The 40th annual National Suicide Prevention Week is Sept. 7-13, 2014. This week surrounds World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept. 10 and has become part of a larger focus on suicide awareness and prevention for the entire month of September.

According to Mental Health Ministries, more than 36,000 people in the United States die by suicide every year; it’s the country’s 10th leading cause of death. Among youth aged 15-24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. Older men (60-plus) die by suicide at a rate that is more than seven times higher than that of older women; the rate for white males aged over 85 is more than four times higher than the nation’s overall rate of suicide.

While suicide may affect some age groups and racial/ethnic groups disproportionately, it is a devastating mental health issue that cuts across all ages, socioeconomic statuses and cultures in every community. The tragedy and impact spreads beyond the victim to their families, friends, school, surrounding communities and further.

In addition to the many resources that Mental Health Ministries provides, Lutheran Suicide Prevention Ministry directs people to resources that can help the church lift up this important ministry. Through the initiatives of this Independent Lutheran Organization, the hope is to help congregations talk about suicide and mental illness, create synod task forces that build awareness and reduce stigma, encourage and help establish seminary-based educational programs on mental illness and suicide prevention, develop sources of help for rostered leaders, and provide documentation on suicide. The Lutheran founders of this ministry, Jerry and Elsie Weyrauch, are survivors of their daughter’s suicide.

Lutheran Suicide Prevention Ministry’s overall purpose is to call attention to and take action on the goals of the ELCA messages: “Suicide Prevention” and “The Body of Christ and Mental Illness.” They also encourage people to download and use the congregational study guide for the ELCA message on mental illness. This study guide helps leaders move congregations into discussions on the messages and ultimately take actions.

“The most important thing the church can do is to live out its call as the body of Christ,” states the ELCA message on mental illness. That is what we do together as the church when we lift up suicide prevention, talk openly with one another, and care for people at risk of committing suicide or survivors of suicide victims.

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