Suicide is an incredibly difficult thing for most of us to comprehend. Can things get so bad? Can you really get to a stage where there appears to be no hope? For Christians, this is often even harder to fathom. We know that we have a God who loves and cares for us even in our darkest nights, but even in light of this truth, mental illness can consume us. But why is it seldom preached on? “After receiving thousands of questions at our Christian Thinkers Society events, the most frequently asked relate to suicide and mental illness, topics we rarely hear addressed from the pulpit,” writes Jeremiah J. Johnston at Relevant Magazine.
Globally, one person dies every 40 seconds by his or her own hand. This is utterly tragic, and simply must be addressed in the Church as a major issue. “Serious mental illness rampages through our congregations, yet most attendees fail to see or recognize the reality of these diseases,” writes Johnston. It is often the taboo subject within Churches – a corrosive cocktail of stigma, fear and ignorance hinders attempts to tackle it head-on. “Yet, the ministry of Jesus focused on removing barriers to belief and restoring people who were suffering: “When Jesus heard this, He told them, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners’” (Mark 2:17).
We need to stop the shame and exclusion of those with mental health problems. Vital organizations like the UK’s Mind and Soul Foundation work tirelessly to educate people on different mental health disorders, offering resources, and seeking to unite the Church in an effort to tackle this emotional epidemic. But this is not enough. True breakthrough starts with a shift in the attitude of our hearts. “Too often, instead of integrating and assimilating those who are struggling with a mental illness, we segregate and exclude them. We may not mean to, but in this process, we shame people who don’t deserve it,” writes Johnston. Just because we believe in Jesus, this does not make us exempt from suffering mental illness. Can God heal us? Absolutely. But just as in the case of other physical conditions, emotional turmoil remains with many of the faithful.
So may we love instead of judging. Let’s not gossip about someone else’s hardship, but let us pray. We need to ensure that people feel comfortable talking about their most private struggles. Let’s embrace those who suffer from mental illness, include them in the life of the Church, and offer them ministry opportunities. After all, some of the greatest Christians in history have been wracked with psychological illness. The sad truth is that through fear, stigma and ignorance, we could be missing the gifting and calling of some of the most Christ-filled world-changers of our age.
Will Maule is a writer from Northern Ireland.