Annual summit preaches suicide prevention to faith leaders
Shayla Slaymaker lost two brothers to suicide.
Her little brother died by suicide in 2013. Her older brother took his life three years later.
“I had come home after running errands for my upcoming wedding and I couldn’t find my little brother. I thought he was just out with his friends,” she said. “But then my dad came home and asked where he was. The next thing I hear is a crash and screaming from upstairs.”
Slaymaker ran upstairs to see her father lying on the floor screaming.
“We couldn’t get anything out of him. I walked outside and I saw that my younger brother has died and taken his own life,” she said. “I turned back to my older brother and I wanted to tell him not to look, but I froze and ran out of the house.”
Slaymaker said she lived with the guilt of not telling her older brother not to look at the tragic scene. She said she always wondered if she had told him, maybe he wouldn’t have taken his own life three years later.
“But I realize that wasn’t the reason. There was so much more going on. The reality is, if I had told him not to look, he would have gone anyway. There was nothing I could have done in that moment to change things,” she said.
Slaymaker said grief has overflowed her life for eight years and said she hasn’t gone a full week without crying over the loss of her brothers. She said that’s why it’s so important to realize that grief never goes away and those struggling continue to need help and support.
Slaymaker told her story, along with others who have lost family members, during the 4th annual Suicide Prevention Summit for Faith Leaders on Thursday. The summit — which was themed You’re not alone: Addressing suicide prevention together through faith, hope and love — was sponsored by NAMI-Utah and the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition with support from Intermountain Healthcare. The summit was primarily held for faith leaders from across the state to help them recognize the signs of suicide in the people of their congregations struggling with the thoughts of ending their lives.
“Your job is to be the support system when possibly nobody else will. Your role cannot be discounted,” said Deondra Brown, who was sexually abused by her father and later lost a close cousin to suicide. “This is so different from any other pain I’ve ever experienced. You need people to reach out.”
Brown said she struggled for a long time wondering how a loving God could allow so much suffering, but, she said sometimes bad things happen because of the consequences of evil individuals and you can be the victim of their free choices.
“One of the most important things for me has always been my faith in God. There is a God and he uses us to help each other,” she said.
Dr. Ali Crandall, an assistant professor in public health at Brigham Young University, was the keynote speaker. She talked about adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, and positive childhood experiences, or PCEs, and how they can impact a person throughout their life.
ACEs, Crandall said, are experiences that occur during the first 18 years of life. They can include physical, sexual and emotional abuse, divorce, being exposed to domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse in the home or having a parent in prison.
PCEs include positive childhood experiences that include the ability to talk with family about feelings, a sense of support from family and friends and feeling safe and protected in the home.
“Most Americans have at least one ACE. We get particularly worried when someone has had four or more ACEs because that can affect your well-being throughout life,” Crandall said.
Crandall said faith leaders can connect with youth and adults and help them identify the positives in their childhood and in their life currently, while working with their congregation to identify things they can do to increase structure, stability and nurturing in their own situations.
“As important as the family is, you’ve heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child and it’s true. Every child just needs to know they are loved. As a faith community, you have an impact on families and individual children.”