23 Apr Come out of Hiding: A Father Speaks on Suicide
Until I had a child with mental health issues, I don’t believe I truly understood the devastating impact on family, faith, and friends that mental illness could bring. In fact, I’m not sure I really even understood that mental health was a real thing. Questions and judgments would race across my mind to explain the challenge I would see before me.
“Why can’t they control themselves?” Or “Their parents should have raised them better.” Or, in my most sanctimonious inner voice, “Isn’t this something they can get on their knees about with God?”
Yet, there are some patterns developing in our American culture that simply cannot be ignored;
- “Suicide is the second leading cause of death for our young people aged 10-34.”1
- Suicide is at near epidemic proportions in many of our rural communities.2
- Psychological autopsies have shown that as many as 90% of suicides had signs of mental illness.3
- Nearly 1 in 4 of our young people will have any mental illness (AMI) this year.4
Think about that last bullet point. As a statistic alone this means that you cannot walk through any school in Kansas City and not see dozens (hundreds?) of our young people in crisis, though most will not give you any obvious clues as to what they are thinking and doing. And if you do not believe this is an issue in your community, your school…your family, I’m asking you to wake up and to pay attention. Somebody near you needs your attention, your awareness, your compassion.
Anxiety, cutting, self-medication, depression, rage, withdrawal from friends/family, and suicidal ideation are all easily recognized signs of someone in mental health crisis. Less notable signs would include a change in school results, frequent and recurring nightmares, a change in how they care for themselves, excessive worrying, and/or continual disobedience or anger.
Sadly, none of this is new. For Christians we see that Job (Job 3:11, 16, and Job 10:19), Moses (Exodus 32:32), and Elijah (1 Kings 19:4) were basically asking God to take their lives to end their suffering and despair. As readers of these passages know all three (and a few more) went on to work with God and to be productive in service to Him. For other Biblically significant figures suicide was an answer.
- King Saul took his life rather than face torture. (1 Samuel 31:3-5)
- Samson took his own life to kill many Philistines. (Judges 16:25-30)
- Judas took his life out of great despair (depression?) for betraying Jesus. (Matthew 27:3-5)
There are seven suicides in the Bible. In these three suicides I see convenience, pride and depression/guilt. And yet the Bible is silent in judgment around the documented suicides contained within.
Then what do we make of mental health crises and suicide as believers? How do we best help the hurting in our churches, schools and communities?
I propose that each reader look at mental health the same as you look at physical health. Let me explain. My (adopted) daughter Emma was born very premature, her biological mother used countless drugs and didn’t take good care of herself. (Was she self-medicating? I have to wonder.) Consequently, Emma was given the lifelong challenge of mild cerebral palsy. With CP came a few quirks and a “different” walk than most people. If you met Emma, with her distinctive walk and smile once you remembered her always. And because of that walk, most people made allowances for her quirks. They could “see” she was different so they “believed” the condition was real.
In the last couple years of Emma’s life she developed a mental illness called Borderline Personality Disorder. This mental illness is a savage result of early childhood trauma and doesn’t begin (usually) to present until early adulthood. It is largely behavioral and, oddly enough, presents harshest to the people closest to the patient. In other words, most people cannot “see” this illness, so they really are not sure they “believe” it is real. Remember my earlier thoughts of “Why can’t they control themselves?” Or “Their parents should have raised them better.” Or, in my most sanctimonious inner voice, “Isn’t this something they can get on their knees about with God?”
Maybe it is time we start recognizing that mental health is real and that it needs to be cared for like our weight, our hearts, and sinuses. Maybe when we see a family struggling with mental illness, we create meal plans, have coffees, and offer support. Because it is not just the person in crisis that needs attention, their families need your care and support as well.
1 “Suicide.” National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed on April 4, 2019. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml.
2 “Suicide rates rising across the U.S.“ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed on April 4, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0607-suicide-prevention.html.
3 “Suicide Risk and Mental Disorders.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Accessed on April 4, 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6165520/.
4 “Mental Illness.” National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed on April 4, 2019. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml.
Chris Lengquist is a husband, father of four, bicyclist, Jayhawks basketball fan, and real estate guy. His faith has sustained him through the loss of his daughter, Emma, who succumbed to mental illness in February 2018. An avid writer, he has a couple real estate blogs, and one devoted to Emma’s memory and the advocacy for special needs, mental health, and adoption. You can find those writings at GlitchesandSmiles.com.