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OPINION: Is the role of church panacea for suicidal tendencies in adolescents?

ByEconomic Times

Jun 5, 2023

By Annah Bura

Suicidal tendencies among adolescents are a growing concern in many parts of the world, including Zimbabwe.

Recent studies have shown that mental health issues, trauma and abuse, bullying and social isolation, and family conflict are among the causes of suicide. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among young people in the U.S. and represents a significant public health problem worldwide.

A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that poverty and social inequality were significant risk factors for suicide among adolescents in Africa. A study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health in 2020 found that suicidal behavior was increasing among adolescents in Zimbabwe. The study analysed data from a survey of over 800 adolescents in Harare and found that 21.6% of respondents reported having suicidal thoughts, and 4.4% reported attempting suicide.

Suicide is a leading cause of death among adolescents worldwide. The prevalence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among teens is alarming and a cause for concern. The church and religious organizations are well positioned to play a positive role in suicide prevention among adolescents. However, there is limited research on the specific strategies and programs churches have implemented to address adolescent suicide and whether these efforts have been effective. Suicide is a leading cause of death among teens worldwide. According to the WHO, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds.

The rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal behaviors among adolescents make this a pressing public health issue that requires a coordinated response across community organizations (Cong, C. W., & Ling, W. S., 2020). As such, churches are a vital part of the community fabric and social support system for many families. Church leaders and congregations have a responsibility to promote health and well-being among members, including by supporting adolescents struggling with mental health issues.

Churches have access to adolescents and families through youth programs, social groups, volunteering opportunities, and more. This positions them well to implement prevention education, increase mental health literacy, reduce stigma, and identify at-risk youth. However, churches need evidence-based guidance on how best to leverage these opportunities.

Suicide prevention interventions based in community settings where adolescents gather and receive social support have been shown to be particularly effective. Churches are naturally suited to provide this, but most research on faith-based interventions has focused on adults, not teens. Exploration is needed to apply promising approaches, like gatekeeper training, within churches to support adolescents.

To explore suicide prevention programs and strategies that churches and faith-based organizations have implemented for adolescents. To identify the information gap regarding the increase in suicidal cases and the role of churches in mitigating the topic in question: To identify the role of the church in suicide prevention: This can include providing emotional and spiritual support, promoting mental health awareness, and partnering with mental health organizations to provide resources and support.

Possible interventions from religious organizations in mitigating suicidal outcomes among adolescents include pastoral counseling,  which involves working with a trained religious leader, such as a minister, priest, or rabbi, who provides counseling and support from a faith-based perspective. Pastoral counseling can be helpful for adolescents who feel more comfortable discussing their concerns and seeking guidance within the context of their faith. Prayer/meditation can be helpful for adolescents who have a strong spiritual practice. It can provide a sense of comfort, peace, and connection to something greater than themselves, which can help reduce feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Religious support groups, such as youth groups or Bible study groups, can provide a sense of community and support for adolescents who are struggling with suicidal thoughts or behaviors. These groups can provide a safe space for adolescents to share their experiences and receive guidance and support from peers who share their beliefs. Religious education provides adolescents with a sense of purpose and meaning, which can help reduce feelings of hopelessness and despair. Learning about the values and teachings of their faith can help adolescents develop a sense of identity and direction, which can be helpful in preventing suicidal outcomes.

It’s important to note that religious interventions should be used in conjunction with evidence-based psychological interventions. Religious interventions can be an important source of support and guidance for adolescents, but they should not be used as a substitute for professional mental health treatment.

By Anna Beatrice Bura, an intern counseling psychologist at Great Zimbabwe University

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