Tragically last week, two mental health advocates have died by suicide. One of whom was a pastor that many followed, including myself. Though many have offered their condolences, I saw the inevitable that was coming: the ignorance behind someone’s suicide. Unfortunately, no one can answer the why except the person that was feeling suicidal, so asking why is a bit of a double-edged sword. So, in this post—this letter— I want to address two things: First being the ignorance around suicide and why the church should be more vocal and proactive BEFORE it happens and Two, how the Church can offer support to people suffering.
I honestly did not intend to write a post on this; I was simply going to pray and then move on. When I realized this compelling feeling wasn’t going anywhere I figured, “may as well write about it”. When I first heard of the death of Jarrid Wilson, I was shocked. Like many of you, I couldn’t believe that he had passed. I was so sad for his family, his church, but even more, I was so sad for him. He had been a pastor of a megachurch, had millions of followers and yet, no one could see the pain that he was going through. I could only imagine how lonely he must’ve felt up until his last days. My feelings of sadness were almost completely interrupted with the swarm of negative comments of how a pastor— a man of GOD— could do something “like that”. One of the things wrong with statements like these are not only are they extremely hurtful, but they are riddled in ignorance and are very inappropriate. Mental illness is a disease. It does not discriminate. It does not care if you are a minority, rich, a Democrat, a child, or a “man of God”. Mental illness affects one in five adults in the U.S. Being a Christian doesn’t excuse you or anyone from being immune to mental illness. I’ve discussed in previous posts on how dangerous it is to judge someone’s closeness to God based on illness. In the same sense that you wouldn’t judge a Christian with diabetes, is the same manner that you shouldn’t judge a Christian with mental illness.
Imagine you are asleep in your room and suddenly you awake to hear your fire alarm blaring, the smell of smoke, and fire all around you. Imagine you see someone within distance and you cry out for help. The person well-equipped turns to you and says, “I’m praying for you!” and then walks away. This would ultimately make you feel very upset and afraid as the fire begins to engulf everything around you. So often people with mental illness cry out for help to the Church, but they are met with the same lackadaisical statement, “I’m praying for you!” Though it’s a nice statement, it doesn’t help with the issue. Just as re-posting about a pastor’s death by suicide and telling others to pray for their leadership, doesn’t solve the problem and reality that pastors are dying by suicide. What does actually help is that the Church be vocal and proactive in mental health movements and legislation regarding mental health. The longer the Church waits, the longer havoc will wreak in the minds and hearts of the people. In the days of the New Testament, any time there was a political or social event or movement, the Church was involved, so why have things changed now? I believe that stigma has caused the Church to be afraid of the taboo. But Church, don’t you know that if you don’t address these issues, the world will? Darkness will continue to have its way in people. Where the Church falls silent, the world will raise up its voice. The Church is meant to be salt and light to the world (Matt.5:13-16) and when we are silent or raise our voice in ignorance, we lose our flavor and our light grows dim.
Church, you can pray for people and still offer them support! Church, you can pray for people and still take them to therapy! Church, you can pray for people and still support your local mental health organizations! Church, one of the best ways you can offer support to people struggling is by being present. Not wanting to push your agenda disguised as concern, but genuinely listening and asking the person questions about how they feel can be enough to save a person’s life. Even though hearing a person talk about suicide may be hard, you must accept what they are telling you. Take it seriously and get that person professional help immediately. The Church cannot keep treating those with mental illness as invalids because the people could be your friends, your neighbors, or your pastors.
I didn’t want this letter to be long at all, just simply a letter to the people I love. I want us to do better in our treatment of those with mental illness and to apply discretion when posting our personal feelings when tragedy happens. The Church has a long way to go, but I’m very hopeful that we are on the path to getting it right. Take care.