The Freedom From Religion Foundation has concrete suggestions on how to tackle the suicide crisis in this country.
FFRF is offering its input in response to public comments requested regarding the implementation of the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018. The secular group highlights the need for any hotline system to support religiously unaffiliated individuals, individuals facing a faith crisis, and individuals who have faced religion-based trauma.
There is a significant lack of research into the stress experiences of nonreligious Americans, even though they comprise about a quarter of the adult population. Counselors have highlighted the necessity for a greater understanding of the needs and beliefs of individuals with no religious affiliation.
To remedy this situation, FFRF makes the following recommendations.
Make referrals for secular therapy. We need to ensure hotline counselors are aware that nonreligious therapists are available to assist callers. The Secular Therapy Project (www.seculartherapy.org) can help clients find appropriate counseling.
Make referrals for peer-based secular support. Callers who mention any sort of faith crisis may be referred to the Recovering from Religion Helpline (www.recoveringfromreligion.org), which can identify resources to provide help. People often go through depression immediately after leaving religion, which is almost always related to loss of social support.
Normalize faith crisis and accompanying isolation as a form of loss requiring support. People leaving religion need extra social support because of the shunning, guilt and shame they frequently experience from their religious associates. Individuals going through a faith crisis frequently report that family and friends can abandon them almost overnight, and that those who stay in contact may harangue them with harmful religious messages. This can lead to suicidal tendencies. Therefore, hotline counselors must be trained to help callers understand that leaving religion or having a faith crisis can be a significant loss, that this would be difficult for almost anyone to handle alone and that there are sources of support available to them.
Make referrals for secular addiction recovery services. Many addiction-recovery programs and peer-based recovery services employ faith-based or religious counseling, inappropriate for atheists or religiously unaffiliated callers. Therefore, hotline counselors should be prepared to make referrals to secular recovery services such as SMART Recovery (www.smartrecovery.org).
Avoid reinforcing harmful religious messages, especially to believers. Certain religions program people to believe that they will go to hell. A person can start believing that he or she is destined for hell. This pattern may exacerbate depression and suicidality, as such individuals may come to believe that life has no meaning since they have no hope of heaven. A counselor unaccustomed to dealing with these issues may have a negative impact on callers by reinforcing these religious messages.
Address isolation among the religiously unaffiliated. Finally, those who have been religiously unaffiliated for many years, or even their whole lives, can feel quite isolated in parts of the country where church is the primary social event in people’s lives. Hotline counselors must be trained to recognize that isolation and loneliness are critical factors for this population regardless of how long one has been atheist or religiously unaffiliated.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation believes our nation’s suicide crisis can be dealt with much more effectively if these factors are taken into account when setting up the new hotline.
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