Archdiocese Local

Let’s talk about suicide

Families struggle for answers. Friends struggle to communicate. And in the end, suicide leaves more questions than answers.

by Marc and Julie Anderson


That word has played again and again in Brenda Quigley’s mind after losing her son Damon to suicide on Jan. 19, 2021. He was 13.

The youngest child of Ron and Brenda Quigley, Damon was a member of St. Patrick Parish in Corning, a town of approximately 200.

“There really were no signs,” Brenda said of Damon’s struggles, not even on the day he died.

Finding a purpose

With few answers, Brenda said her family is left to speculate, but she knows that won’t help much.

Instead, Brenda, Ron and their other two children — Noah, 20, and Taegan, 17 — are determined to help other families through a movement known as Damon’s Purpose. Starting it, though, was the furthest thing from their minds that fateful day.

After the funeral, Brenda said she found it therapeutic to post about her grief on Facebook. She also posted it was OK to ask for help.

“Damon didn’t ask for help, but you can ask for help and you should ask for help,” she recalled posting more than once.

One word kept coming up in her mind.

“There had to be a purpose, “ she said. “His life had to have had purpose, and maybe that purpose was to drive my purpose.”

So, Brenda added #damonspurpose to her Facebook posts, which started garnering more and more attention.

When a friend suggested creating signs with inspirational messages to post around the tiny northeast Kansas community, Brenda agreed.

The first signs were made during a gathering the Quigleys hosted at their home.

“We put it out on Facebook so anyone could see it,” she said. “What surprised me was it wasn’t just our Corning-Centralia community. We had people from other towns. You know social media and kids. He knew a lot of kids, and I didn’t know he knew that many kids.”

“It affected a lot more people than he could have possibly imagined,” she added. “It was just a good day for us to get together and start the healing process.”

Every sign was different, featuring an inspirational message, a Scripture verse or some words of encouragement, accompanied by #damonspurpose.

Eventually, the Quigleys started receiving donations to make more signs. Youth groups, religious education classes and high school classes requested “sign parties,” as they’ve come to be known. Signs dot the town, the countryside and regional schools.

‘Just start with six words’

Additionally, the Quigleys have sponsored wellness days with mental health professionals on hand and the opportunity for people to submit questions anonymously. The family hoped at least 20 people would attend the first one. Eighty people came, and the event has been viewed at least 400 times online.

Everything Damon’s Purpose sponsors, Brenda said, is to “encourage openness about mental health and promote mental wellness; foster compassion and empathy for those who struggle with mental health issues; empower people to seek professional help before life becomes overwhelming; advocate for suicide awareness and prevention; and ultimately strive to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.”

“I know we won’t always have the voice that people are listening to,” she said, “but while we do, we’ve got to keep talking. I tell people all the time, ‘If you’re struggling with your mental health and you just can’t find the words, start with ‘I’ve not been feeling myself lately.’ Just start with those six words. If I hear someone say that, I’m definitely going to explore that further.”

Bringing awareness to a stadium level

Like the Quigleys, Bob and Kelly Specht, members of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park, never saw themselves as advocates for mental wellness.

That changed on June 23, 2017, when they lost their son Carl to suicide after years of struggling with depression. He was 27.

Not only has the couple raised thousands of dollars in partnership with the University of Kansas Health System, but they’ve also become speakers around the region at events, including a suicide prevention workshop held March 6 at Topeka’s St. Matthew Church.

During the workshop, the Spechts shared Carl’s story. Bob then discussed their nonprofit, known as Carl’s Cause, and the ways it advocates for mental wellness.

Allowing themselves a year to mourn, the Spechts resisted doing any type of fundraising at first, but eventually, a phrase Bob uttered one day spurred them to action.

“We’ve got to take [mental health awareness] to a stadium level,” he said.

And soon they did.

Now, the Carl’s Cause website features photos from Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, taken during the first-ever mental health awareness event hosted by the Kansas City Royals on July 29, 2021. It’s just one event the Spechts have hosted.

Awareness, Kelly said, is critical.

“About one in five people will suffer some sort of mental health crisis in their lifetime,” said Kelly. “If you think about a stadium and all of the people who are in a row at a game of some sort, just think about all of the people it affects.”

Connecting people with resources, the Spechts said, is crucial.

“There’s a really great resource book called ‘How to Navigate a Mental Health Crisis.’ It may have been available, but we didn’t know about it,” Kelly said.

Through Carl’s Cause, the Spechts have been able to fund the distribution of hundreds of copies. Published by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Kelly said the book is a great resource in a crisis, but also a good one to have on hand, just in case.

‘No one can fix it’

Although they advocate for mental wellness, the Spechts said that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

“No one can fix it,” she said, referring to the loss of Carl. “A really good saying that Father [Rick] Storey said to us that first day was that we won’t know in this lifetime the why. Why did this happen? Why did this happen to us? Why did this happen to Carl? We won’t know in this lifetime.

“That statement helped us so much to open up our hands and give it back to God. We don’t understand this, and we certainly can’t fix it, but we have to accept it.”

‘Let them talk about it’

Sometimes, acceptance of a loved one’s passing or letting go of any associated guilt doesn’t come easily, said Deacon Chris Seago, a mental health professional and a permanent deacon serving at Topeka’s Christ the King Parish.

And when families lose loved ones to suicide, it’s important to surround them with the same kind of love given other loss situations.

“Everyone understands cancer. Everyone understands heart failure or heart attacks. Suicide still has a stigma. ‘Well, what was wrong with him?’ ‘What did you do?’ And you have to help people understand and get past that stigma,” he said.

One way, Deacon Seago said, is to simply be present.

“Reach out to the family. Let them talk about it. Don’t dismiss anything they want to say,” he said. “They may for a long time feel responsible. In the beginning, they just need to feel whatever the emotions are. Maintain contact with them. Listen to them if they want to talk about it. Reassure them by your presence.”

Another way to help families experiencing loss, he added, is to help remember the lives of their loved ones.

“What happens to people when someone they love dies of suicide, they fixate on just that one thing. Why did it happen? What did I miss? Why did they leave us? Why did they do it? They lock in on that one part of that person’s life,” Deacon Seago said. “But remember, there was a whole lot of that person’s life shared with this person before they died.

“Try to encourage them to look at the person as a whole. There was much more to that person than just that one action.”

‘Trust them to the mercy of God’

“No matter how someone died, no matter how far beyond hope they seem to be now or at the hour of their death, there’s still hope for their salvation.”

Written by Father Chris Alar, MIC, and Brother Jason Lewis, MIC, those words are found in “After Suicide: There’s Hope for Them and for You,” a book which addresses two questions. First, do those who take their own lives automatically go to hell? And secondly, how can we help those who have lost a loved one to suicide?

Father Andrew Strobl, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park, said he often recommends the book to others.

During the prevention workshop, he shared how a few years after his ordination, he received a call from a friend’s family asking him to preach at the funeral. His friend had died by suicide.

“It was the most difficult homily I’ve ever given,” he said.

But it was also a teaching moment.

Although the Catholic Church teaches suicide itself is immoral because it’s a violation of the Fifth Commandment and a sin against charity for our neighbor, it also teaches no one but God can judge the culpability of someone who dies by suicide, said Father Strobl.

Because “in order for an act to be evaluated properly, you need to know the action itself, the intention and the circumstances,” he said, and cited the following passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“Grave psychological disturbances, anguish or grave fear of hardship, suffering or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide” (2282).

“The church is very clear here,” he said. “There are mitigating circumstances that can come into play.

“This is the clear teaching of the Catholic Church that we get to hold onto and bring really close to us and try to wrestle with the topic of suicide in light of this teaching.”

And while that passage discusses how culpability can be diminished, Father Strobl said the next is equally, if not more, powerful:

“We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (CCC, 2283).

“That’s quite the statement, isn’t it?” Father Strobl asked simply.

Preventing suicide

In the United States, there is one suicide every 11 minutes, according to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE). That means that every day, 125 Americans die by suicide. There’s at least one attempt every 27.5 seconds, and it is the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds.

Suicide, though, is not always the result of a mental illness. In fact, in 2016, 54% of deaths by suicide were by people without a mental health diagnosis.

Deacon Chris Seago, a permanent deacon at Christ the King Parish in Topeka and a licensed mental health professional who spoke at a suicide prevention workshop held March 6 at Topeka’s St. Matthew Church, said most suicides are preventable. Recognizing the warning signs and risk factors, he said, can mean the difference between life and death, especially if you know how to access mental health resources in the event of an emergency.

Warning signs/risk factors

• Depression
• Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
• Irritability/anger/anxiety
• Shame or humiliation
• Talking about killing oneself
• Saying life has no meaning or purpose
• Reporting feeling burdened, stuck or trapped
• Isolating oneself from friends and family
• Giving away prized possessions
• Acting recklessly
• Increased aggression
• Increased drug and alcohol use
• Gathering materials (e.g., pills, weapons, etc.)
• Searching about suicide on the internet
• Prior attempts
• A family history of suicide
• Having a friend or co-worker who has died by suicide
• A history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse
• Having disabling pain, long-term or terminal illness
• Sleep problems
• Sudden calmness
• Major life events

— Death of a loved one or pet
— End of a relationship
— Diagnosis of a major illness
— Loss of a job/financial problems
— Divorce

 “As a mental health professional,” said Deacon Seago, “I believe in treatment for those people who are experiencing depression and mental illness and moodiness and sadness with a combination of therapy and medication simply because studies have shown over and over it works. Does it work for everybody? No. It doesn’t. Just like some people who receive cancer treatments get better and some people who receive the same cancer treatments don’t. But the large percentage of people who receive therapy and medication do recover from their moods and sadness and depression.”

So, if you start noticing behaviors not typically seen in someone, start a conversation, he said.

“The most important thing when it comes to prevention of suicide is to talk to people,” he said. “Talk to them. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘What’s going on? I’m concerned about you. Are you thinking about killing yourself?’”

Sometimes, he added, people are afraid of “contributing to a suicide” by asking that question. But they should ask it anyway, because about 50 to 75% of people will give a friend or relative a warning sign, even if it’s indirect.

“If someone is telling you they want to kill themselves or they’re wanting to harm themselves, that’s a good sign,” he said. “It also means they probably do not want to do it.”

In those situations, he continued, “you sit down and talk with them. You ask them what’s going on. Do you need help? How can we be there for you?”


Josh Ruoff, a licensed social worker and the archdiocese’s lead consultant for the office of special needs under whose responsibility ministry for mental health falls, said the Catholic Church’s response to suicide and mental health is one he takes extremely seriously. 

“I think each of us is impacted by it in some way,” said Ruoff, “and when it comes to these topics that are difficult for us to understand, I think it’s important the church is there. It’s important our faith has a response, because our faith should be the center of our lives, and it’s important that we use our faith to bring understanding to this topic that a lot of times we don’t understand.”

“One of the things we’re working on as an archdiocese,” he continued, “is figuring out how to bring our churches together, our church staff and our laypeople, and encouraging them in starting mental health ministries within their own parish.”

Ruoff said he has many resources to help priests address suicide from a pastoral perspective, and the archdiocese is looking at ways it can encourage parishes, through organizations such as the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, to begin or expand upon their own ministries to “be that minister of Christ and support for that individual and what they’re going through.”

Below is a partial list of the resources Ruoff said he hopes parishes and clergy will draw upon in their ministries:

• Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers

A lay association of the Christian faithful whose members “are called to be a healing presence in the lives of people with mental illness” and who “work to eliminate the stigma and discrimination that people living with a mental illness encounter in the church and in human society.”

For more information, visit the website at:

• “The Catholic Guide to Depression: How the Saints, the Sacraments and Psychiatry Can Help You Break Its Grip and Find Happiness Again” by Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, and Father John Cihak

• “St. Dymphna’s Playbook: A Catholic Guide to Finding Mental and Emotional Well-Being” by Tommy Tighe

• “The Sanctuary Course for Catholics”

This is a free course designed for small groups to aid in parishes becoming sanctuaries for those struggling with mental health challenges of any kind from three different perspectives: psychological, social and theological. For more information, go to the website at:  sanctuary

• “After Suicide: There’s Hope for Them and for You” by Father Chris Alar, MIC, and Brother Jason Lewis, MIC

• “When a Loved One Dies by Suicide: Comfort, Hope and Healing for Grieving Catholics” by the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers. The book is compiled and edited by Deacon Ed Shoener, and Bishop John P. Dolan.

• “Responding to Suicide: A Pastoral Handbook for Catholic Leaders,” by the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers. This book is compiled and edited by Deacon Ed Shoener and Bishop John P. Dolan.

• Catholic counselors

An archdiocesan-approved list of Catholic counselors can be found online at:

Need help? Thinking about suicide? Call 988

If you or a loved one are experiencing thoughts of depression or suicide, call 988.

Since July 16, the new three-digit code “988” will connect you or your loved one via phone, text or chat (depending on preference) to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a network formed in 2005 of trained counselors at more than 200 crisis centers nationwide. You or your loved one will be connected immediately to trained counselors who will listen, assess the situation and connect you with local resources as necessary.

About the author

Marc & Julie Anderson

Freelancers Marc and Julie Anderson are long-time contributors to the Leaven. Married in 1996, for several years the high school sweethearts edited The Crown, the former newspaper of Christ the King Parish in Topeka which Julie has attended since its founding in 1977. In 2000, the Leaven offered the couple their first assignment. Since then, the Andersons’ work has also been featured in a variety of other Catholic and prolife media outlets. The couple has received numerous journalism awards from the Knights of Columbus, National Right to Life and the Catholic Press Association including three for their work on “Think It’s Not Happening Near You? Think Again,” a piece about human trafficking. A lifelong Catholic, Julie graduated from Most Pure Heart of Mary Grade School and Hayden Catholic High School in Topeka. Marc was received into the Catholic Church in 1993 at St. Paul Parish – Newman Center at Wichita State University. The two hold degrees from Washburn University in Topeka. Their only son, William James, was stillborn in 1997.

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