In 2020, suicide was the twelfth-leading cause of death in the United States, taking 46,000 lives. In 2022, that number appears to have risen substantially. There are nearly two times as many suicides as there are homicides, and an estimated 12 million American adults seriously thought about suicide in 2020.
Millions in America struggle with feelings of self-loathing and hopelessness. (I’ve had friends who have contemplated suicide and who have harmed themselves.) And some experts believe that most mass shootings are a kind of violent suicide attempts.
With suicidality, anxiety, and depression rising, especially in teens who are cyber-bullied and spending lonely hours online, a simplified initiative to get people help is a step in the right direction.
What was formerly known as The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is now 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. That 988 is important—it’s the simple three-digit number to call or text when you (or someone you know) is wrestling with thoughts of suicide.
How The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline became the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
Suicide, suicidal thoughts, and suicidal attempts among young people and even children have risen in the years leading up to 2022. Our country can unite around fighting the epidemic of higher suicide rates. President Trump signed the bipartisan bill to create the number, and the change was enacted during Biden’s presidency.
Sadly, one in six calls made to The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline previously went unanswered by a mental health care professional. This failure called for more funding.
While a single call won’t fix someone’s life, speaking with a caring and respectful counselor on the other end of the phone brings many people away from the brink of suicide. Research has shown it is very effective for those who call. Thankfully, states and the federal government are investing hundreds of millions of dollars of funding into clinics and call centers to keep up with expected new demand.
There are more than two hundred local call centers across the nation that can help people get resources and long-term assistance from local sources. Whether counselors, police, or doctors can get involved, the most supportive help can come from loving family and friends.
Previously, most people in crisis called 911, which often got the police involved instead of the mental care the person on the phone needed. Now, with the memorable 988 call number and professionals who respond to the crises, more police staff and EMTs will be freed up for other life-saving duties.
Suicide warning signs
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicidal warning signs include:
- wanting to die
- great guilt or shame
- being a burden to others
- empty, hopeless, trapped, or having no reason to live
- extremely sad, more anxious, agitated, or full of rage
- unbearable emotional or physical pain
Changing behavior, such as:
- making a plan or researching ways to die
- withdrawing from friends, saying good bye, giving away important items, or making a will
- taking dangerous risks such as driving extremely fast
- displaying extreme mood swings
- eating or sleeping more or less
- using drugs or alcohol more often
Keep in mind while engaging friends and acquaintances that people you wouldn’t expect can be prone to suicide. White, elderly, and middle-aged males are the most likely of any group to commit suicide.
How should Christians respond to suicide?
One of our most popular resources on Denison Forum is “What does the Bible say about suicide?” and “¿Qué dice la Biblia acerca del suicidio?” Story after story in the Bible relates to people in anguish, hopelessness, lament, and utter despair—the Bible does not shy away from the darkest pains of our lives. David’s psalms are often dark and desperate. They don’t always resolve with an answer to his cries, but they do mostly end with David glorifying God regardless of his pain.
Take Psalm 88, where David vulnerably cries out to God, “You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow.” (vv. 8–9) Instead of stuffing down feelings of sadness, lean on Christ.
David, as he cries out to the Lord in hopelessness, will often remind himself that God still reigns and comforts in the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). When darkness threatens to overwhelm us, we can always draw on the Lord for strength. Our prayer won’t always or immediately turn our sadness into happiness, but the Lord does promise a day when he will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4).
Because we are called to live in community in the church, even secular sites encourage religious involvement.
Finding solace in God’s love
Suicide often comes at the lowest points in people’s lives, but that lowest point is temporary. Things will get better since life is full of ups and downs. This is again reflected in David’s psalms, and it’s why he can write “This is the day that the Lᴏʀᴅ has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. . . . Oh give thanks to the Lᴏʀᴅ, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (118:24, 29)
So, for people prone to suicidality, having God as an anchor can help through the worst tempests, resting on his promises and affection. Even when we despair and are confused, we can know that God loves us and sustains us. While we might wonder about the worth of our lives, Jesus’ sacrifice for us testifies to our ultimate worth in his eyes. Called to be image-bearers, it means that we can also fulfill our purpose by caring for and loving others, as Christ did for us.
Helplines have been shown to help people considering suicide. However, people really long for love, care, and relationships. The more we can reflect Christ’s love to people, the more we can point them to the source of eternal love that doesn’t change.
Sit with people in pain, listen to them, point them to help, pray with them and for them, and ultimately, be their friend. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, take them to the Lord and get help from family, friends, and professionals, and make use of 988 if you don’t know where to start.