Famed evangelist Billy Graham has shared his thoughts on how to minister to those thinking of taking their own life and warned that "God will not hold those guiltless who glamorize or encourage suicide."
The 98-year-old founder of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association weighed in on the sobering issue in his syndicated advice column published Tuesday in the Bowling Green Daily News.
"My high school is in shock, because last week one of our classmates took his life," wrote a reader, identified only as "J.J." "He always seemed like a nice person, although I guess he didn't have many friends. What could we have done? I feel guilty for not helping him somehow."
"Whenever I answer a question about suicide in this column, I am deeply aware that someone may be reading this who is considering taking their own life, and I take this very seriously," Graham began "I only wish I could put my arm around your shoulder and assure you of my love - and most of all, of God's love for you. No matter how desperate or depressed you may feel, with Christ there is hope. Reach out to Him, and also to someone who can help you with your problems.
Without exception, suicide is a profound tragedy - always, said Graham.
"Not only does it cut short a person's life, but it inevitably leaves behind it a trail of heartache and guilt," he explained. "This is especially true when a young person takes his or her life, and I grieve over the way this has become a growing problem in our society. God will not hold those guiltless who glamorize or encourage suicide."
He concluded: "May this tragedy cause you and your classmates to be more sensitive to those who seem lonely or alienated - not just now, but for the rest of your lives. What difference might one of you have made in this young man's life?"
Among American young people, those between ages 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Each year, about 157,000 people in that age range receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at emergency departments across the United States, according to the CDC.
Recently, the conviction of a teen who goaded her boyfriend into killing himself via text and the new Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why have brought the topic of teen suicide to the forefront and sparked a great deal of media attention.
"Thirteen Reasons Why", co-executive produced by Selena Gomez, tells the story of a teenage girl named Hannah Baker who decided to commit suicide.
While some have praised the show for drawing attention to an important issue, others warned that the show glamorizes suicide and may spark "suicide contagion" - when publicity surrounding a suicide causes a subsequent increase in suicide, especially among young people
Pastor Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in a blog post that while "13 Reason Why" doesn't necessarily glamorize suicide, the show made it seem like suicide is an escape.
Because of this, the show is a "perilous" thing for troubled young people to watch since they might begin to think that suicide is a good alternative to their problems.
"The 'star' of the program is still the deceased teenager," he wrote. "This is not what suicide is like-and the dramatization of suicide as story-shift could be deadly for some."
Nevertheless, as a Christian, Moore said he believes that the controversy surrounding the series "might bring some grace-filled moments."
"If the series shows anything, it is that there are multiple reasons behind the darkness that can lead to death," he said. "Maybe this controversy will prompt friends and parents and youth ministers to talk about suicide, to signal to those in trouble that they are not alone and they won't be judged if they come forward and seek help."
Moore said he hoped that the show will be used as a platform by parents or friends of teenagers to talk about troubled teens' "reasons" for desperation and thus help those in need.