The pastor seemed to do everything right. He listened actively, provided emotional support, and counseled the depressed woman for an entire year.

But she took her own life anyway.

It was a time for the church to use its greatest strengths. But like the pastor, some members of the church didn't know precisely how to respond or help survivors. At the wake, one member approached the grieving daughter. ruthbellgraham"She told me my mother was in hell,"

Stephanie Weber says. Although the remark was made more than 20 years ago, Weber says, "I can remember feeling so numb."

As Weber discovered the hard way, many Christians do not know how to respond to a suicide, and sometimes they inadvertently do more harm than good. Weber and others are helping to change that through Suicide Prevention Services (SPS), one of the few advocacy organizations in the nation that deals with suicide prevention, intervention, and post-suicide assistance for victims' families.

With their strong social support, life-affirming values, and love, Christians are in a unique position to fight a largely preventable problem identified as the eighth-leading cause of death in the nation.

Beyond Staggering Statistics

In 1998 suicide accounted for more than 29,000 deaths, compared to fewer than 19,000 from homicide and about 13,000 from AIDS, according to National Vital Statistics Reports. Even more astonishing is the number of Americans who attempt suicide each year but survive--more than half a million.

These staggering statistics prompted Surgeon General David Satcher to develop a national suicide-prevention strategy. Last summer he released a "Call to Action to Prevent Suicide," which included 15 recommendations to increase awareness, ...

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