It’s too early to tell whether the coronavirus will actually lead to some sort of “new normal,” but there is one thing we can confidently predict. The impact the disease has had on our society is going to increase the number of people who die by suicide. No church, community, or social group is immune to suicide, and its realities are often poorly understood.

History provides stark evidence. During the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong in 2003, there was a significant increase in the number of people age 65 and older who died by suicide. Researchers who studied those deaths cited social isolation, anxiety, psychological distress, and fears of getting the illness or being a burden to their families as factors behind the increase.

Even before the pandemic, suicide rates were on the increase in the U.S. — up 33 percent between 1999 and 2017.

Social isolation is one of the biggest impacts the coronavirus has had on our population. Add in worries about getting sick, widespread uncertainty, and financial problems, and people facing mental health challenges may be more likely to choose suicide. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported that 45 percent of American adults say their mental health has been affected negatively by the virus.

As a church leader, what can you do to reduce the potential for suicide to affect your church family? There are two key areas, and both focus on education. First, become educated about the realities of suicide. In recent years, mental health researchers have learned a lot about suicide that disproves long-held assumptions and myths. If it’s been some time since you last studied suicide and how to work with people who are contemplating ending their own lives, take steps to update your knowledge (and we can help).

Second, educate others. The church can be a powerful vehicle for educating members about issues such as suicide. The more your congregants know about the realities of suicide, the better able they’ll be to help others who may be considering this terrible action. Care to Change can help by training your staff and members in a simple, proven approach to suicide prevention called QPR. In one brief session, we’ll explain how to determine whether someone may be thinking about killing themselves and how you can keep them from making that choice. Contacting us to learn more is the first step in saving lives.

On September 16th, we’ll host a church leader workshop, teaching how to recognize signs, what to do if you suspect someone may feel suicidal, and how to help once the tragedy of suicide strikes your congregation. Breakfast will be served, so please register to attend. We hope you’ll join us!

Jared Jones combines the use of cognitive and behavioral strategies to help young people who struggle with anxiety, depression and suicidal ideations.