on addressing the suicide pandemic in our nation, and we started by assessing the church's perspective on and response to the issue. We need a clinically responsive approach that gives the gift of life back to those who feel filled with emptiness," he added.