From the desk of Sue de Campo, Care Coordinator
Spend time in any large inner city and you can’t help but notice the homeless, the poor, the mentally ill. Likewise, in our schools we can easily spot the children who are struggling, alone, and who don’t quite “fit in.” But it’s not altogether easy to spot those who struggle mightily on the inside. They’ve learned to keep the demons at bay, or at least out of sight of others. Right here in Pitkin County, for example – in this bastion of recreation, beauty and abundance – the depression and suicide rate is among the nation’s highest.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Attempting a concise essay on this very broad and difficult topic has felt like trying to get my arms around an elephant! That said, here are some thoughts which I hope may be helpful as we ponder the inevitable question of “How can I make a difference?”
As a starting point, I turned to Christ’s life for an example of life-affirming action. How did He make a difference? Two things strike me about His life – he reached out to the outcasts and he built community. Since “social isolation is arguably the strongest and most reliable predictor of suicidal behavior,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Jesus was working on what is, realistically, the “ground zero” of suicide prevention.
Much of His ministry was to the marginalized, those on the “outside” whose voices were not heard, let alone granted significance – the women, the children, the sick, the disabled. The preciousness of each person was a notable part of Christ’s perspective. He says, in Matthew 10:30 “…even the hairs on your head are counted.” This granting of significance – paying attention to each other at a heart-and-soul level – is something we can give to each other. It has healing power. James Sullivan states, in his book The Good Listener, “When I listen well, my listening can heal your pain and give you a beautiful sense of your self-worth. But, when I listen poorly, whether I want to do it or not, I put you down! I give you the impression that you are not worth hearing.” Granting significance by respecting and listening well goes a long way to breaking a person’s sense of isolation and worthlessness.
Jesus’s community-building is a second central part of His ministry. The first act in His ministry was to build a team around Him. He could certainly have taught alone, or retreated to a cave to pray, but He began His ministry by choosing a band of friends to be with him. Community building. He was constantly inviting people to come towards him. He began debating with the elders of the Synagogue even as a child. Again, connection and community building. Although he valued solitude for renewal, He was a person of community and connections – connected with his family, his friends and thousands of strangers. We would do well to follow His example and foster connectedness where we can.
As we proceed through September, and our hearts go out to those in places of isolation and profound despair, let’s follow in His footsteps by reaching out to the marginalized and building connections as much we can.