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What should I be aware of when it comes to faith and suicide prevention?

8 themes on faith and suicide prevention

We asked a range of faith and community leaders, and people with lived experience(s) related to suicide and faith, how faith communities might support suicide prevention and resilience, as well as how they might make it difficult to talk about mental health and suicide. The following themes summarise the responses we received.

Each of these themes contains positive aspects, as well as negative, reflecting the nuanced nature of the conversation.

In talking with an individual, it is important not to assume that these factors are present in their context, but to ask open questions, provide them with space to share and let them lead.

How to have faith-informed conversations will be covered later on in this resource.

Importance of community.

Many faith communities place a high priority on meeting together, community and fellowship. The sense of belonging, shared experience and access to care and support this provides can serve as a protective factor for suicide prevention and postvention.

However, some people may consider the close proximity of faith communities to be exposing. The fear of being talked about, or judged, by others might encourage some people experiencing suicidal ideation, or grief after loss, to withdraw, or remain silent.

...the community aspect ... where there might not be direct conversation or support for actual suicidal thoughts, but if somebody is generally struggling, having that community setup ... and knowing that there's certain people that go there on a regular basis, where they can almost become a check in point for somebody... communities ... tend to be quite tight knit communities. And I think often it can be this fear of, you know, kind of being the talk of the town and everyone's going to find out ... So I think in that sense, people then tend to withdraw, isolate themselves from the community out of fear of, you know, being someone's afternoon tea gossip.

Compassion and care.

Most faith communities possess an ethos of care and compassion, including to the most marginalised in society. This is expressed in concepts like sewa, tzedakah, sadaqah, or charity, and may find expression in acts of service and more general pastoral care. This can be of immense power in supporting vulnerable and isolated individuals within communities.

However, it can also lead to well-meaning people offering misplaced comments that could be damaging or triggering for people struggling with their mental health.

Sewa is a big thing ... So someone might be asking you how you are ... just to check in on one another ... but also, a risk factor would be judgement.

While it's the congregation is really good support network to have it can also work as a detriment as well. But I think people generally do try to be helpful, but they feel that they need to say something or fix it as humans, we generally try to fix things...

I think if something can happen where ... they clearly know how and where they can go, what type of organisations can they get in touch with ... and not just ... a passing comment from somebody in the community...

Bereavement and burial practices.

Faith communities have different beliefs and practices around death, bereavement, and burial. Faith and culture intersect, here, as well as differences in perspective across generations. End-of-life rituals can help families cope with loss, providing meaning and comfort in difficult times.

Yet challenges accompanying these practices include:

Grieving ... when your heart is broken, ... you [need to be] allowed to grieve ... I’ve lost family, friends with suicide, and they everything ... sweep under the carpet.

South Asians are very, very famous for having a very close family connection ... in our culture you have those 13 days of mourning ... You would see the street, every family, friends, neighbours, they would sort of start coming to your place, showing their support or discussing about it.

I know that when my parents die, do not want anyone coming to my house. I don't want to. I think actually it could be incredibly retraumatizing.

So in terms of postvention, I think it's a really important role of faith communities and particularly in the in the Muslim community ... the key is it has to be dealt with sensitively. I think there's been a lot of kind of cultural overlay ... where it's such a taboo subject ... But I think there's so much that faith communities can do in that in that postvention phase, because that's kind of ... an open door ... That's a way to kind of break that taboo.

A question of "sinfulness".

There are differing theological approaches to suicide, even within a single faith tradition. Where suicide might have been traditionally been talked about harshly in faith contexts, or defined as a “sin”, people of faith are increasingly recognising more nuanced positions which consider the reality of mental illness and how this may affect somebody’s decision making.

In some cases, belief in the “sinfulness” of suicide may discourage people of faith to consider suicide. In other cases, it may have a chilling effect, hindering discussion and perpetuating a culture of “taboo” or stigma.

Stigma surrounding discussion of mental health and suicide persists in many faith communities. Engagement revealed the need for ongoing work, with faith communities and leaders, to overcome the challenge of stigma.

Again, ‘sin’ is such a simplified word that people use, not exploring other means and other ways of how something can be explained. So a lot of people will use it, I'm sure some people have just been passed on. And they've just heard that. And then they've related it to say, oh, that's what it says, [in the holy book].

There is a lot of stigma, not necessarily from the faith itself, but from within the community and the culture within the community and their perception of the mental health issues and so on...

I think sometimes it's the interpretation of the scripture that people will use rather than thinking about, you know ... how can we support this person as opposed to just telling them that, you know, what they're doing is sinful..?

Resources for navigating suffering.

All faiths address the reality of human suffering, providing powerful resources for understanding and navigating life’s challenges.

Yet this engagement can also lead to divergent interpretations of suffering in individual contexts, and, in some cases, feelings of guilt or condemnation where people have come to believe, or been told, that suffering is serving a God-given purpose.

A protective factor can be that belief, and that faith in God, itself, you know, for so many people, that's what kind of helps them through that journey. was someone said to me you're going through this because it's a test ... you know, a good thing. So I'm laughing about it now. It wasn't funny at the time. I'm in a much stronger situation now. But to be told that when you're already in a vulnerable situation, you almost do question your faith. It's like, okay, why am I being tested? ... I stuck to my faith and I very much believe in God. But a lot of people may not be feeling like that. So it's just like common misconception or misinterpretation of what suffering is.

Expectation of alleviating suffering.

Alongside acknowledging the reality of suffering, many faiths promote resources for the alleviation or endurance of it, both in a present, immediate sense, and in a final, “eternal” sense. These beliefs and resources can provide genuine hope and help for people in distress.

However, they may also lead to a felt pressure to conform to faith-based healing (even if not desired), cultures of “spiritual bypassing”, or the avoidance of medical help.

“Spiritual bypassing” has been described as an appeal by a person of faith to a spiritual power or reality due to a disillusionment with the absence of positive power within their context. It may lead to statements like, “God will heal me”, or, “God will fight for me”.

I think, aligning ... the reality of what someone might be experiencing when they're struggling with their mental health to, you know, almost this very religious view of that, that your God is the only thing that's meant to get you through.

Because not all depressions can use faith to help with it. Sometimes we need medication, so we can't say that, "Just go and pray to God or pray to the Buddha. You'll be fine."

...some people when they do struggle with their mental health, or with suicidal ideation, they have this inner conflict with their relationship with God and their relationship with their faith. However, sometimes being a part of a religious community adds this layer of kind of pressure and expectation that you should be turning to God in in difficult times, whereas that might not be aligned with how an individual is feeling.


Faith leaders are trusted voices within their communities and can be the first place people go for answers to questions, or support. They are therefore positioned to bring positive influence within their communities.

However, they may require additional training in mental heath and suicide prevention. leaders ... hold a lot of responsibility without them even knowing ... I think. And they are role models for so many that believe in that faith. So people hold them to high regard. People have utmost trust for them. People see them as a first line of support. Out of pure desperation, they just don't know where to go. And most times, nine out of ten, they will be the people that they go to and they need to be equipped.

Language and communication.

Culturally-appropriate language can provide powerful ways of communicating about suicide prevention and postvention with diverse audiences. The translation of texts and guidance into community languages, through trusted channels, can help connect people with supports that otherwise may seem inaccessible.

Yet language also presents a barrier, with some cultures lacking equivalent terminology to talk about mental health and suicide.

It should be noted that language for speaking about suicide has developed a lot in the past few decades. Whilst other cultures/languages may not have equivalent terms for “mental health” and “suicide” this does not mean that they lack resources for speaking about or understanding emotional health.

In Chinese ... they don't know what this is called depression ... it's just a mood. Today, I'm not in a good mood. So maybe tomorrow I'll get better ... But it stretches for a longer time, and this is something that they might not be aware of.

... suicide, it's ... kind of ... a Westernised term. So there isn't really like terms [for] suicide in Punjabi. And I think it's just being aware that the terms being used might be different to what their westernised ... view is, if that makes sense.

Language can provide help in so many different ways, but also can hold people back in so many different ways...

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