What can we do to stop the teen suicides in our community?

Our Hudson community was saddened at the end of January by another teen suicide, after which many parents asked me, “What can we do? How do we react when we, our family members, friends, or others experience suicidal thoughts or attempts?”

Below are four ways we can react.

First thing is to remember: you are not alone. Whether you are struggling with mental health or have had suicidal thoughts or if you know someone who is, remember we are a community that supports each other.

Often we tell ourselves that no one else will understand what I am going through or if others know we are struggling, they will judge us or shun us. Yet I know from my experience of sharing difficulties with friends, I have never been shamed or ignored.

Yet we have to be willing to be vulnerable. According to Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection,” and to experience true healing. Our vulnerability opens the door for others to admit similar struggles they face, which ultimately allows us to realize we are not alone.

Secondly, we need to reach out to others. Ecclesiastes 4:12 reminds us, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

For God created us to be in a relationship not just with him, but with each other as “a cord of three strands” strong together. Thus, if we are feeling suicidal or know someone who is struggling, it is crucial that we reach out to others to receive and give support and empathy.

The third thing is to be present. Find time to be present with those who are struggling and be aware when you see someone withdrawing socially or emotionally. Set aside time each day to check in with your kids and family, and also those who are facing a dark time and be a non-judgmental listener. Let them know you care and that there is nothing they are experiencing that they have to face alone.

The last thing I would share is that if you having thoughts of suicide or know someone feeling suicidal or unable to cope, the church is here to journey with you and remind you that God loves you. He is not punishing you and God has not abandoned you. As a pastor I pray you may know, whether you belong to a church or not, there are many amazing congregations throughout our communities that would love to walk with you or others who are struggling. The church is a powerful community resource we often forget.

Jesus said in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” and that is the desire of the church as well, that we may be the hands, feet, and voice of Christ for you and those on this journey we call life.

So remember in difficult times: you are not alone, reach out to others, be present, and the church is there to journey with you.

Ladd Sonnenberg is pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Hudson