Death affects everyone.
Despite height, color or creed - sooner or later we are all going to die. And suicide affects more families than we care to admit. Like death, suicide does not discriminate. It affects our classmates, our coworkers, our neighbors...and if Jarrid Wilson’s death taught us anything, it's that it affects our pastors, too.
In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a family that hasn’t been affected by suicide.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and sadly, the second leading cause of death for Americans aged 15-34. On average 129 lives are lost to suicide every day, 22 of those being veterans and 1.4 million Americans have attempted suicide.
Numerous sources cite depression as the leading cause of suicide, whether it has been diagnosed. The Center for Disease Control states that “54% people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition” (such as depression).
But that is a topic we’d rather avoid discussing. Isn’t it? Depression. The word itself sounds so grim, morbid and just plain well - depressing. We don’t discuss it in schools or the workplace. We even skirt the topic at church which should be a place where the hurting find healing. Still you’d be hard pressed to hear it covered from the pulpit, platforms or stages of even the most progressive Christian churches.
No. Today’s culture would have you fixate on “whatever makes you happy.” People are captivated by the here and now. Once “happiness” escapes our grips and we realize it was merely a mirage or an illusion shaped by the latest and greatest new trends - we succumb to despair.
If left untreated, our pain can dig a hole deep into our hearts and spiral into never-ending helplessness. Those who don’t see hope can resort to the most desperate measures. Including suicide.
A popular opinion suggests that suicide is “selfish.” But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Joiner’s Theory of Suicide cites that “alienation, burdonsomeness and a desire to die” create the perfect storm for suicidal ideation. In other words, the person contemplating suicide feels a crippling sense that they are a burden. They desire so desperately to lighten the load of those they love that they rationalize ending their lives to remove the burden they feel they've unjustly put on those they care about.
That sounds far from selfish to me.
Many people contemplating suicide isolate themselves and for several reasons. Some find it too hard to socialize. Others no longer find it enjoyable. Not as an offense to anyone in particular but because they wrestle with experiencing joy in nearly anything. Hence, they keep to themselves and retreat.
You’d think someone who feels lonely would reach out to others. But the ironic truth is, you can feel lonely even in a crowd.
Psychology Today expands on this point. They credit it to a sense of disconnectedness and separation. During my own experience with depression, I actually felt loneliest when I was surrounded by people. I could be in a crowd and still feel an emptiness that people simply could not fill.
Personally, I find solace in Scripture. Knowing that Christ Himself experienced anguish lifts the cloud of shame I previously associated with depression. Luke 22 describes a scene in which Christ is pleading with God in regards to His suffering. “He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44).
It’s not the most popular verse in the Bible. While pastors, priests and preachers speak freely about Christ’s sacrifice, they don’t often talk of Christ’s desperation. And they are way less likely to admit they themselves experience helpless situations that can lead to depression.
But if studies show that anywhere between 1 in 10, to one in six, to even one in four Americans suffer from depression - we need to know that no one is immune. Not Jarrid Wilson, a Pastor that advocated for mental health. Not Robin Williams who spent his life making others smile. Nor Kate Spade who had a successful career. Neither are our mothers, fathers, neighbors, daughters or sons. Neither are you or I.
The dreadful truth is that mental illness carries a negative stigma, even within the forgiving Christian community. Actually, especially in today’s #yolo culture or even the #blessed Christian community.
"Sad? Pray. Crying? I have a verse for that! Depressed? You couldn’t possibly be! You must not be praying enough. You have so much to be grateful and happy for. Your faith mustn’t be strong enough. You can’t feel those things and be a believer." (All things I heard when seeking counsel during my personal struggle with depression).
The Christian community has been notorious for casting judgement on those that speak out about their suffering. Worse, when we encounter someone who has lost a loved one to suicide we judge the dead and cast a cloud of shame on the survivor to boot.
Christianity is not a science nor a magic formula. But sadly, somehow, somewhere we have lost the art form of caring for the hurting. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” And it requires a level of vulnerability most of us are just plain uncomfortable with.
My heart aches for Jarrid Wilson's family.
Death calls for grief but suicide implies a
suffering that was far too great to bear.
And before we lose one more precious soul to suicide it is time to wake up and learn the value of this lesson.
The World Health Organization cites that while suicide is a "serious public health problem most are preventable." The majority of medical authorities agree and cite expressing hopelessness as the main warning sign. So who better to address this issue than the Church (capital C) also known as “the HOPE of the world” as proclaimed by Christianity Today?
We need to address the fatal epidemic of suicide,
the factors leading up to it and the devastation following.
Let’s work together on this. Below is a list of resources. But in the meantime:
If you find yourself feeling helpless and contemplating suicide - seek help now! Call 1-800-273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
If you’ve lost someone to suicide, I pray you start to mend your heart. Nothing can fill the void left by your loved one’s departing - but you can seek healing.
Let’s discuss this:
How has your life been affected by suicide? Have you thought of it yourself? Or has someone you love committed suicide?
Providing free & confidential support 24/7 - National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Suicide - World Health Organization
Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicidal Behavior also known as Joiner’s Theory on Suicide - American Psychological Association
Preventing Suicide - Center for Disease Control
Risk Factors and Warning Signs - American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Promote, Hope, Healing and Help to Prevent Suicide - National Alliance on Mental Illness
The Importance of Self-Compassion in the Aftermath of Suicide - National Alliance on Mental Illness
In Memoriam of Jarrid Wilson.