How can faith leaders help with the addiction and suicide crisis?

Bulletin today from the republican leaders who invited faith leaders to learn more about community issues.

A panel discussion today with faith leaders and republican leaders got me to thinking how this group could help make a dent in this crisis. No matter what your political leaning, this is a nonpartisan issue and will take an effort from all sides.

As community leaders to whom others confide their darkest secrets, I believe faith leaders have the opportunity to tackle a key aspect of this puzzle and I’d like to discuss what I’d like to see from faith leaders.

Modeling behavior

First, I’d like to see modeling of love and compassion for those suffering from substance use disorder.

For this crisis to abate, those who suffer need to know they are loved. My son’s music clearly shows that need. They need to know they are not society throwaways like our culture treats them and faith leaders are in the position to model that behavior for a larger audience. That includes showing love to the person still using even though we know it’s far easier to love someone in recovery.

There is so much shame attached to this disease and that eats as self worth and as a result people who are suffering give up.

Speaking out on these subjects

Embrace bold topics by introducing speakers who will tell stories. You have to touch the hearts of your parishioners before they’ll invest themselves in a cause. From here, you’ll start to see opportunities to take shape, where the need is, and where you want to plug in.

By investing yourself and your place of worship, those opportunities will come to you. Do you want to be more support for criminal justice system, for children and teens, LGBTQ population or other marginalized groups? Where is that niche that is your calling?

Don’t judge

Often people think religious leaders would judge them harshly if they found out a loved one died by suicide, for example. And I’ve heard stories from my readers here on this blog that were told by their minister that what the loved one did was a sin and they need to pray more.

Those who lose a loved one to a stigmatized illness need more support than others simply because they get so little of it. I know that first hand.

You have a child, for example, die from cancer, people don’t hesitate to pay respects. Not so with what people consider a “less noble” causes of death such as suicide or addiction. Those loved ones really suffer. Everyone that goes through a loss this devastating needs that support to start to heal.

What happened?

With the influx of technology, breakdown in connection in our communities, and today’s educational focus more on standardized testing, teens in particular are often left with few real-life opportunities to learn coping skills. We don’t need more trigonometry or more testing. We need more connection. This generation is getting 45% less face time than the previous generation and that’s costing us an entire generation.

Struggling teens are masters at hiding the depression that can result in high risk behavior of all kinds. They need to hear you speak of it. They need to hear stories geared to them which shows you understand their struggles and their culture.  We think keeping them in the dark protects them. But they are faced daily with some serious issues and they are not being asked how they are coping.

Stories matter

I remember getting a note from a mother who told me that after I told my story, she was annoyed since she had no warning what I would speak about. She said she went to the car fuming. “Why would she thrust suicide and addiction to heroin on us without no warning.” She was sorry she brought her teenager.

As soon as she got in the car, her son started talking and ultimately told his mother he might suffer from depression and he had thought about killing himself several times and didn’t know what to do.  He had not worked up the nerve, like most teens, to tell his mother. Like my son.

But since she took him to the event, he opened up. He was desperate to tell someone. So when she sent me the message she was in an entirely different frame of mind and that is one of being thankful her son talked to her and not being angry with me although I can live with that. She also told me it was the longest conversation she had had with her son in over a year.

Faith is often, but not always, a driver in people finding a new purpose in life and maintaining recovery from mental illness and/or addiction. But no matter whether they embrace your message of faith or not, treating people with respect and understanding goes much further than trying to push them into faith.

Opening up conversation is what ushers in change and overcomes resistance so there are more resources. And connection and love are probably the most important component to healing our culture.

Who better to lead that change than our faith leaders and houses of worship?

Trainings available for mental illness and suicide are on those resource pages. REVIVE training for reversing overdose.

Charles and Sandy Hook. Letter to God

Author: Anne Moss Rogers

I am the owner of emotionally naked, a site that reached a quarter million people in its first 18 months. I am President of Beacon Tree Foundation, advocates for youth mental health as well as a writer and public speaker on the topics of suicide, addiction, mental illness, and grief. I lost my youngest son, Charles, 20, to suicide June 5, 2015. I was a marketing professional for years prior to losing my son and co-owned a digital marketing firm.

3 thoughts on “How can faith leaders help with the addiction and suicide crisis?”

  1. Yes to all this AND faith communities can up their education on these topics. Pastors can educate themselves which will, I think, deepen their own teaching. No need to be a subject matter expert but we can do better if we know more. We can also provide platforms for others to educate our congregations and community. Finally – help increase easy access to recovery resources!!

  2. How right you are. Jesus commanded that we love one another. In our area, churches have meetings for Survivors of Suicide (SOS) and people are beginning to speak out about their own stories of mental illness, substance abuse and the need to support youth. Thank you for pointing out that we all need to do our part.

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