Revolution Church, White House, TN
The phone no longer rings in the middle of the night.
Now, it's a text message or social media warning and while the method has changed, the epidemic is just as serious and dangerous.
"I do not want to live anymore."
Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, is World Suicide Prevention Day, as sponsored by the World Health Organization.
I have a confession which may be hard for some of you to read. Not only have I struggled in my 28 years of battling type one diabetes to overcome the mental thoughts of hopelessness and depression, I average about one of the above messages received PER WEEK from a peer, friend, family member, former student, church member, student, parent, business owner and even pastors.
On or about August 23rd, a young pastor in California left behind a wife and three boys after attempting to take his own life on a Friday evening and dying of the self-inflicted injuries the following morning in the hospital. It was only approximately two weeks since Andrew Stoecklein preached on the very topic of suicide and mental illness in a passionate and compellingly raw and honest approach to a sensitive and difficult subject.
I have not slept a peaceful night since this news broke because I can put faces with the names of the very people I know battling this silent and treacherous epidemic in their own lives; whether it be family members grieving or the most important, a person suffering with no help and no hope and wondering if this is the option for them.
Let me speak candidly and frankly, suicide is not the answer. By saying that - in that manner - to someone who is facing it as a possibility - can come across as a lecture statement. Instead of assisting and helping the person battling the thoughts, it feels like an attack on their own selfishness as short-sighted, mean and comes across as a horrible approach to help.
Instead of receiving your assistance, a person with suicidal ideation may feel threatened and withdraw because of the stigma that is attached to suicide being a selfish act, or in Christian circles, labeled as a sin rather than a mental illness or its effect.
I guarantee if you have considered suicidal thoughts, as you are reading this that you have heard those very words from those closest to you who are desperately and often mistakenly trying to speak the correct words to save your life, and running the great risk of playing right into the hands of this demonic emotional war.
And yes, I called suicide a demonic emotional war. I don't believe you are a project, a failure and I do not believe it's as simple as praying your way out of the dark tunnel you are walking through. The reason I call it a demonic emotional war is that Satan, the enemy of God and father of lies and deception, is perfectly content watching good men and women destroy their lives and end it all and steal potential, purpose and people from this world with reckless abandon and mock God's people who feel helpless to stop it.
Here's the thing. I am speaking up because we are not helpless to stop it.
I want to offer some carefully written words which can help in this crisis. I am not an expert. I am a personal survivor and fighter. I believe you are worth it to live and I need you - and the people around you - to have the courage to listen to what I have to say.
See look, I've preached on this and it didn't go viral. I have written about this and no one published it. I have spoken one-on-one and no one asked the media to interview me. I am not looking for a platform, a book deal or sermon video hits.
I just want to help save your life and the life of your family members and friends who are facing this giant with no plan to overcome it.
Please listen, read to the end, and please see the resources to help.
First, let's attack the stigmas and why this is so hard in the first place.
1. The struggle of mental illness is a stigma with so many fears.
There is a business owner reading this message who has considered taking his or her own life. Perhaps a military veteran is reading this message with a daily battle against post traumatic stress disorder. A mom is watching her children play and wondering how she is going to survive the pressure to make it to Thursday. A spouse is grieving the loss of her soulmate and with the rapid succession of grief wonders if giving up is the answer.
Yet all of them with thousands of resources surrounding them online, in the church, human resources and among friends and family, do not speak up because they fear the repercussions of the stigma.
The business owner knows they cannot close down operations to seek medical or psychological treatment, so they strap on and clock in and press ahead through the fears. The military vet is terrified of being labeled as another statistic and sees the gruesome portrayal of this illness by Hollywood and suffers alone rather than trust anyone into their world. The mom can't bear being away from her children and the spouse can't find answers to grief, yet NONE of them are willing to go the extra mile when help is needed because sometimes the fear of being labeled "crazy" or "unstable" leads to avoidance and denial.
Deep in the mind of that small church pastor battling suicidal tendencies is exactly what Andrew - the California pastor - was already facing. Without a proper approach to help, a diagnosis of mental instability could be career-threatening. Each individual starts to evaluate the effects of such a diagnosis on background checks for jobs and even something as simple as seeking out a permit for protective weapons.
Not every suicidal fear is a white coat straight jacket walking down the walls of an institutional facility. Most of them, rather, are the people you pass on the street and some numbers put the percentages into 10-20 percent of the general population faces such a mental dilemma.
How do we apply this - end the stigma. Get rid of words like "nutcase" and "psycho" and attributing every scared individual in the same category as those who commit violent crime or lost their mental capacity to interact with the world. Instead, let's continue to revamp medical insurance and benefits to support workplace cooperation to assist with private, serious and impactful mental health evaluations, and then revisit how we label this sickness and disease in society.
Give time off. Build mental health awareness into benefit packages. Increase confidentiality. Stop the stigma. End the gossip.
As a cancer patient fights through treatment and returns to life when the disease is gone, so should we have a standard for seeing success in mental health evaluations and treatment and giving people hope to live a story with thankfulness instead of ending it in shame.
2. The words you say matter.
Every Christian facing suicide fears and mental illness has been told to pray their way through it and this is such an empty answer to a massive problem.
Medical diagnosis from a professional is so critical, and being under the care of a physician, therapist and counselor is the most important step. Then, consider how the people around you - and those facing the epidemic - speak about this battle. Don't be afraid of medication, but I will leave that direction to a medical professional.
Eliminate targeted phrasing which can push the stigma:
- You're being selfish
- Just pray your way through it
- Have more faith
- Oh, just get over it
- You're not tough enough
- It's all in your mind
- But you look fine
- Stop being so lazy
- You're messed up in the head
- I don't care, just do whatever you want
Those statements are not only foolish, but to a person battling suicidal thoughts and fears of overcoming mental illness, they seem like daggers. What you perceive to be tough love becomes an open invitation for the person in the battle to further declare that they are not worth your time, love and energy to overcome it.
Behind so many suicide attempts and unfortunate conclusions is a person just deeply crying out to be heard and understood, without judgment and accusation, and to have friends and family walk the road with them and seek help. But in the end, a statement like the above becomes a trigger point and launch pad for the moment when a person gives up.
Please change our talk. How can we help? I love you. I'm right here with you. Let's go somewhere and hang out. I don't understand how you feel but I want to listen to you. You're not alone. This may not get better today but I am going to stick with you until it does. I will help you. I am your friend. I will keep this private (and of course there is an exception to that rule if there is imminent danger or in a life or death circumstance). I am committed to you.
So much of a change in our tone and our talk is the key to engaging the conversation.
I have talked someone down from a suicide on numerous occasions and even once been in serious harms way. I have been in the path of a loaded gun and I have taken weapons out of the hands of people who wanted to harm themselves. This is not easy. It nearly cost me my life and it might have placed yours in jeopardy too, but it's worth the investment to try because every person needing to hear those words is worth it too.
3. The story is better when you tell it.
Pastor Andrew's story is now being used as a foundational watershed moment for the church and mental illness and suicide. God has taken a tragedy and used it as a foundation for how to address such a hard topic. His wife's letter to him following his death is one of the hardest things I have ever read, and it went viral.
But what if - what if he survived. Would people listen to his story? How many deaths and destructive moments does it take before we as a society start to listen to those voices of despair facing hopelessness? What if - he could be here today to tell this story.
So my challenge to you, whether you are the individual facing such a fear or the family member or friend trying to overcome it in someone you love, is YOUR STORY IS WORTH BEING TOLD BY YOU. And the only way our stories build each other and become testimonies of success and survival is if we attack the epidemic head on and say enough is enough.
Not another one.
I want to hear your story. I want the world to hear your story.
I don't know how many people will read this one, but if this saves a life then I have invested my time wisely to share it.
To all the experts in the field, please help. Help us. Help them. Help me. Help you. Help each other.
And if I have spoken this directive without the proper words, forgive me. I am just a man who wanted to help and I felt today was the day to speak up.
I refuse to let suicide, mental illness, depression, PTSD, anxiety, and the countless other names of traumatic moments and battles define who I am and what the legacies of my friends, families and strangers will be.
Remember, I love you and these are my thoughts.
I may not even know you, but I'll never meet you if either of us aren't here.
OFFICIAL WAYS TO HELP
Take 5 to Save Lives
This campaign encourages everyone to take 5 minutes out of their day and complete five action items:
1. Learn the warning signs 2. Do your part
3. Practise self-care
4. Reach out
5. Spread the word
This conversation movement endeavours to inspire others to help break the silence and ask ‘are you ok?’ to support someone struggling with some simple steps that could change a life.
Mental Health First Aid
This evidence-based, internationally-recognised course teaches participants the framework of communication, how to offer and provide initial help, and how to guide a person towards appropriate treatment and other supportive help. www.mhfa.com.au/research/mhfa-course-evaluations
There are numerous other examples too; relevant resources can be found on the websites of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (https://www.iasp.info/resources/Helping_Someone/) and the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/mental_health/suicide-prevention/en/)