BRAINERD, Minn. - The Rev. John Stiles does not believe talking about suicide encourages others to kill themselves-in fact he believes it is quite the opposite.

The pastor of First Lutheran Church in Brainerd and other clergy he has consulted think that one of the worst things a person could do is minimize how a person is feeling.

"I think the biggest takeaway for me was the misconception that simply talking about it might put the idea in someone's head to commit suicide. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's our inability to talk about these matters that cause the most harm," Stiles said.

Friends and relatives of those who take their own lives are often left to wonder if there was anything they could have done, why it happened and, in short, they're trying to make sense of it all.

"Different (faith) traditions will say suiciders go to hell, and I don't believe that, I could never say that to someone," Stiles said. "I try to err on the side of caring-of an 'all-gracious, all-loving God'-so that's the last thing you want to tell somebody (that they're going to hell)."

Stiles said it is important to talk to children at a young age about depression and suicide, and know the signs, such as fatigue, change in appetite or mood swings.

Every 40 seconds, a person dies by suicide somewhere in the world, and more than 800,000 people die by suicide every year according to the World Health Organization.

And according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 34,000 people in the U.S. annually take their own lives, "leaving behind thousands of friends and family members to navigate the tragedy of their loss."

Stiles recommended asking those contemplating suicide if they have a plan, which will also make them actually think about the effect it will have on their loved ones.

"Just the fact that they came to see me says that they have something worth living for and are asking for help ... and at the very least, whether you are a pastor or a parishioner, you can say, 'I am here for you,' and be that lifeline," Stiles said.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15- to 29-year-olds, and there are indications that for each adult who died of suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide according to the World Health Organization, or WHO.

"They're trying to end the pain not their lives, so to speak," Stiles said.

According to the WHO publication "Preventing suicide: A global imperative": "Communities play a critical role in suicide prevention. They can provide social support to vulnerable individuals and engage in follow-up care, fight stigma and support those bereaved by suicide."

"We're created in the image of God, and God doesn't make mistakes," Stiles said. "God doesn't create something that isn't loved and viewed in a sense of beauty in and of itself, and trying to find that image of God in each person can honor it."

Stiles said he would ask those with depression or who are suicidal how they have overcome challenges before, whether they have a blueprint about overcoming to draw strength from.

In more affluent countries, three times as many men die of suicide than women do, but in low- and middle-income countries the male-to-female ratio is much lower at 1.5 men to each

woman, according to the WHO publication.

Globally, suicides also account for about half of all violent deaths in men and 71 percent in women, and suicide rates regarding age are highest in persons aged 70 years or older

for both men and women in almost all regions of the world.

"Let's not just kind of give into the despair ... whatever your faith tradition. ... We're not going to go there, we're not going to fall into the depths of despair because we have reasons to hope, and really that's a lot of what faith is built on," Stiles said.


Get help

If in a crisis or in need of help -- or know of someone who is -- call the Crisis Line and Referral Services at 218-828-HELP (4357) or 800-462-5525. The Crisis Line is answered by local, trained volunteers 24 hours a day. It is a free, anonymous and confidential service.

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