Caring Communities Fulfill the Mitzvah of Pikuah Nefesh, Saving Lives
Congregations can help reduce the number of suicides and lead people who struggle with depression toward help when we teach our youth, youth group leaders and parents how to monitor and respond to despairing text messages, Facebook postings and tweets.
People of all ages can experience severe depression, and probably one in five adults or teens in our congregations are suffering from a psychiatric condition at any given time. The unremitting pain of untreated major depression can lead to suicide. And those who have suffered a severe loss, experience of shame or deep disappointment are more prone to an impulsive suicide attempt even if they have not been seriously depressed before the event. Community members need to know that they can turn to us for help during troubled times.
Often people who are considering suicide will convey their despair in some way. In modern culture, these signals may often be communicated through the internet or text messaging. When we encourage congregants of all ages, but most especially teens, to be alert to these messages and to reach out to the person expressing despair we can save lives. Of course, some people use hyperbole and say, “I want to kill myself” when they have no such intention but it is never a mistake to inquire further about how they are feeling; it is never a mistake to ask, “Do you mean that? Are you thinking of harming yourself?” No young person can handle this alone, and all our teens and tweens should be encouraged to tell a parent or other adult if they see these kinds of messages. They should know that in caring families and communities, it is not betraying a confidence to share information that will prevent suffering and possibly save lives. In fact, many young lives are saved and suffering averted when young people in our youth groups, high schools and on college campuses reach out to tell youth group advisors, parents and other adults when they read or hear despairing messages on Facebook, on email or in conversations with friends.
Read Rabbi Edythe Held Mencher’s blog post, “Umbrellas and Boulders: Independence vs. Interdependence,” for further exploration of this topic.