Nearly one million people commit suicide each year, the World Health Organization reports. That evens out to about one suicide every 40 seconds.
The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) promoted Tuesday as World Suicide Prevention Day, which is being observed in about 100 countries worldwide. Dr. Lanny Berman, president of the IASP, says there are a number of effective approaches to suicide prevention and creating awareness is vital.
"It has been said that when one man dies it is a tragedy, when thousands die it's statistics. We believe that each and every one of these deaths is a tragedy, a needless and potentially preventable death," Berman said in a video on IASP's website.
Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and his wife, Kay, lost their son to suicide earlier this year. On Tuesday morning, Kay posted a message to Twitter encouraging her followers to support the global awareness event.
"Today is World Suicide Prevention Day," she wrote. "Pray 4 those on the edge of despair. There is hope! Let's bring the conversation into the light!"
According to IASP, suicide is a leading cause of death worldwide and is particularly prevalent among young people. It is estimated that five percent of people will attempt suicide at least once in their life.
Evangelist Jay Lowder was nearly one of those people.
Lowder told The Christian Post how he found himself pointing a loaded pistol at his head one day when he was just 21-years-old. He had dropped out of college. His relationship with his girlfriend had come to an end. He lost his car because he couldn't afford to pay his bills. He was depressed and used alcohol to "dull the pain."
He woke up with a hangover one day, and walked into the bathroom to splash water on his face. While standing in front of the mirror, he said, he remembers feeling "worthless" and decided he was finally going to end his life. He went back to the sofa he had been sleeping on and began loading his gun. He contemplated the angle at which he should shoot in order to kill himself.
He also convinced himself that he would go to heaven if he pulled the trigger, though he now says that wasn't the case. He had gone to church as a child and had even been baptized, but he had not yet given his life to Christ.
He pulled back the hammer on the gun then put the pistol to his head as tears ran down his face. But something unusual happened then: his roommate, who had been sent home early from work, arrived before he could pull the trigger.
"It was God," said Lowder. "I mean, I...wasn't sure about it at the time, but it was God."
He wasn't fully convinced that God had played a role in the incident until three months later when he gave his life to Christ. It was then he realized that he mattered to God and that there was a "great destiny" planned for his life. The 45-year-old now takes the gospel message around the world and shares hope with others who are struggling with despair.
"For those people that are in that pit of discouragement and in that ditch of depression...my only word is this: there is a man who came, and he said he came to give life. He didn't come to bring death. He came to give life, and not only just life, an existence, but an abundant life. He is the ultimate answer, because he is the giver of life."
At the end of this month Lowder will share his near-suicide story in Northern Ireland, which has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe, according to a press release. His ministry has partnered with a large church, Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle Belfast, for the week-long Alive Belfast Mission event.
People in Belfast are not very vocal on the topic of suicide, says Lowder. Some leaders may fear that discussing it may contribute to the already high number of suicides in the area, though Lowder says the opposite is true. The best thing to do is talk about it, he says, which is why events like World Suicide Prevention Day are so important.
"People need to be talking about it, because...anything that people seem to want to hide is something that tends to be a problem, and anything that's not openly discussed is a warning sign," he said.
In the U.S., people are participating in the event in a variety of ways. Groups in many cities are hosting awareness walks. A 16-year-old in Jacksonville, Fla., with bipolar disorder wrote a letter to her school principal that inspired a school assembly on suicide prevention.
Some groups and individuals are also hosting presentations in which they will discuss, among other things, suicide risk factors and warning signs. Lowder says paying attention to such signs is important because no one close to him even realized at the time that he was on the brink of taking his own life.
"I didn't think anybody cared," he said. "And it's not true-there were a lot of people who cared. But in the mire of darkness and in the mire of depression, I needed somebody to reach out to me. So these days help prompt those types of things-discussion, reach out, education."