International Positional Statement
Statement of the Issue
is the act of deliberately killing oneself. Despite intense studies,
there is no universally accepted theory of suicide. It is now
understood as a multidimensional disorder, which results from a
complex interaction of biological, genetic, psychological,
sociological and environmental factors and is more likely to occur
during periods of socioeconomic, family and individual crisis
situations (e.g. unemployment, loss of a loved one, loss of honour).
Despite the fact that suicide today is a major public health issue in
all countries, with far reaching social, emotional and economic
consequences, it remains a taboo subject in most societies. It may
not be possible to eliminate entirely the risk of suicide, but it is
possible to reduce the risk substantially by a variety of prevention
Statement of Position
Salvation Army believes that every possible means should be taken to
prevent a person from intentionally taking his or her own life, or
seeking the assistance of someone else to do so. While suicide may be
primarily a medical or mental health problem (among others),
protective factors such as social support and connectedness play a
significant role in its prevention. Suicide prevention is everyone’s
business. Prevention may be a matter of a caring person with the
right knowledge being available at the right place at the right time.
Facts and Information
World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that more than 800, 000
people die from suicide each year, one death for every 40 seconds.
In the past 45 years, suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide.
In most countries, suicide predominates in males (with some
significant exceptions such as China). Suicide is among the top ten
causes of death in every country, and one of the three leading
causes of death in the 15 - 30 year age group.
disorders (particularly depression, substance abuse, schizophrenia
and personality disorders) are associated with more than 90% of all
cases of suicide. Effective treatments for most of these conditions
have been identified but are not always available or utilised.
are also certain groups of people who are at particular risk of
suicidal behaviour. These include those with a past history of
attempted suicide, those with alcohol and other substance
dependencies, young males, the elderly, the bereaved, indigenous
groups, those with sexual identity conflicts, migrants, those living
in rural areas, those in prison custody, and those with debilitating
attempts are up to 20 times more frequent than completed suicide.
The risk of suicide being achieved is particularly high in the first
year after an attempt.
studies have shown that availability of guns, bridges without
barriers, pills packed in large numbers (instead of blister packs),
toxic domestic gases and vehicle emissions significantly add to the
likelihood of suicide completion.
media can play a powerful role in educating the public about suicide
prevention, but they also have the potential to do harm. Certain
ways of describing suicide contribute to what scientists call
‘suicide contagion’ or ‘copycat’ suicides. Implementation of
recommendations for media coverage of suicide has been shown to
decrease suicide rates.
a small number of suicides happen without warning. Therefore, all
threats of self-harm should be taken seriously. In addition, a
majority of people who attempt suicide are ambivalent and not
entirely intent on dying.
Salvation Army believes in the sanctity of human life. Humankind was
created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). All people – without
exception – are of value to him, holding a special place in his
creation (Psalm 8:5), irrespective of age, gender, race, religion,
health or social status, or their potential for achievement.
Salvation Army deplores the condemnation of people who complete
suicide, and considers unjust the stigma that falls on surviving
family and friends. It believes that nothing separates us from the
love of God (Romans 8: 38-39), and that God’s wisdom is perfect.
This is reflected through the words used in The Salvation Army’s
committal service for victims of suicide: ‘As our brother/sister
….. has departed this life, we now commit his/her body to the
grave: earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in the
certainty of the resurrection and of the eternal wisdom and mercy of
Salvation Army believes that experiencing the life-renewing power
that is found in Jesus can crucially lead to restored hope, healing
and new life, and that restored relationships are well known
protective factors against
5) Practical Responses
Salvation Amy was the first organisation in the world to provide
suicide prevention programmes. In 1907 its Founder, General William
Booth, commenced the Salvation Army work in suicide prevention with
an anti-suicide bureau in London. This ministry to those
contemplating suicide as well as to the bereaved is ongoing and
Salvation Army supports all measures to augment the individual,
professional and public awareness of the risk of suicides. The
Salvation Army encourages individual territories to educate their
staff (medical services, social services, teachers, pastoral carers)
in suicide prevention, respecting cultural diversity.
Salvation Army promotes educational tools for a broader public (e.g.
Question, Persuade, Refer: First Aid Course in Suicide Prevention:
www.suicideprevention.salvos.org.au) and encourages their adaptation to the special needs of different
is of vital importance that people at risk have low-threshold access
to professional care, especially when they suffer from a mental
disorder. The Salvation Army, being an organisation that
traditionally supports the weak, promotes all efforts to provide an
optimised treatment for psychiatric patients.
Salvation Army supports all measures that can be taken at community
and national levels to reduce access to the means of suicide.
after a loved one has taken their own life is often more
complicated, intense and prolonged than it is with a death from
natural causes. The Salvation Army offers sensitive counsel and
pastoral care to the bereaved, seeking to remove the often-present
stigma around suicide. When the grieving process is complicated by
severe shock, blame, guilt and other factors, professional
counselling may be required
Salvation Army encourages the implementation of responsible media
guidelines for reporting on suicide.
Salvation Army recognises the many credible organisations working
locally and globally on the issue of suicide prevention, and
encourages cooperation and networking with these agencies to
optimise support of people at risk of attempted suicide.
Preventing Suicide: a resource series, (available online:
Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP): Guidelines for Suicide
Prevention: (available online: www.iasp.info/suicide_guidelines.php)
Keith and Kees van Heeringen (eds.) : The International Handbook of
Suicide and Attempted Suicide. Wiley, 2002.
- www.suicideprevention.salvos.org.au (The Salvation Army, Hope for Life, Suicide Prevention and
by the General—July 2009
views expressed in this international positional statement constitute
the official position of The Salvation Army on the issue addressed,
and they may not be modified or adapted in any way without the
express written permission of International Headquarters.