Reading the signs of depression in an adolescent could help reduce the risk of suicide.
By Susan Kim*
May 2, 2013—When Ginger Biddle's nephew committed suicide in 1995, he was only 16 years old, and the tragedy took the whole family by surprise. But, looking back, Biddle believes there were signs.
“He had written an essay for his English class, and it talked about how, if you're unhappy, you have the right to take your own life,” Biddle said. “He also had mentioned to his friends he was going to kill himself, but they thought he was joking.”
Now Biddle's nephew has been gone longer than he was alive. But his aunt's passion for helping bring mental health awareness into communities has not dwindled. She serves as a volunteer faith community nurse at St. Matthews' United Methodist Church of Valley Forge in Pennsylvania.
A Registered Nurse, Biddle has also earned her PhD, and her mental health-related program was accepted by the Association of American Medical Colleges.
“I created a program to teach nurse practitioners to assess adolescents for suicide risk after my nephew committed suicide. My way of coping was to learn more,” she said.
Biddle conducted training covering adolescent suicide in her church with the aim of helping people identify the risk factors and warning signs—and go about getting them the assistance they need. “We are planning to repeat the training this June,” she said.
Faith community nurses like Biddle are also known as parish nurses or congregational nurses.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) supports parish nurses across the country through educational initiatives, publications, and event planning.
Parish nurses are also a resource for United Methodist Disaster Response “Care Teams,” which provide spiritual and emotional care, said Mary Hughes Gaudreau, a US Disaster Response consultant for UMCOR.
The teams are conference-credentialed and have gone through standardized UMCOR training. “I encourage conferences to recruit medical professionals—parish nurses and others—as a resource for their Care Teams,” she said.
Whether in a post-disaster situation or just coping with daily life, churches can serve as a vital resource in helping people become aware of mental health issues and referring parishioners to people who can help them.
“Last fall, our minister and I conducted groups designed to increase resilience and promote mental health,” said Biddle. “This intervention program is being pilot tested.”
Since 1949, the month of May has been designated Mental Health Awareness Month by the community-based network Mental Health America.
Biddle still misses her nephew, and she tells his story when she speaks to groups about the importance of supporting good mental health. “My wish for our church members everywhere is that they understand how to read the signs of suicide, and how to help prevent it,” she said.
Learn more about mental health and how you can be part of a supportive, caring community. Download and share a church bulletin insert. And give to Congregational Health Ministry, Advance #3021045.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.