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Jerry and Elsie Weyrauch call it “involvement therapy”—a way for them to transform grief into suicide-prevention activism.
The Weyrauchs, members of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Marietta, Ga., have involved themselves in suicide prevention efforts since the suicide of their 34-year-old physician daughter, Terri Ann, in 1987. In addition to volunteering for local and national suicide-prevention groups, organizing conferences and helping create secular messages on the subject, the Weyrauchs founded the Suicide Prevention Action Network in 1996.
The Weyrauchs also were instrumental in the creation of the 1999 ELCA message on “Suicide Prevention,” one of the few faith-based policy statements on the issue, according to the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention in a report published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
One of the NSSP objectives includes increasing the number of “nationally organized faith communities adopting institutional policies promoting suicide prevention.” The Weyrauchs have focused their energy and time recently on this objective. They hope to convene a national meeting of faith community leaders to encourage them to create suicide prevention policy statements.
“The ELCA did that in 1999, but very few other faith communities have,” Jerry Weyrauch said. “Because that has not happened, many people who are suffering through a suicide now find that their faith communities are not as helpful as they could be if they had some guidance and help.”
In 1999, the Weyrauchs established the Suicide Prevention Endowment Fund, through the ELCA Foundation, to assist ministries in suicide prevention, including efforts with survivors. The Weyrauchs also developed a Suicide Prevention Endowment Fund ad hoc committee to plan awareness-raising and educational programs for the future.
One idea includes developing a Web site “where any faith community can learn about the problem of suicide and can access church educational programs and materials, whether they are for seniors, high-school students or the middle-aged,” he said.
Efforts like these will help remove the stigma of suicide and mental illness, Weyrauch added. “If we can abate that significantly, there will be a strong surge forward in reaching out to help people,” he said. “Right now people don’t want to talk about mental illness and suicide. We take the opposite view—we have to talk about it.”
“As our friend who has lost two children to suicide has said, ‘People are still dying,’ ” Elsie Weyrauch said. “We get impatient with ourselves, we get impatient with researchers, and researchers are just as frustrated as we are. No one has come up with the magic pill yet. But, hopefully, by working within the faith communities, word can get out that help is available.”
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