Responding to Suicide

A Pastoral Handbook for Catholic Leaders

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Format: Paperback

Publication date: November 20, 2020

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Winner of the Resource of the Year award and a first-place in resources for ministry from the Association of Catholic Publishers and a third-place award in pastoral ministry books from the Catholic Media Association.


If you are in crisis or you think you may have an emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. If you're having suicidal thoughts, dial 988 to talk to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area at any time (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). If you are located outside the United States, call your local emergency line immediately.


Many pastoral leaders feel ill-equipped to respond to the turmoil of those who face the death by suicide of a loved one. Responding to Suicide is the first book written for Catholic leaders that takes a holistic approach to understanding suicide and ministering effectively in its aftermath.

More than a dozen leading mental health practitioners, Catholic theologians, and pastoral care experts share how best to respond to suicide as leaders in parishes, schools, healthcare systems, and other Church settings. The book offers a cross-disciplinary approach that provides basic information about the central role of mental health in suicide and clarifies Church teaching about suicide, funerals and burials for those who have died by suicide, and their afterlife.

The National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that suicide was the tenth most common cause of death among Americans of all ages in 2017 and the second leading cause of death among fifteen to twenty-four year-olds.

Death by suicide is usually sudden, often violent, and frequently comes at the end of a long and difficult struggle with a mental illness. Heaped on top of that is a social stigma that leaves loved ones in shock and often burdened with shame. Responding to Suicide addresses common concerns of the bereaved following a suicide: skepticism that Catholic leaders will understand; fear that the Church teaches that their loved one is in hell; and belief that they will find little if any support in the Church.

More than a dozen contributors from across the spectrum of Catholic life provide rich guidance rooted in firsthand experience of suicide loss. Contributors include Deacon Ed Shoener, Bishop John P. Dolan, Msgr. Charles Pope, Leticia Adams, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, and clinical experts in the field of mental health and suicide. They share personal stories of loss, grief, hope, and healing, and clear up misconceptions about Church teaching.

They offer practical takeaways for pastoral leaders:

  • dos and don’ts when talking about suicide
  • guidance for preaching and planning funerals
  • information on the role of mental illnesses in suicide
  • resource lists for those who grieve as well as for your own professional development
  • suggested protocols for ministering to a school or parish community following a suicide
  • ideas about forming parish outreach ministries to the bereaved that address the needs of suicide loss

Product Details

Pages: 224

Trim size: 6 x 9 inches

ISBN: 9781646800117

Imprint: Ave Maria Press


These intercessory prayers can be used throughout the year in liturgies and prayer services for those who grieve the loss of a loved one to suicide.

This is a prayer ritual to use at the location of a suicide that includes prayers, scripture readings, and a reflection for those gathered that Christ's resurrection overcomes ALL death, even death by suicide.

Complementary Film Series

When a Loved One Dies by Suicide: Comfort, Hope, and Healing for Grieving Catholics now includes a complementary film series comprised of eight short videos to correspond with the book’s eight chapters.  Each film is narrated by the chapter author and offers individuals and parishes the ability to facilitate small grief support groups or one-on-one bereavement sessions.  Produced in partnership with Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries and the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, the film series and corresponding print materials (summary, discussion questions, and points of reflection) are a complete companion to the original book.

Content and Safety Notes

Suicide and suicide loss are sensitive topics. It is important to be aware of what you or someone in your group may experience while using this resource. The introduction to the Reflection Guide includes extensive notes on content and safe viewing. We encourage you to review these notes before beginning to use this resource. Group leaders are also encouraged to review the Facilitation Guide.

Although the films in this resource are not graphic and do not include descriptions of the means of suicide, the stories are sensitive. We recommend watching the films with family members, friends, or in the context of a grief support group meeting. We do not recommend watching more than one film at a time. Please think about how you can care for your mental, emotional, and physical health during and after viewing.

If you are experiencing suicidal ideation, or if you are concerned for the safety of someone you know, it is important to seek help immediately. Crisis phone numbers for several countries are listed below. If you are looking for local mental health services or information in another location or language, we encourage you to search online or reach out to your local parishes and health care providers.

Australia: 000 | Canada: 1-833-456-4566 or 911 | European Union: 112 | New Zealand: 111 | United States: 988 or 911 | United Kingdom: 999

To learn more about this resource and how to use it, please click here.

Please note: This resource and films address difficult and sensitive topics, and may not be appropriate for a young audience. It is not recommended for people aged 17 and younger.

  • “A revelation.”

    “A beautiful blending of the personal and the pastoral, Responding to Suicide is a revelation—and something the Church has needed for a long time. Deacon Ed Shoener has taken his own grief and transformed it into a moving and consoling gift that will benefit Catholics everywhere who have lost a loved one to suicide. The contributors of this powerful book teach pastoral leaders how to offer insight, compassion, consolation, and hope.” 

    Deacon Greg Kandra
    Journalist and blogger at The Deacon’s Bench 

  • “Urgently needed.”

    Responding to Suicide is, to say the least, urgently needed. As deaths by suicide increase, we Catholic leaders must equip ourselves with compassionate truth instead of pastorally inadequate and too-often inaccurate words and gestures. So much misunderstanding surrounds Catholics and suicide, which is precisely why this book is not just very good but also is essential for those of us charged with the pastoral care of God’s people.”

    Fr. Joshua J. Whitfield
    Pastoral Administrator
    St. Rita Catholic Community and School
    Dallas, Texas

  • “A valuable and practical resource for anyone serving in ministry.”

    “Responding to Suicide is a fantastic book and great gift to the Catholic Church. This is a valuable and practical resource for anyone serving in ministry. Led by personal testimony from Catholic leaders, this book dispels the stigma of suicide on a pastoral level and advances this necessary discussion with clarity, humility, and courage.”

    Scott Weeman
    Founder and executive director of Catholic in Recovery 

  • “Urgently needed information.”

    “Our country loses an estimated twenty veterans a day to suicide. It’s not enough to feel terrible about this tragic situation; we must try to do what we can to help our fellow human beings who are in crisis. Help and resources are available. This book provides urgently needed information and practical guidance. I highly recommend it. Please help.”

    Bishop Joseph L. Coffey
    Vicar for Veterans Affairs
    Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA

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