Let’s talk about mental health.

On Sunday, September 8 Jarrid Wilson, megachurch associate pastor, and outspoken mental health advocate tweeted a lament of the church’s silence on mental health disorders. On Monday, September 9, the next day, he officiated a funeral for a female suicide victim. On the following day, which happened to be suicide awareness day, we learned that Jarrid had taken his own life.

 

Jarrid correctly pointed out that for too long church culture has shied away from addressing this prevalent problem in our society. I believe he died, at least in part, to bring awareness to this issue. I’m not meaning to say he made the right choice, and I do not want to, in any way, glorify his actions. I do, however, get the altruistic reasoning behind his death. He didn’t feel that he was getting anywhere with his outspokenness on the issue, and he thought by killing himself he would bring attention to mental health problems in the Christian community.
 
 
The fact that Jarrid’s suicide was out of the Christian news media within just a few weeks proves that suicide is not the answer. Some people commit suicide because they just want a way out… a break from the hamster wheel. Others choose to die to bring attention to some problem or injustice whether it be bullying, or abuse, or the apathy of their loved ones who cannot understand their struggle. Most of the time these poor souls are buried, mourned by the ones who loved them the most, but the issues they hope to call attention to by their deaths go largely unaddressed. They die mostly in vain.
 
I am a Christian pastor who has struggled with clinical depression. God graciously worked through doctors and counselors and medications to help me. Through His word and His faithfulness, I am being healed and given joy in the midst of my major depressive disorder. The Lord has worked in me a will to live and speak out on this issue. I know that the only way I can make the difference He wants me to make is for me to make choices that reflect His character and love. For me, that takes suicide off the table.
 
Since I opened up about my struggle, so many people have come out of the shadows to let me know that they too wrestle with mental health problems. I have been greatly encouraged to know that I am not alone. I know, however, there are even more people who suffer in silence. I know because I was one of those quietly suffering while thinking that to admit my problem was to admit failure.
 
Studies estimate that 1 in 4 church attendees suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder, but few receive treatment. Those who go untreated either try to ignore that they have a problem or they believe with more faith, prayer, and Bible study they can overcome. The enemy will not allow them to consider, and their church leaders sometimes don’t care enough to point out, that God graciously uses doctors, therapists, and medications to help with mental health problems. Yes, only the Lord can HEAL a broken heart, but he does involve other good people in helping His children with all kinds of problems ranging from the common cold to major depressive and bipolar disorder.
 
If you think you may have a problem, then talk to someone. Start by talking with a good pastor who cares. Most formally educated pastors have at least some understanding of the practice of pastoral counseling. He will listen to you, pray for you, and share scripture with you. He will help you with some of your unhelpful thoughts and refer you to a more specialized mental health professional if it turns out that’s what you need.
 

Doctors, therapists, and Christian counselors will also help you. If your pastor recommends any combination of these helping professionals, then I would start with a therapist or a counselor who shares your Christian worldview (they exist). Therapists and counselors will give you tools to cope with the occasional blues and nagging anxiety. You may not even need medication, but if a trusted doctor recommends a medication, then understand that he or she has taken an oath to do you no harm. Good doctors do not prescribe antidepressant or antianxiety meds for frivolous reasons. Consider that this is one way that God helps hurting people. If you need medication and don’t take it, then you are doing yourself harm, and you’ll find other less healthy ways to cope.