Special Issue "Religion and the Stigma of Suicide"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Health/Psychology/Social Sciences".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (10 August 2021).

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Curtis Lehmann
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Psychology, Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, CA 91702, USA
Interests: the relationship of mental illness and substance use stigma with spirituality and religion, especially Christianity; effects of religious coping and resources on posttraumatic outcomes and suicide

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Globally, nearly 800,000 individuals die of suicide annually, 79% of which are from lower and middle-income countries (WHO, 2019). Religious communities and faith leaders play an important protective role in suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention (National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention: Faith Communities Task Force, 2019). Religious beliefs underlie moral objections to suicide (Linehan, Goodstein, Nielsen, & Chiles, 1983) and views of suicide acceptability (Stack & Kposowa, 2011), both of which seem to function as a protective factor for suicide prevention.

However, religious beliefs and practices have also contributed to the stigmatizing of suicide loss survivors and suicide attempt survivors. As recently as the 18th century in Western countries, the corpses of suicide decedents were regularly desecrated in various abject manners. The Christian church, despite being the majority religion, did little to stop these practices (Williams, 2001) and may have explicitly and implicitly condoned such actions (Vandekerckhove, 2000). Most of these practices have come to an end but stigma towards suicide remains present within religious organizations nonetheless (Allen-Ervin, 2017; Gearing & Alonzo, 2018; Gearing & Lizardi, 2009). However, the relationship of religiousness with stigma towards suicide is complex, as stigma towards those who have experienced suicidal ideation has been found to be greater among those with secular education than religious education in Turkey (Eskin, 2004).

This Special Issue will highlight research on the contemporary relationship of religiousness and stigma from an empirical and theoretical lens. The focus of this issue will be detailing the nature of religious stigmatization of suicide, as well as exploring resources within various religions for alleviating that stigma. The scope of the review will include:

  • Papers that provide a literature review of constructs related to stigma towards suicide, incorporating new and existing theories and frameworks to propose potential relationships with elements of religious beliefs and practices.
  • Papers that investigate the associations between religious beliefs and practices, both unique to and general across religious traditions, with stigma towards suicide using quantitative and qualitative methods.
  • Papers that investigate resources within religious traditions that can be utilized for reducing the stigma of suicide using quantitative, qualitative, or other rigorous methodology.
  • Experimental and quasi-experimental studies on reducing stigma of suicide within a religious community.
  • Theoretical and empirical papers that critique existing notions of stigma towards suicide from an emic perspective.

The purpose of this Special Issue is to outline the relationship between religiousness and stigma towards suicide in order to eventually guide efforts for ameliorating the negative effects of stigma towards suicide within religious communities. 

Dr. Curtis Lehmann
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1200 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Stigma of suicide
  • Religious beliefs and practices
  • Suicide prevention
  • Stigma reduction approaches

Published Papers (8 papers)

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Research

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Article
Is Suicide the Unforgivable Sin? Understanding Suicide, Stigma, and Salvation through Two Christian Perspectives
Religions 2021, 12(11), 987; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12110987 - 11 Nov 2021
Viewed by 777
Abstract
Is suicide the unforgivable sin? Most Western arguments against suicide stem from Christian arguments. Christianity has a long-standing position that suicide is morally wrong. However, on the issue of suicide and salvation, Christianity is divided. Debate, discussion, and interpretation through the centuries have [...] Read more.
Is suicide the unforgivable sin? Most Western arguments against suicide stem from Christian arguments. Christianity has a long-standing position that suicide is morally wrong. However, on the issue of suicide and salvation, Christianity is divided. Debate, discussion, and interpretation through the centuries have led to two different positions. This result has divided the Christian community in multiple ways. These beliefs have likely impacted the level of stigma associated with suicide losses, suicide attempts, and suicide survivors within Christianity. The stigma of suicide can be lethal if it is not properly addressed. Stigma can easily push people away from caring communities of support and from God. This paper examines the two predominate Christian theological positions on suicide and highlights areas where stigma has hindered help, support, and care. Lowering the negative effects of suicidal stigma is a foundational piece of the solution for communities of faith to engage people at risk of suicide. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the Stigma of Suicide)
Article
“Maybe Jesus Was Suicidal Too”: A United Church of Christ Pastor Reflects on His Suicide Attempt
Religions 2021, 12(11), 930; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12110930 - 26 Oct 2021
Viewed by 612
Abstract
Research has long demonstrated that people who are religiously involved tend to be more shielded from suicide than those who are not, yet it has been less attentive to the conditions under which religiosity fails to inhibit suicidality. Since Durkheim’s 1897 Suicide investigated [...] Read more.
Research has long demonstrated that people who are religiously involved tend to be more shielded from suicide than those who are not, yet it has been less attentive to the conditions under which religiosity fails to inhibit suicidality. Since Durkheim’s 1897 Suicide investigated the link between religious affiliation and suicide rates, most of the related research has also taken a broadscale sociological approach, used simplistic measures of religiosity, and ignored spirituality. Virtually absent are more penetrating idiographic investigations into suicidal individuals’ lived experiences of religion and spirituality. This article aims to rectify that by presenting a qualitative study of eight suicide attempt survivors in the US. The complex convergences of religion/spirituality and suicidality in their lives are discussed. Religion and spirituality did palliate the participants’ suicidality, but only after their suicide attempts; prior to the attempts, religious factors aggravated and even induced suicidal urges. During the suicide attempts, meanwhile, religion and spirituality were inconsequential. The story of one participant, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, is highlighted to illustrate the findings. Recommendations for further research and suggestions for spiritually integrated approaches to care encounters with suicidal individuals are given. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the Stigma of Suicide)
Article
Religion and the Stigma of Suicide: A Quantitative Analysis Using Nationwide Survey Data from Hungary
Religions 2021, 12(11), 908; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12110908 - 21 Oct 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 617
Abstract
Objective: To examine the effect of religion on negative attitudes and beliefs about suicide. Methods: We use data from a large nationwide survey conducted in Hungary covering more than 3000 individuals. Suicide-related stigmas are captured with three Likert-type measures that we combine into [...] Read more.
Objective: To examine the effect of religion on negative attitudes and beliefs about suicide. Methods: We use data from a large nationwide survey conducted in Hungary covering more than 3000 individuals. Suicide-related stigmas are captured with three Likert-type measures that we combine into an overall indicator. Religion is measured by denomination (Catholic vs. Protestant) and church attendance (at least weekly vs. never or less than weekly). We employ logistic regression and the SPSS statistical software. Results: People attending religious services frequently have greater odds of stigmatizing self-killing than those reporting no or infrequent attendance. Compared to Protestants, Catholics are significantly less condemning of suicide. The two measures of religion also work in tandem, with denomination modifying the impact of church attendance. In particular, while church attendance strongly increases the odds of negative attitudes among Catholics, it has practically no effect among Protestants. Discussion and Conclusions: The results presented are in keeping with our expectations and suggest that a social climate that stigmatizes suicide without providing for people a strong community network that pressures individuals toward conforming to fundamental moral principles can be especially harmful for mental health. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the Stigma of Suicide)
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Article
An Action Research Framework for Religion and the Stigma of Suicide
Religions 2021, 12(10), 802; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12100802 - 26 Sep 2021
Viewed by 827
Abstract
Religious beliefs and practices have historically been intertwined with stigmatizing attitudes and responses to suicide, including stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. Understanding the relationship between religion and suicide stigma requires identifying specific religious beliefs and practices about suicide and how these are informed by [...] Read more.
Religious beliefs and practices have historically been intertwined with stigmatizing attitudes and responses to suicide, including stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. Understanding the relationship between religion and suicide stigma requires identifying specific religious beliefs and practices about suicide and how these are informed by broader worldviews, such as ethics, anthropology, and afterlife beliefs. Yet, research in this area has been complicated by the complex multidimensional nature of stigma and the diversity of religious beliefs and practices, even within religious traditions. Moreover, contrary arguments about the role of religious views of suicide in suicide prevention, specifically whether religious stigma is protective or instead contributes to risk, have obscured the interpretation of findings. This paper aims to advance research on this topic by first summarizing pertinent empirical findings and theoretical perspectives on public and personal stigma towards people with suicidal ideation (PWSI), people with suicidal behavior (PWSB), and suicide loss survivors (SLS). Secondly, a culturally nuanced action research framework (ARF) of religious stigma towards suicide is provided to guide future research. According to this ARF, research should advance strategically by investigating associations of religious beliefs and practices with stigmatization, identifying empowering resources within particular religious traditions, supporting suicide prevention efforts, and developing effective interventions to support PWSI, PWSB, and SLS. Moreover, such research efforts ought to equip religious leaders, and healthcare professionals working with religious individuals, to reduce stigma towards suicide and further the goal of suicide prevention. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the Stigma of Suicide)
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Article
Suicide Stigma in Christian Faith Communities: A Qualitative Study
Religions 2021, 12(7), 540; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12070540 - 16 Jul 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 958
Abstract
Given the increasing numbers of U.S. lives lost to suicide, it is imperative to identify factors that can help protect against suicide. While regular religious service attendance has been found to be protective against suicide, faith communities have taboos against suicide which may [...] Read more.
Given the increasing numbers of U.S. lives lost to suicide, it is imperative to identify factors that can help protect against suicide. While regular religious service attendance has been found to be protective against suicide, faith communities have taboos against suicide which may be associated with stigma. Nine Christian faith leaders and congregants and one moral psychologist completed interviews on suicide stigma in Christian faith communities. Themes that emerged included internal, interpersonal, and theological components and group differences related to suicide stigma in Christian faith communities. Participants proposed seven barriers and seven corresponding ways to address suicide stigma in Christian faith communities: talk about suicide, address skill deficits, practice vulnerability, get leadership on board, address the theology of suicide, appreciate that faith communities have a unique contribution to make to suicide prevention, and address cultural/systemic issues. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the Stigma of Suicide)
Article
Biblical versus Greek Narratives for Suicide Prevention and Life Promotion: Releasing Hope from Pandora’s Urn
Religions 2021, 12(4), 238; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12040238 - 26 Mar 2021
Viewed by 688
Abstract
Although suicide has been unfortunately stigmatized unfairly through the ages, we should not make the mistake of going to the opposite extreme and valorizing it. We should not forget that the major role of health care professionals is to prevent suicide when possible [...] Read more.
Although suicide has been unfortunately stigmatized unfairly through the ages, we should not make the mistake of going to the opposite extreme and valorizing it. We should not forget that the major role of health care professionals is to prevent suicide when possible and to invigorate the underlying life force in the person. Suicide is often the ultimate outcome of a tragic and pessimistic view of life. It was prevalent in ancient Greek writing. Indeed, over 16 suicides and self-mutilations can be found in the 26 surviving tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides. In contrast, only six suicides can be found in the Hebrew Scriptures, and only one suicide in the Christian Scriptures. In addition, the Hebrew Scriptures present numerous suicide-prevention narratives that effectively provide a psychological instruction for people in despair which seems unavailable to figures in the writings of the great Greek tragedians. Unfortunately, some religious traditions tended to go to the opposite extreme in stigmatizing suicide rather than understanding it and trying to prevent it. This paper examines evidence regarding seven evidence-based risk factors for suicide: (1) Feeling depressed and isolated; (2) Feeling one’s life is without purpose; (3) Being a refugee from one’s homeland; (4) Feeling unable to express oneself with others; (5) Being adopted; (6) Feeling abandoned by one’s child leaving the family nest; and (7) Feeling doomed by a dysfunctional (indeed incestuous) family of origin We contrast biblical and Greek narratives regarding each of these factors, respectively: (1) Elijah against Ajax, (2) Job against Zeno, (3) David against Coriolanus, (4) Jonah against Narcissus, (5) Moses against Oedipus, (6) Rebecca against Phaedra, and finally, (7) Ruth against Antigone. These biblical figures thrive across risk factors while their Greek and Roman counterparts kill or mutilate themselves or provoke others to do the job. All these contrasts should demonstrate to psychotherapists, counselors, and clergy alike as to how Greek narratives lead to self-destructive behaviors while biblical narratives provide a hopeful positive psychology, and a constructive way out these dilemmas. My colleagues (Paul Cantz, Matthew Schwartz, and Moriah Markus-Kaplan) and I call for a biblical psychotherapy for positive psychology, suicide prevention, and indeed life promotion. Where hope is locked up in Pandora’s urn after she has released all the evils unto the world, the biblical God places hope into the sky as a bow after Noah and his family and all the creatures on the ark disembark to land after the receding of the flood. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the Stigma of Suicide)

Review

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Review
Spirituality and Religiosity during Suicide Bereavement: A Qualitative Systematic Review
Religions 2021, 12(9), 766; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12090766 - 15 Sep 2021
Viewed by 1052
Abstract
A loved one’s loss to suicide can be a traumatic experience and trigger a difficult grief process, identity changes, a loss of the sense of meaning and a spiritual crisis. Spirituality and/or religiosity (S/R) can be both an important resource and a source [...] Read more.
A loved one’s loss to suicide can be a traumatic experience and trigger a difficult grief process, identity changes, a loss of the sense of meaning and a spiritual crisis. Spirituality and/or religiosity (S/R) can be both an important resource and a source of stigmatisation during suicide bereavement. This study aims to synthesise the extant findings about S/R during suicide bereavement in qualitative studies. After an exhaustive selection of articles, the current review utilised a total of 484 citations and seven studies. A thematic synthesis yielded five major themes related to S/R during suicide bereavement: the need to be helped by the religious community without being judged; S/R-related experience of the deceased as a figure who continues to exist; S/R experienced without a conscious choice; conscious reach towards S/R themes; not relating to S/R during suicide bereavement. These findings indicate that the role of S/R during suicide bereavement is complex and varies from providing help to serving as a source of suffering. Hence, practitioners and religious communities should be mindful of the S/R themes during suicide bereavement. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the Stigma of Suicide)
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Other

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Brief Report
Psychometric Properties of the Clergy Suicide Prevention Competencies Developmental Rubric and Faith Leaders’ Readiness to Address Suicide Stigma
Religions 2021, 12(7), 541; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12070541 - 16 Jul 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 754
Abstract
Faith leaders (FL) have a key role in suicide prevention. One of their roles is to address suicide stigma in faith communities. Are they ready to do so? The Clergy Suicide Prevention Skills Developmental Rubric (CSPCDR) was developed to understand and assess clergy [...] Read more.
Faith leaders (FL) have a key role in suicide prevention. One of their roles is to address suicide stigma in faith communities. Are they ready to do so? The Clergy Suicide Prevention Skills Developmental Rubric (CSPCDR) was developed to understand and assess clergy suicide prevention skills. The psychometric properties of the CSPCDR are reported in order to assess FL’ readiness to address suicide stigma. Sample 1, 186 Protestant seminary students completed the CSPCDR twice, resulting in Pearson’s r = 0.77. Sample 2, 187 Protestant clergy and lay ministers completed the CSPCDR before and after one of eight trainings to test construct validity; the CSPCDR performed as expected. Results suggest how to expand FL’ readiness to address suicide stigma in faith communities. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the Stigma of Suicide)
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