Suicide Prevention: a book review

‘The World Health Organization has found that for every death due to war in the world, there are three deaths due to homivide and five due to suicide’ (27).  And 84 percent of clergy have been approached for help by a suicidal person at some point in their ministry( 183). Suicide is a significant problem and if you have not encountered it directly, you likely know people who have attempted suicide or loved ones who have died because of it. Personally, friends of friends, classmates and the children of people I care about have committed suicide. I wish that any of their deaths could be prevented.

Karen Mason, associate professor of counseling and psychology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary,  wrote Preventing Suicide as a guide for pastors, chaplains and pastoral counselors.  While the book is titled ‘Preventing Suicide’ it does more than just give a few tips on how to help those with suicidal tendencies. This is a pastoral care manual which explores the  issue in all its complexity. Mason examines who commits suicide (and why), myths and misconceptions and the variety of theological positions on suicide and theoretical frameworks. She provides practical advise for counseling those in a suicidal crisis, those who have survived an attempt,  helpers and caregivers, the loved ones of those who have died from suicide and their churches.  While you cannot presume pastoral wisdom from reading one book (and Mason wouldn’t want you to), this is a fairly comprehensive resource which will be helpful for anyone who engages in pastoral care to the suicidal and their families.

Mason eschews approaches to suicide which compound the blame placed on the suicidal.  The causes of suicide are various, and suicidal persons often suffer depression deeply.  Trying to scare them away from suicide by threatening eternal damnation, as some Christian theologies posit, only compounds their sense of alienation. Often the hell that they feel and are trying to escape is more real and visceral than the one they are threatened with. Mason gives practical steps on how to empathize with the suicidal and validate the pain they feel, but she points ways to lead them from despondency to hope.  She  encourages attentiveness, taking threats seriously and dealing with them accordingly, and speaking the truth in love.

This is where clergy and pastoral counselors play a significant role. Discussing spiritual things, giving  people reasons for hope and coping strategies for navigating this life, even as we long for God to come in fullness is a bit of what Clergy do. Mason’s book helps pastors utilize the resources at their disposal to help people through a suicidal crisis (or to pick up the pieces of one). This is a significant pastoral care resource and would be valuable to any pastor’s library. I hope to never need some chapters but I am grateful for the skills and insights that Mason imparts. I give this book five stars. ★★★★★

Thank you to InterVarsity Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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