Suicide Risk in the Christian Church Day 6: Attacking the Problem Individually
When I discussed with Ruth the possibility of writing on such a heavy topic, we quickly realized that many Christians have been touched by this sensitive issue. Perhaps you, the reader, have struggled with the hopeless numbness and depression. Maybe someone you know is in the struggle and you wonder how to help.
Consider these words from those who have endured the suicide struggle. These considerations offer hope and the suggestions they contribute are helpful. As you read through them, see if you can establish any patterns toward healing and recovery.
Person A: “God does love you and he will not give up on you. You do need help, and that’s okay. Your story isn’t just this awful time and your life is worth living. Have compassion on yourself! You do not have to have it all together, you are doing the best you can with the knowledge and resources that you have and you will ‘get through this.’”
Person B: “I was lucky to find a group/a gal that wasn’t ‘religious’ per say, but had a relationship with the Lord and was very respectful of my faith, and Christianity. Long story short, I was realizing that my worth starts with how Christ values me, not others. I’ve learned to like myself and be proud of my accomplishments, big and small and slowly but surely, stop comparing myself to others. My husband (even still not super warm & fuzzy by nature) encourages me to talk about fears, failures, hopes and dreams and even though you don’t need to decide to dwell on whatever issues you may have, you admit them, work through them and then decide to move on.”
Person C: “When I sat down and talked to my parents about how I felt about something or told them about things, that meant a lot to me and we were able to compromise and figure some things out. I started getting regular exercise and my mental health approved a lot.”
Person D: “I wish I would have known that my brain was sick and needed treatment just like any other illness. That it truly wasn’t all my fault. I really believed that all of my feelings and actions were right. I know that I have faults and sin but this was different from a willful disobedience. I didn’t know that I could take medicine and it would help my brain heal and get the balance I needed so I could see truth instead of lies. I wish I knew that getting help was easier than I could have imagined. That there is no shame in asking for help. That it shows your strength to ask for help. I wish I had understood that my friends would have done anything to get me the help I needed if I had only reached out. But most of all I wish that I had known that having depression and anxiety is not something to be ashamed of but something to grow and learn from.”
Person E: “My depression is two-fold. The first being that my brain is chemically imbalanced. The second part is spiritual. One day I was driving back from class and I was extremely low. I decided I was done and drove through another red light. I was so angry that again I had failed. When you are depressed you only think of yourself and how it affects you.The Lord chose that moment to speak to me.Three things came to mind—things that had never occurred to me before. What if I hurt or killed someone else? I was shocked that I had never thought of that. I never intended to involve someone else. Next I realized that I could get in an accident and be seriously hurt but not die. I could end up living in a wheelchair without the ability to do anything for myself. I knew I didn’t want that. The last thing is what stopped me cold. What would I tell the Lord I did with the life He had paid for at the cross? I knew that I would have been horrified to know I had taken the life He lovingly died for. I remember feeling the breath knocked out of me. Feeling sick and like I had been punched in the stomach. I wasn’t far from my house and pulled in the driveway and parked. Relief washed over me that I had been spared. That Lord had protected me from myself. For the first time I realized that I needed help.
“I ended up going to the doctor and being put on medicine. I have been on meds for about 20 years. Without meds I am not able to function properly. I am not able to think clearly. Not long after being on the medications, I started to feel much better but I was still struggling a little bit. One Sunday I was in a teaching meeting (which was unusual because I had a Sunday School class) and the speaker read Romans 7:15-20. I was shocked. I felt like that was me. Everything good I wanted to do, I didn’t. But the things I didn’t want to do, I did. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right. I don’t remember much about his message but I do remember when he started talking about Romans 8:38-39. I understood that there was nothing I could ever do or not do that could take away God’s love for me. That battle had already been won many years before on the cross. It was a huge relief for me to understand that God’s love for me is not performance-based but completely connected to a God who never changes. He is consistent and unable to stop loving me. Without medication my brain was unable to function. I wasn’t able to think clearly. But with the medication I was able to see through the lies. I was able to read my Bible and process what was being said. I still struggle with depression but a lot of times I discover it is because I have not been reading or praying consistently. Over the years I have tried to get off meds because I don’t like the side effects. Some of the effects will be life long. It wasn’t long after going off the meds that I would start feeling the depression worsen and knew I needed medication. Sometimes my meds need to be changed or tweaked but I know that I will need medication for the rest of my life and that is ok.”
Person F: “I was trapped. If I stayed in my marriage I would die, if I left my marriage I would die. It was my husband’s addiction, lies about the addiction, his inability to connect emotionally or spiritually. Also, either the lack of support from the Church or misguided/misinformed support. If my elders and their wives told me the things they did at an earlier point in discovering my husband’s betrayals, I would have killed myself. Advice given to people in such fragile situations should never be given lightly!! Just having someone make me promise to call them if I was about to kill myself stopped me from going through with it.”
These stories can be difficult to read, and yet are very helpful. The insights provided by those who have experienced the darkness of suicidal thoughts provide a depth of perspective that an academic rehearsal of facts and theories cannot produce. Let’s take a few moments to pull together some themes from what we have read…
- Having a right understanding of our standing in Christ is important. If only we really understood how God views us in light of Christ’s passion. That we are the righteousness of God in Him. That we are loved, seen, and forgiven. Fully known and fully loved.
- Relationships are essential. This first includes our relationship with God through His Word and prayer. Second, the relationship with our families is significant. Last, our relationship with friends and, specifically, brothers and sisters in Christ.
- It is OK to ask for help. We need to overcome the stigmas addressed in Day 2 of this study and understand that requesting a professional appointment (more on this in tomorrow’s post), taking medication, and admitting that “I need help” is absolutely reasonable. You are not inferior, unchristian, unspiritual, or weak. In fact, you are quite the opposite. You are courageous, humble, and Christlike to admit when you need assistance. If you are reading this post right now, I want you to stop and immediately identify who you would talk to if you were suicidal. I mean that. When your thoughts and mind are racing, trying to figure out who you could call is difficult.
- There are always two causes to consider. This is perhaps the most important. As noted, there can be a physical component that is real and medically proven. Chemical imbalances and physical factors must be considered when facing these issues, which is why an appointment with a medical professional is a legitimate step. Remember, it is impossible to characterise every problem as spiritual. For example, did I get cancer three times because of a spiritual shortcoming? At its very basic level, sin resulted in the fall, and everything is included in that systematic theology. However, sinning, more or less, does not necessarily mean my health (physical/mental) is going to fluctuate based on my spiritual performance.
The second cause is spiritual. Martyn Lloyd Jones, as well as many others, have correctly concluded that most problems we encounter have a spiritual root. This is the quintessential relationship that needs to be addressed—our relationship with God Himself. Much could be written on this topic; suffice it to say that time in prayer and a right understanding of His word is paramount. It should also be understood that many times these two issues happen simultaneously. Sometimes it is one and not the other, and sometimes it is both. Please be very careful about telling a person dealing with such a sensitive issue that they just need to read and pray more and their problems will go away.
What We Learned Today: We reflected on four themes from personal perspectives.
What We’ll Learn Tomorrow: Resources to fill your toolkit and equip you to help yourself or others.