June 20, 2014

Catholic Education Outreach / Kay Scoville

Pastoral care for our teens in crisis is needed to stop suffering

As a community of faith, we are called to care for one another. Our direction is clear in the Gospel of John, as Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd caring for his sheep. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11).

He calls us to follow him, and challenges us to care for our fellow man. Yet every day, people suffer in silence, particularly our teens and young adults.

Many youths and young adults suffer from depression and anxiety exacerbated by pressures in school and at home. There are also the devastating effects of bullying that now occurs so readily through social media.

Many youths and young adults contemplate suicide. It has become one of the most prevalent concerns in our society. It does not discriminate as it can be found among all races, ages, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. It would be difficult to find someone whose life has not been touched by this issue.

Consider these statistics from the U.S. Public Health Service, the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Suicide. Since 1999, an average of 85 Americans die of suicide each day. For young people ages 15-24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. More females attempt suicide, yet more males succeed due to use of lethal weapons.

It is essential that we educate our community on the risk factors and warning signs because detection and prevention are crucial in helping to prevent the tragedy.

The predominant risk factors are an underlying mental illness such as depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, especially with subsequent alcohol or drug use.

Family stress and dysfunction are contributing factors, as are situational crises which may include a relational, social, work or financial loss. Access to suicide methods such as guns and prescription drugs is another risk factor.

Knowing these risks and paying attention to what is happening in the life of the youth or young adult can alert us to be concerned, attempt an intervention and heighten our awareness to warning signs.

Warning signs of suicide include suicidal threats or a preoccupation with death. The young person may have attempted suicide before and must be taken seriously. This is a cry for help, not attention.

Additional signs are writing a suicide note or plan, making final arrangements or giving prized possessions away. There may be changes in behavior, appearance, thoughts or feelings. These young people are hurting, feeling isolated and hopeless. As their community, we are called to care for them because it is not a private matter. The impact of suicide ripples throughout communities.

Fortunately, attitudinal changes by faith communities and greater awareness have helped many would-be victims and survivors in recent years. Having a caring pastoral response team with a calm, non-judgmental attitude makes a difference. Caring without strings attached is most important in instilling hope.

Pastors and lay ministers are often on the front lines as the first contact with the would-be victim or family, yet the Church family as a whole can offer help and healing. It is most important that we are prepared to respond with pastoral care. It’s also essential that we have knowledge of the resources available. The resources include The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, www.afsp.org, and the Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

In our pastoral care for these young people, we are called to be a light of hope for them and their families. As believers, Pope Francis challenges us in “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of the Gospel”): “Faith teaches us to see that every man and woman represents a blessing for me, that the light of God’s face shines on me through the faces of my brothers and sisters ” (#54).

The person you encounter sitting next to you in the pew may be living in darkness and isolation. May we strive to be catalysts for change in the lives of people who have lost hope. May we be the light of Christ for God’s children.

(Kay Scoville is the archdiocesan director of Youth Ministry. Contact her at kscoville@archindy.org or call 317-236-1430 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1430.)

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