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).
I know it is impossible for Pastors to keep up on every struggle but this issue cannot be ignored. We cannot hide under the blankets ignoring mental health for even one more day.
Church Action Steps:
Fight misinformation within the Church by spreading truth and hope for those fighting mental illness.
Create a support group or host one through the National Alliance for Mental Illness.
5. LGBTQ Issues Should Never be Talked About at Church
We know suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth aged 15 to 24 and the number one cause of death among youth aged 10 to 14.
Among youth who identify as sexual minorities, the likelihood of death by suicide has been estimated to be two to seven times greater than the likelihood of death by suicide among heterosexual youth.
And this is even higher among religions where homosexuality is stigmatized. I am not here to debate you about this very divisive issue, I don’t feel called to and that’s between God and me. I do believe in showing the love Jesus showed to all people and I don’t believe that God hates anyone.
Whatever your church believes on this topic, we need to become a Church that is known for what we are for rather than what we are against. We need to be a church that is like a giant bear hug, welcoming and loving all people and saying to them, “We will work on whatever you’re facing inside the bear hug.”
Church Action Steps:
Be intentional about sex and sexuality in your church, especially with your youth.
Know the warning signs of depression and suicide.
Discuss as a congregation how to best approach divisive topics instead of shying away and ignoring them.
6. This Topic is Too Heavy For Young People
As I shared above, suicide is the NUMBER ONE CAUSE OF DEATH for young people ages 10-14.
I have personally heard students as young as 8 making statements about taking their own life.
We need to be talking about this early and in an age-appropriate manner. We need to share stories of people how have fought and overcome suicidal thoughts and attempts.
We need to tell everyone these words:
“I heard someone talking about suicide today and I want you to know if you’re ever in that place you can always talk to me no matter how many years pass or bad things gets.”
We also need to dramatically step up our mental health support pretty much everywhere.
Use a current event to bring up the topic and ask the hard questions. “Have you heard of the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why about suicide? Have you or anyone you know ever thought about that before?”
Make it a yearly topic in your youth group.
Send this article to your Pastor and/or Youth Pastor.
7. It’s Okay to Use the Word “Committed Suicide.”
This might seem like a minor thing, but to families who have lost someone it can make a world of difference. Committed is a word we use to describe a mistake, a crime, or an immoral act.
Language is much more powerful than we notice, especially when we’re used to using certain words.
Church Action Step:
Instead of committed, use the word completed or lost his/her battle with suicide.
Be hyper aware of how mental illness is talked about and discussed and make a commitment to using helpful language when discussing such important matters.
8. There’s No Way to Support a Family Who Lost Someone to Suicide
Often, in the aftermath of losing someone to suicide, people don’t know what to say so they say nothing. They do nothing. They avoid and disengage. They gossip and say some horribly misguided Christiany sounding things.
The pain of losing a loved one to suicide never fully heals. There will always be a sense of loss this side of heaven.
Church Action Steps:
Read 10 Ways to Support a Loved One Who Has Lost Someone to Suicide and have it available for members of your church and community.
9. No One in the Bible Ever Suffered from Depression or Suicidal Thoughts
Yeah okay, so maybe they didn’t have a clinical definition yet, but there are certainly passages that might lead one to wonder if perhaps the speaker might have been in the gripes of the emptiness of a depressive episode.
“He (Elijah) came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.” -1 Kings 19:4-5
“Hannah wept and would not eat . . . She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly” -1 Samuel 1:7–10
[Paul] “ . . .we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” -2 Corinthians 1:8–10
Every little thing we can do to normalize mental illness, to share stories of its prevalence within our communities might just be the push someone desperately needs to share what they are going through.
Acknowledge that mental illness has been part of the human experience for thousands of years. God has compassion and encouragement for ALL his people no matter what they are going through.
The truth is I don’t have all the answers or even half the answers on how to stop this suicide epidemic. I don’t know how to reach the stadium full of people we are losing ever year who can’t see they were made on purpose for a purpose.
I do know we all can make a difference together and the Church can make a huge impact by leading the way.
Together, we can make a world with zero deaths from suicide. Let’s go!
Share this post or send it to someone at your church to help get this conversation started in your community!
You can start being a part of the change by sharing our 2nd suicide prevention video:
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