Have a Little Faith

Tips for Crisis Centers on How to Collaborate with Faith Communities

Photo by Tim Marshall; unsplash.com

Using the Action Alliance’s “Day of Prayer” to Reach Faith-Based Communities

John Draper, Ph.D.

If you haven’t seen the promotions by the Action Alliance’s Faith Communities Task Force for their National Day of Prayer for Faith, Hope and Life set for September, I urge you to read this post co-written by the Task Force’s leaders — David Litts and Talitha Arnold — with support from Lifeline’s Chris Maxwell. This “Day of Prayer” event will help reinforce the connections that many of our centers have established with local faith-based communities during suicide prevention month. This event (and accompanying video) can also provide a bridge for centers wanting to do more to connect with faith communities, and the many individuals and families that are part of them who could be struggling with concerns related to suicide.

Why might building and/or reinforcing connections between local crisis centers and faith-based communities be important? In some respects, I could see it being as important as building relationships with your local health and behavioral health care providers, especially among certain ethnic, race, rural and suburban cultures. Interestingly, when persons with a history of suicidality were asked in a survey about a decade ago as to what they would turn to when thinking about suicide that would stop them from killing themselves, the most frequently cited preventive approach they employed was “spirituality.” Seeing a mental health professional or calling a crisis hotline was listed fourth, behind turning to family/friends and engaging “positive thoughts.” Other surveys over the last few decades have cited clergy as a more common resource for persons with mental health concerns to consult than mental health professionals, for a number of reasons, ranging from greater familiarity and trust to lower stigma and free access. On the other hand, many clergy members report feeling ill-prepared to manage persons with mental health or suicidal crises, and several have noted the burden that some of these circumstances place on them (“10% of my congregation takes up 90% of my time”). They need our help, and they can help us.

There are quite a number of potential collaborative opportunities. One of my favorite suggestions noted in the blog is to provide clergy, staff and volunteers with ASIST, QPR or other suicide prevention trainings practiced by your center. Centers and faith institutions can work together to establish support groups for survivors of suicide loss or attempts. Faith institutions can help recruit volunteers for crisis centers, either to assist on the lines and/or to conduct outreach or follow-up (home-visits or phone calls) activities for persons at risk. Faith institutions can also be helpful at times in engaging family members in supporting persons who are at risk. Basically, faith institutions can be key collaborators in helping us expand our ability to create more suicide-safe communities — in rural, suburban or metropolitan areas — alongside our work with schools, first responders, social service providers and health care systems.

So check out this blog, and feel free to use the “National Day of Prayer” on Sunday, September 10th to start (or refresh) your suicide prevention conversations with your local faith community leaders and institutions!

When it comes to protective factors related to suicide prevention, someone’s belief, their ability to rely on faith and trust, can be a big one. There are a lot of different reasons why this can be the case. According to the National Action Alliance’s Faith Communities Task Force and their Faith. Hope. Life. Campaign, some of those reasons include “building stable, healthy relationships,” “promoting hope,” and providing a supportive setting for those struggling with any number of life’s issues, including those of an existential nature. For crisis centers, this holds particular significance. Namely in terms of finding out what is important to callers and chat visitors and identifying appropriate supports for them in their communities. Faith communities can play different roles throughout the continuum of care, from initial intervention throughout the following up phase.

Crisis centers can obviously work with their callers and chat visitors on an individual basis to help establish appropriate care in terms of their identified faith, however your center can also establish connections with local faith communities as well, bringing long-term and sustained support for those in the area. Knowing many people in various congregations see their faith leaders as the first point of contact for dealing with stressors in their lives, can you make sure those faith leaders are equipped with effective resources, including your crisis center services? How can we ensure those faith leaders are also equipped with the culturally sensitive suicide prevention resources and are able to identify warning signs? Can we help provide them with steps to take in the case they encounter a member of their congregation experiencing thoughts of suicide? There might even be ways to create a supportive, open, and unbiased setting in the place of worship that encourages congregation members to actually seek out help like including resources in bulletins or in flyers during a service.

Tips for Crisis Centers

David Litts, O.D., a Suicide Prevention and Public Health Policy Expert in Michigan and Co-Lead of the Faith Communities Task Force, lays out some of the most important things to keep in mind while establishing connections with your local faith communities:

- Relationship building is key. Faith leaders may be skeptical of other services, especially if they don’t know or trust them. They want to know whether or not those dealing with mental health issues or crisis will respect a person’s faith. Any outreach from a crisis center to faith leaders should lead with how much they appreciate all the faith leaders do already to help people in crisis, then talk about how they can help in ways that respect faith. For instance, they can be a source of consultation when a faith member is showing warning signs, as well as a referral source. If possible, is there a way to talk about co-managing people in suicidal crisis — the faith leader on the phone with the individual, perhaps? Follow up calls at designated times, are another possibility.
- Offer to provide warning sign cards and posters for the church to hand out and hang on bulletin boards.
- Offer to provide suicide awareness and response education (ASIST/QPR/Lifetalk) to groups at the faith community.

Really it comes down to establishing a value-added nature to the burgeoning relationship. In other words, any shared efforts being discussed should be mutually beneficial regardless of the individual faith community.

Photo by Aaron Burden; unsplash.com

The beginning of these conversations is also a great time to explore any specific cultural issues or concerns that will need to be addressed or identified regarding suicide and suicide prevention. Have these conversations early and regularly during the the work being done — if an issues comes up with the way your crisis center staff or volunteers are supporting an individual of a specific faith community, make sure you address it quickly and appropriately.

Beyond simply preparing our faith leaders to address suicide, we need empower them to create settings where people can speak openly about their struggles. Rev. Talitha Arnold, Co-lead Faith Communities Task Force, and Senior Minister United Church of Santa Fe (United Church of Christ) says, “One of the obstacles that often keeps someone from reaching out to a spiritual leader is the fear that they will be condemned for their mental illness or for having suicidal thoughts (or that their loved one might be). Certainly there is reason for such fear in the past since many faith traditions — including some branches of the Protestant church, as well as Catholic, Jewish and Muslim — have had a history of regarding suicide as an unforgivable sin and that mental illness was a sign that one didn’t have enough faith or hadn’t prayed enough.” However, according to Rev. Arnold, this sentiment has largely changed over the last 20+ years in many faiths and most do not view suicide or mental health differences as a personal failing or cause for judgement. Providing resources to both spiritual leaders and their congregation on these things can be incredibly helpful.

And more good news, Rev. Arnold, points out that “the Faith. Hope. Life. website has information about the ways Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism regard suicide and that might be helpful [for crisis centers] to review.

National Day of Prayer

Finally, there’s an upcoming opportunity for crisis centers to share resources for those in their communities of faith. On the weekend of September 8–10, in recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day, the Action Alliance and Faith. Hope. Life. invite everyone to join together in a National Day of Prayer for those whose lives have been touched or changed by suicide.

According to the Action Alliance, “By joining us, you will be praying for Faith, Hope, and Life-faith that brings hope, and hope that brings life. Join us by praying in your church, your temple or synagogue, your mosque, or even by yourself.”

There are three ways you can get involved, starting with watching and sharing their video:

Next, you can take the pledge to pray.

Additionally, you can take action by communicating with loved ones about the National Day of Prayer (including those in your faith community or faith leaders), plan and pray, and educate others in your community about resources and tools.

If you’re involved with a crisis center and interested in joining the Lifeline, a network of over 150 crisis centers around the country, please email lifelineinfo@mhaofnyc.org.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, reach out. The Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1–800–273-TALK (8255).