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Pam was a straight-A student, president of the church youth group, and a top competitor in state track.
Just a year before graduation, however, her parents found her dead in the car, the exhaust pipe stuffed with rags.
Pam's bewildering actions illustrate a raging American epidemic: suicide. The problem is increasing especially among teenagers. For those fifteen to nineteen years old, suicide is the second leading cause of death; since 1955, it has increased 300 percent. Even more alarming is the number of children younger than fifteen who kill themselves. In 1950, forty committed suicide; in 1985, three hundred did.
One week after delivering a sermon on hope in a world of growing despair, Herbert W. Chilstrom, bishop of the Minnesota Synod for the Lutheran Church in America, found a family member had lost all hope. His son Andrew, eighteen, shot himself to death.
Suicide grimly reminds us all is not well in the world, and this is where a pastor has much to offer-hope and meaning for those who feel life has none.
Yet suicide is rarely addressed; it's a topic none of us likes to talk about. Even in schools, the problem is not often discussed, except in those that have experienced cluster suicides (where one suicide triggers three or four more), like the ones in Plano, Texas; Westchester County, New York; and New Tner High School near Chicago.
As a result, when a parishioner commits suicide, pastors and congregations alike may not know how to respond to the family and friends of the victim. And when a teenager from the church is contemplating suicide, we may not recognize the signals or know how to offer help.
The first step toward helping people of course, is spending time with them and beginning to understand them. When trying to reach teens, Friday night basketball games may seem trivial to us, but they're important to young people. They need to talk about their hair, their grades, and their weight, because these issues matter to them.
I wanted to minister to potential suicides, ...