It turns out that Jake and Elwood of the Blues Brothers and I have a lot in common. We all wear sunglasses at night, we’re terrible at mall parking, and:
2 years ago this month I launched Recklessly Alive Ministries without any clue where God was leading.
While I am still flying by seat of my not-overly-skinny-but-still-hipster jeans, twenty-four months later I know one reason this ministry exists: to sprint towards a world with zero deaths from suicide.
Zero families torn apart by this painful tragedy.
Zero schools mourning and grieving for the student who didn’t know how to ask for help.
Zero people on this planet believing the lie that this world would be better off without them.
I also know we need a holistic approach to suicide prevention, a community-wide effort that helps people know they were made on purpose for purpose by a God who gave his only son so that they could find an eternal life.
So now I travel all over the country equipping and empowering communities to have real conversations about depression and suicide (and Jesus).
As someone whose life centered around church through most of my 20’s—volunteering 4-7 days a week—I thought the Church would welcome my message of hope and life with open arms.
I quickly learned most churches don’t want to touch depression or suicide with a 234 ft pole. Yet, I also know the world is CRAVING the message my talk brings as over 700 people showed up for our Just One event in Elk River, MN.
So why are churches so afraid to talk about depression and suicide?
The longer I do this work, the more I realize just how misunderstood suicide is—especially in the Church.
So today I am over-generalizing Christians using my experiences as a suicide survivor and as the Director of Operations and Lead Communicator for a wicked awesome faith-driven suicide prevention organization to share with you 9 Things Christians Get Wrong about Suicide.
1. Suicide Isn’t a Problem, Especially in the Church
We lost 44,965 American to suicide in 2016 according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a rate that has been steadily climbing and according to the New York Times is currently at a 30 year high.
One expert I follow believes it’s possible the suicide rate could double in the next 10 years with the lack of mental health resources, the sharp increase in depression and mental illness, and the lack of awareness about the issue.
Depression doesn’t discriminate by age, gender, socioeconomic status, religion or race.
While men are more likely to complete and Caucasians have the highest rate of suicide, depression and suicide affects all of us and we need to fight this epidemic together.
Church Action Steps:
Make sure congregants and staff are aware of the current depression and suicide rates.
Send staff and volunteers to mental health first aid training.
Create an action plan on with ways your church will be intentional about mental health issues within your congregation.
2. Talking About Suicide Leads to More Suicides
There is no research evidence that indicates talking to people about suicide, in the context of care, respect, and prevention, increases their risk of suicidal ideation or suicidal behaviors.
Research does indicate that talking openly and responsibly about suicide lets a potentially suicidal person know they do not have to be alone, that there are people who want to listen and who want to help. (The Jason Project)
Most people are relieved to finally be able to talk honestly about their feelings, and this alone can reduce the risk of an attempt.
Church Action Steps:
Don’t shy away from talking about depression and suicide in your congregations.
Incorporate mental illness in your prayers.
Consider hosting a community suicide prevention event like our Just One Events for your community. (We’re happy to host it with you).
3. Depression and Suicide are Primarily Spiritual Issues
I fully believe God can heal a person in an instant and I believe he still does these miraculous acts among us today. I also believe God gave us incredible brain power to develop medicine as a part of his love for us.
Yes, knowing we were all made on purpose for a purpose by a God who loved the world so much he sacrificed his only son so that we could have eternal life is the most important Truth on the planet.
But like someone battling anorexia whose body is wasting away, yet when they look in the mirror and see themselves as fat, so too the suicidal brain twists reality blocking out all signs of light and hope.
I know because I lived it on the day I planned to end my own life (yes while knowing the incredible love of Jesus).
I teach about fighting depression on all three fronts: mental, physical and spiritual. All three areas need to be addressed as part of a comprehensive treatment plan between doctors, counselors, pastors and community members.
Church Action Steps:
Be brave and talk about mental illness from the pulpit. If you don’t feel comfortable addressing this issue, bring in outside speakers who can.
Make mental health resources easily accessible in your lobby and on your website. This Church does an amazing job.
4. Pastors Are Never Part of the Problem
Unfortunately, many churches are a huge part of the problem by disseminating misinformation and destructive thoughts about mental illness.
There are so many pastors who are supportive and open about mental health struggles in themselves or their family and anytime I meet one I just want to hug them for an uncomfortably long time (and cry a little bit).
And then there are so many others who are… not.
In John Piper’s defense, his twitter account issued an apology saying he was quoting an author from the 1970’s when that term had a different meaning. (Even though there aren’t quotation marks or said speaker’s name).