This week Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain both took their own lives. Whenever we have celebrity suicides (we should actually use the word), mental illness and depression receive their 15 minutes of fame. But too soon after, we bury them because they are too uncomfortable to talk about.
But the reality in the United States, is that we are burying to many to suicide.
The suicide rate in the United States is its highest in a generation. There are a lot of reasons for this. Increased rates of addiction and the 16 years at war being two of them.
We need to talk about mental illness. We need to talk about suicide.
I have a mental illness. I have been diagnosed with depression. My depression is genetic and hormonal. I am lucky to have good insurance, the money to pay for medication, and time and money to be able to see a therapist. I have a loving family (including a husband who took over cooking several years ago because it was something I just couldn’t do anymore).
I’ve thought about committing suicide. It wasn’t that I was in pain or felt unloved. I really just couldn’t handle any more living. I just wanted to go to sleep. If I could have been put into a coma so that I just wouldn’t have to feel or process any stimuli, that would have been OK.
I had the means to kill myself and knew that. I wondered out loud to Dave whether someone with depression should really get their sleeping pills in 90-day batches. Somehow, my brain always reasoned that I didn’t really want to kill myself. I knew things weren’t processing correctly in my mind. And so, I would just lay in bed or sit in a chair and stare at the wall. For hours.
We need better access to mental wellness in this country. If you are pro-life than you should be pro-healthcare. Every life – at every age – is precious. The lack of access to healthcare and mental health services in this country is a sin. We have the money if we could only have the will.
Also, we need to stop saying that people go to hell if they commit suicide. This bad theology is hurtful and dangerous. Does God want us to take our own life? No. But not one part of me believes that God would cast us away when we are so broken. The God I know in the Scriptures and in my life does not abandon us when we are our most hurting and alone. The God I know suffers with us. God loves us in the midst of our pain. God loves us even if we take our own life because we couldn’t find another way to live.The God I know suffers with us. God loves us in our pain. God loves us even if we take our own life because we can't find another way to live. Click To Tweet
I wrote the following a few years ago when I was in my last major depressive episode. I would lay in bed for hours every morning after I got the boys to school, unable to get moving. If I could accomplish one thing during the day, I called it a win. Honestly, just making it through these months was a win. Some days my biggest battle was just getting out of bed.
Certainly I know in my head that I have had good fortune. I know that I love my family, and that I’m healthy, and that I am not worried about what we’ll eat tomorrow or next week, and or afraid for my safety. But yet, my heart is heavy.
Diagnosed with depression three years ago, it remains my constant companion. Much of the time, it is something that only nags in the background. Always there, but not at the forefront my life. But over recent weeks and months, this unwelcome companion seems to have set up camp in the center of my life – feeling more like a permanent occupation than a passing presence. It keeps me in bed for hours in the morning and robs my mind of focus and creativity. It leeches joy from the things I love. It empties me.
A common definition for sad is “unhappy.” But I don’t think this is what Jesus means in Luke’s beatitudes. The weeping he speaks of must be deeper and more intimate. This weeping cannot simply be tears but must be a great wrenching of the soul. A profound grief that threatens hope. An anguish that can only be extinguished by the blessing that comes from God.
And isn’t that grace?
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5 (NRSV)
In the depths of depression, my mind must fight against my own mind. I must continually remind myself that God is good; God is near; God loves me.As I lay curled up in bed or staring off into space, I must speak the words my heart cannot grasp in those moments: Hope does not disappoint. Click To Tweet
In the times when depression is only a shadow, my stomach is full, my checking account is plentiful, and I have the good favor of people – I believe Jesus’ beatitudes (both blessings and woes) are a reminder that these words are not just for me. If I am truly discerning the Body of Christ, if I truly believe that in Christ we belong to one another, then I must find myself in constant solidarity with those whose afflictions threaten their hope.
I can’t truly be blessed as these verses describe as long as the needy, the hungry, the wretched, the hated and the excluded are still among us. For it is not really my lack of need that places me in the second group of woe-receivers, but my blindness to the needs of others.
If we were willing to talk about it, we’d be shocked at how many people we know live with depression and anxiety – especially those that we think have it all together. If we were willing to share our stories, we would find how many people in our lives have someone they love who has committed suicide or tried. We need to start talking about it because people are dying.
For prayers that speak to our human condition, I hope you consider checking out my new book:
Prayers for the People: Scripturally Based Prayers for WorshipPrayers for the People is a collection of prayers for worship. These prayers offer the worshipping community fresh perspectives for praying the words of Scripture, using current language and references. Cross-referenced to the Revised Common Lectionary, pastors seeking to lead their people in prayer have found a relevant and beautiful source for worship planning.