A sad aspect of our culture today is its incredibly short attention span. Matters of great importance often remain in the national conversation only long enough for the current news cycle, to be replaced by the next crisis du jour. We see and hear expressions of lament concerning the situation, but then we move on and allow the issue to fade away from the collective consciousness without having ever truly addressed it. You know the result: after some time passes, the issue raises its head once more and we repeat the cycle.
While any number of issues fits the above description, I would like us to take a moment to think about the issue of suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide rates in the US have risen by 25.4% between 1999 and 2016. Every state other than Nevada has seen an increase of at least 6%. Twenty states saw increases of more than 35%, with eight of those being above 40%. North Dakota saw the greatest increase (57.6%). Our own state of Michigan has experienced a 32.9% increase in the number of suicides over this time span. What all this means in terms of actual numbers is this: in 2016, the number of those who took their own lives was 44,965 nationwide, making suicide the 10th greatest cause of death (the second greatest cause among those aged 10-34). What’s more, in 2016 9.8 million US adults (not including children and teenagers) had serious thoughts of committing suicide; 2.8 million of those made suicide plans; and 1.3 million actually attempted suicide.
When we face numbers this large, it is hard for us to think of their actual impact, but each one of these represents an individual person, made in the image of God. They are connected to other people, but they don’t feel as though they are. In these cases, there is an overwhelming absence of hope. Though we have not wanted to discuss it in the past, underlying many of these statistics is the pain of mental illness. In fact, the Church has far too often acted as if once a person knows Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior, all the mental illness disappears. Those who continued to suffer with depression, severe anxiety, and even disorders such as schizophrenia were often viewed as being afflicted because they had a deficiency of faith. Are we really surprised, then, that these matters are kept quiet and rarely shared with brothers and sisters?
We must remove the stigma that we’ve placed on mental illness, especially in the church. Are there times when cases of depression and anxiety are the result of personal sin in our lives? Absolutely, but that doesn’t meant that we ought to treat such instances using Scripture as a hammer. We must also recognize that there are times when such afflictions have a physiological origin, which require assessment and treatment from a medical doctor. In both cases, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to make it clear that we are willing to stand side by side with the one who is suffering. We must be willing to walk through the dark places with them, all the while pointing them to the light of Jesus Christ. We must make it known that we’ll gladly take that 2 AM phone call, when the person needs to talk, so that they don’t feel the crushing weight of hopelessness. We must be ready to show them, in real and tangible ways, that there is hope in Christ, no matter how dark the night may seem. Are you ready to engage in such a manner? Brothers and sisters, it will be messy; it will be hard; it will be draining; it will be daunting. But it will also be for God’s glory. Just something to think about…