Suicide Awareness in the Jewish Community

Suicide Awareness in the Jewish Community
By Diane Kushnir Halivni

To affect change across the Jewish community, let’s take the month of September —Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month - to become familiar with the increased risks of suicide and lead ourselves and our loved ones to a New Year filled with empathy, kindness and practical skills that can help in a time of crisis.

If you are thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, please seek help by:

  • Calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. The network is available 24/7 across the United States.
  • Texting “NAMI” to 741-741 for a 24/7 crisis text line - a live trained crisis counselor responds quickly 24/7.
  • Calling 911 (request a responder with prevention training to help de-escalate the situation).

If you give it some thought, could you answer this question: where were you the first time you heard the word ‘suicide’ used? Was it whispered? Was it someone you knew? Was it someone close to you? Did you think it was something you could catch if you said the word out loud?

If this recollection was a long time ago for you, as it was for me, the topic shrouded itself in mystery. Suicide was secretive, something adults discussed privately. There was little opportunity to understand the circumstances, get clarity on the risks, and learn about preventative steps. Today, more people are talking publicly about suicide, but sadly, often only in the aftermath of a crisis.

There is no one cause of suicide. Sometimes, there is a known mental health condition or brain disease, like mood or eating disorders, but not always. Other factors may include: chronic pain, financial stress, prolonged grief, history of abuse or trauma (including concussions), addiction, and marginalized identities. Suicide risk might increase because of side effects of certain medications (Akathisia).

If you have had a loved one die by suicide, we extend to you our deepest condolences and compassion. Nearly 6 million adults will know someone who died by suicide this year. Survivors of suicide loss have unprecedented access to peer support through online communities. But the shame and confusion that follows a suicide death often means that families get less support when they deserve more. No one should suffer in silence — not the person struggling with suicidal thoughts, nor the family who lost a loved one to suicide.

Acknowledging the unique care and concern families need, JCFS Chicago, MISSD and No Shame On U, developed a new brochure entitled “You Are Not Alone: Support for Those in the Jewish Community and Beyond, Grieving a Death By Suicide”. The brochure addresses the unique nature of suicide, including intense shock, deep grief, and lingering confusion among the many complex emotions that arise. Survivors of suicide loss wrestle with many, possibly unanswerable, questions. Please share this brochure with anyone who is grieving.

Loyola University Associate Professor of Social Work Jonathan Singer, President of the American Association of Suicidology helps us understand some facts:

  1. Talking about suicide does not cause someone to become suicidal; in fact, the opposite is true; it reduces the stigma and decreases the distress.
  2. Screening for suicide risk is the essential component for suicide prevention, especially in schools. We cannot tell from just looking at a person if someone is suicidal.
  3. A suicide crisis is like being swept up in a tornado. We wouldn’t blame someone for getting swept up in a tornado.
  4. Reducing the stigma is only half the battle. The other component is letting people know they are not alone, and that help is available.

How can we respond to these realities?

  • Put the Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number in your phone/address book: 1-800-273-8255.  We hope you will never need it, and if you do, then you’ll have it.\
  • Call 2 friends every week, especially those you have not talked to in a while. Don’t solve any problems. Just listen with kindness, compassion and empathy.
  • Tell a friend or family member if you are struggling with any of these signs, and prioritize your own wellness. Ask for help to consult a doctor.
  • Do not go off or on medications without the consultation of your mental health professional. Understand Akathisia to make more informed decisions about pharmacological paths to support.
  • Explore more Faith based competencies because our clergy and our Jewish communal leaders also need our support, just as we need theirs. The same goes for medical personnel and first responders.
  • Design a Mental Health (Shabbat) program with help from The Blue Dove Foundation. Consult No Shame On U's Resources for ready to print handouts and fact sheets.
  • If you are thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support: 
    • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. The network is available 24/7 across the United States.
    • Text NAMI to 741-741 for a 24/7 crisis text line - a live trained crisis counselor responds quickly.

We hope the year 5781 will bring more open conversations about suicide risk in the Jewish community and encourage more leaders to bring mental health education and suicide prevention training to schools, camps, offices and synagogues. Knowledge save lives. JCFS Chicago invites you to adopt the Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s mantra: Suicide is Everyone’s Business.

Diane Kushnir Halivni is a Community Educator and Coordinator, Suicide Prevention and Support. JCFS Chicago, MISSD (The Medication-Induced Suicide Prevention and Education Foundation in Memory of Stewart Dolin) and No Shame On U are partnering to provide suicide prevention education and support in the Jewish community with support from JUF’s Breakthrough Fund.     

For more information about mental health resources and suicide prevention training,  contact Diane Halivni at