Faith Based Communities Key Players in Suicide Prevention
The VA New Jersey Health Care System recently partnered with the Essex County Suicide Prevention Coalition, Catholic Charities, and NJ SOS Veteran Stakeholders Group to hold its first Interfaith Seminar.
The coalition recognizes that community leaders in faith are often the first to hear about an individual or family’s struggle with suicide. Therefore, they are working to bring awareness, education, and resources to faith-based leaders and community organizations.
The first Interfaith Seminar created an opportunity for faith leaders and community organizations to come together and bring awareness to VA and community resources through 4 sessions. The first session included an expert panel of speakers who discussed the significance of faith and spirituality in the lives of Veterans, active service members, and their families. The panel of experts also shared ways to identify and support a Veteran who may be at risk for suicide and reducing access to lethal means.
David Cathcart, U.S. Army Veteran, two-time Purple Heart recipient, former Director of The Secaucus Vet Center, and coalition member said, “Faith serves as a protective factor for many of our Veterans; therefore, faith communities need to receive our support. With it we can strengthen supportive community experiences that serve to protect the Veteran community against suicide risk.”
Panel speakers conversed with faith leaders, Veterans, and community organizations on spirituality and trauma. Several Veterans in the seminar shared on the strengths and barriers with providing spiritual guidance to Veterans who may have experienced a traumatic event. Presentation on VA resources for trauma and PTSD treatment were delivered. Ariel J. Luna, U.S. Army Veteran, NJ SOS Veteran Stakeholders Group Co Chair, and Essex County Suicide Prevention coalition member stated, “Faith communities may create opportunities for individuals and families to socialize, participate in spiritual practices and create positive connections. This can save a Veteran or active service members life.”
The coalition is currently beginning the coordination and training of faith leaders and congregations in SAVE in Essex County. The SAVE training helps people to act with care and compassion if they encounter a Veteran who is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts. Resources on creating a Veteran ministry and welcome center from the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships were also shared. The first SAVE training of faith-based community members and leaders was held in November 2022. Our next seminar will be held in February 2023.
David Pearson, NJ SOS Veterans Stakeholders Group Co-Chair, said, “Essex County is home to over 19,000 Veterans and has about 6,000 churches, 136 mosques, 132 synagogues, and many more temples. We need to reach these faith communities to promote social connectedness and support faith leaders, chaplains, and other clergy to develop the skills needed to help Veterans.”
The coalition believes the resources shared will help faith communities build their toolkit and that the trainings will provide the education needed to respond with compassion and help a Veteran, active service member, or family struggling with suicide. This connection will serve to link and assist to build and expand their system of support.
For more information on the Interfaith Seminar please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To help your Faith leaders connect with community organizations and VA program leaders to build their resources/toolkits and assist the Veteran community please explore The Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP).