THIS Sunday, people up and down the country will be observing World Suicide Prevention Day. According to the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, people with problem debt are three times likelier than others to have had recent suicidal thoughts.
A report released by Christians Against Poverty (CAP) recently identified a stark rise over the past three years in the number of clients who had attempted, or seriously considered, taking their own lives as a way out of debt. The figure had rocketed from 28 per cent to 50. Just think about that: one in two of the people asking for debt.
It is devastating that people should feel this way. CAP is a charity fighting poverty and debt in the UK. We meet people every day who are in desperate situations and often struggling with chronically low income and crippling debt. Many people simply cannot see a way out — until they begin to work with us. The hope that arises in our clients when they begin to see that there is a way out of their predicament and hope for a future afterwards is a privilege to witness.
Take Simon, for instance. Simon was forced to take sick leave from his job and, as a result, began struggling to pay essential bills. After he was threatened with eviction, his state of health plummeted. The chronic worry about bailiffs’ knocking on his door and making him homeless led Simon to experience thoughts that he would be better off dead. The distress was too much, and he suffered a mental-health breakdown the following month.
On the advice of a housing association, Simon contacted CAP. Jim, the CAP debt coach in his town, contacted him, and arranged an emergency home visit. That was Simon’s turning point. Not only did CAP’s accredited financial expertise mean that it was able to help Simon out of debt in practical ways: the local church, through which CAP operated, meant that Simon was supported in other ways by a caring community. This meant that Simon no longer had to carry the burden by himself.
At CAP, we are all too well aware that there is a pandemic of loneliness in our society. The Office for National Statistics recently found that 2.6 million adults said they felt lonely “often” or “always”. This is heart-breaking. But it can be fought. The community that the Church provides can play a huge part in combating isolation and loneliness. Churches are made up of everyday people. While most churches don’t profess to offer professional counselling — something that can certainly be of great value to mental health — church communities can offer something that isn’t always prevalent in our culture today: friendship, companionship, and a wall of support for others in their times of need.
This is the 20th year of World Suicide Prevention Day. Its theme this September is to create hope through action. I love this focus: it is synonymous with what CAP seeks to do, which is to help to release people from poverty and into hope for the future. While CAP is a charity that offers expertise and support to people of every faith and none, we will readily tell people that our hope lies in Jesus and his gospel. And, for some people, discovering this hope can be life-changing.
Simon, for example, having worked with CAP to become debt-free, continued connecting with the church that helped him. In his own words, he had “an epiphany” that ignited a Christian faith, and says God “filled a hole in my heart”. His outlook on his future turned from despair towards hope. Five years on, Simon describes his life as “a great success story”. He remains debt-free. “Life can still be tough,” he says, “but I’ve always got my church family around me to support me.”
CAP has strong networks, which means that we can connect people with other experts according to need. There are many excellent mental-health charities and services out there, such as MIND and the Samaritans. CAP will always look to connect people at risk of taking their own lives with the robust mental-health support that organisations such as these offer. We will continue using our expertise to realise our vision of ending UK poverty, aware of how problem debt can all too easily contribute to suicidal thoughts.
We do not underestimate the power of being present and available to people who are experiencing a deep sense of loneliness and hopelessness. We remember that the message and the work of God’s Church is to spread our hope for a glorious future together through Jesus and his gospel of forgiveness, reconciliation, and community.
The Revd Lyn Weston is Director of Church Partnerships at Christians Against Poverty (CAP).
Read more about World Suicide Prevention Day here