Where faith, culture, and mental health meet: Greenville church hosts suicide prevention workshop
The sky is bright blue as people enter the Long Branch Baptist Church Ministry Center in Greenville, SC. Although the day starts with prayer, the 17 people sitting at roundtables are not here for Sunday service.
They're here for a one-day training workshop called Soul Shop for Black Churches. The program aims to help black churches minister to those impacted by suicide. It's a part of the larger faith-based suicide prevention organization, Soul Shop.
Tori Oluseyi is the workshop's trainer. As a black woman and mental health teacher, she says the workshop addresses cultural challenges in the black community on conversations about suicide.
"The largest misconception is that black people don't die by suicide,” she says. “We often think that that is a white man's issue. And we know that that is far from the truth."
Black people are dying by suicide. 2021 data from the Kaiser Foundation, which does health policy research, shows about 3 out of every 25 suicides in South Carolina were of black people.
John Tjaarda is the South Carolina director of the American foundation for suicide prevention. He says pastors and leaders were looking for ways to help those struggling with thoughts of suicide.
"We know that when people are hurting and it's not physical, maybe the soul or something mental that a lot of people in the south their first choice might be to head to a pastor, to head to a lay leader, someone in their congregation that they can talk to," he says
In South Carolina, about 35% of black people who took a suicide screening were found to have frequent suicidal thoughts. That's according to 2022 data from Mental Health America.
Oluseyi says the workshop helps attendees see scriptures from a different light. She uses Isaiah 61:1 to explain the C.A.L.L Method.
C: Commitment to telling someone if you feel unsafe.
A: Ask those with warning signs if they have suicidal thoughts.
L: Listen to people.
L: Lead people to safety.
Ava Dean, one of the attendees, decided to come because she struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past and wants to help others. She says she will bring the C.A.L.L. Method back to her church in West Columbia.
"So, I actually plan on going back and share with my pastor opportunities for us to at least open it, open up the conversation and let members know that there is someone here that cares," she explains.
Oluseyi reminds people not to take on more than they are supposed to.
“Lead someone to safety,” she says. “Not solutions. Leading them to safety, meaning a professional, not solutions.”
However, she says churches can create soul-safe communities where people can share their struggles.
"Creating a soul safe community saves lives. It strengthens life. It eases someone's sorrow. And it lifts the burden of shame."
Dean encourages people struggling with suicidal thoughts to reach out for help and reminds us that things can get better.
"So, there is healing on the other side, and there is hope," she says.
If you or someone you know is dealing with thoughts of suicide or having a mental health crisis, you can call or text the suicide and crisis line at 988.