On Depression and Suicide: Lord, Have Mercy

I know Rick and Kay Warren only from a distance, from what I know of their Saddleback Church and from news reports about them here and there over the years. Yet when I read theĀ statement “Needing your prayers” and learned that their youngest son, Matthew, had died by suicide, I felt a sense of loss, and–like many–felt joined to them in their grief.

Over the last few days I’ve noticed a range of responses:

  • an outpouring of sympathy and prayers–as Rick tweeted to his followers,”Kay and I are overwhelmed by your love, prayers, and kind words. You are all encouraging our #brokenhearts.”
  • more conversation in the broader church and culture about mental illness and how to talk about it, including this piece which is really for reporters but I found helpful, thanks to Robin Craig for alerting me to this.
  • some thoughtful responses on how the church can respond, including this one that fleshes out 4 key points: (1) The church needs to stop hiding mental illness, (2) The church needs to be a safe place for people who struggle, (3) We should not be afraid of medicine, (4) We need to end the shame. Sadly some who call themselves Christians are still into shaming and blaming that Frank Viola rightly describes as “sickening.”

Yet for all of this–for all of the prayers and trusting in God’s provision, for all that I agree the church needs to be a safe place for those dealing with depression and/or other mental illness, for all of the best medical attention and alternative therapies, for all the love and support of family, friends, and community, for all the struggle and heartache–for some the illness is so painful that they can’t get out of bed in the morning or all day, so severe that they’re in the hospital or on the street, so relentless that the illness finally takes them.

Lord, have mercy, when we have done all we can, and the suffering continues still. In our human limitations, surround us and all those who struggle with your unlimited love. Comfort the Warren family and the Saddleback church family in their grief and loss. Amen.



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10 replies

  1. Thank you for those four points April. The church needs to stop trying to be the “perfect” people because we think that God expects perfection. We need to show our brokenness before God and others, so that together, as a broken people we can enter God’s sanctuary and find rest for our souls. God accepts our brokenness and we don’t have to be ashamed of it. It is through our brokenness that we receive healing. Others need to see this and find acceptance from us, because God accepts us just as we are.

  2. I am a former pastor who happens to have Bipolar (and has attempted suicide). I can say my church (both locally and denominationally) has been a tremendous blessing, responding to my needs and the needs of my family through many desperate highs and dangerous lows.

    I will say, though, when it comes to the mystery of mental illness, the Psalmist’s words ring true, “there is no human help.” The best we can do when we are tempted to give up is to turn back to the God who never gives up on us.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. Yes, Lord have mercy. Mental illnesses need to be treated with the best medical knowledge, as well as the best spiritual and emotional support we can humanly provide. Praying for the Warren family and all who suffer such grief.

  4. Thank you, April, for this post and for the links to other equally good blog posts. Mental illness, including suicides, is a part of our family tree. We have a family member who has a mental illness but has chosen to not make that information public due to erroneous perceptions and simplistic attitudes that exist both within and without the church. We thank God for others (again, both believers and others who don’t share our faith beliefs) who have offered support and understanding over many years of what often is an anguished existence.

    Our prayer is that the Warren family’s admission of their son’s mental illness will bring change to both the church’s and the public’s reactions to mental illness. Not only is there a need for increased awareness of mental illness, there also is a need for more research to create better treatments alongside an increase in community supports for those living with a mental illness.

    Based on our experiences with mental illness, I would love to advocate for more funding for research and treatment as well as offer support as a facilitator for the excellent NAMI Family to Family education program. Hard to do when our family member hasn’t divulged his mental illness. So I quietly offer support to others who are living with a mental illness and pray for others who are involved in advocacy and in helping people who live with a mental illness.

  5. Thanks for the insightful post on this important topic. I find Craig’s article very helpful. I suspect the points for helpful responding would work for many other sensitive issues as well.

  6. Thank you all for your comments, and thank you indytony and Rachelle, for sharing your experiences. I too am glad when churches can embrace and support those who struggle since we are all fellow travelers, yet at the same time it’s important to respect confidentiality. While I don’t think the church should hide mental illness, we also need to respect personal privacy, knowing when to speak and when to be silent, how to be supportive, how to care for those who are struggling and also caring for caregivers–all that and more requires much listening, wisdom, and prayer.

  7. I have pastored a number of people with mental health issues-what always saddens and angers me is to find the old belief that anyone who commits suicide will go to hell, still very much embedded in people’s thinking. So we add guilt to the burden of people already weighed down with illness. I find it more helpful to compare depression with any other potentially terminal illness such as cancer-sometimes the sufferer can’t fight it any longer and the illness leads to death and a new life in heaven with Jesus. Matthew’ s there now with him,and although he went too soon, there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus -all is well.

  8. Thank you for sharing this April. It is probably every parent’s nightmare. I send well wishes and prayers for deep healing to Rick Warren and his family.

  9. Very good post. Isn’t it weird that mental illness cases seem to have increased in the 21st century and in countries where there is a lot of ambition for ‘success’ like China or Western countries? I agree. Only God knows best in these situations. I’ve heard that Elijah suffered from depression and I think it’s going to be preached in my church soon. I would like to hear more about it.

  10. Good that there will be preaching in your church on this. On occasion we’ve had a mental health worship theme on a Sunday morning but haven’t done that for a while. For the prayers of the people when we pray for those dealing with illness, I most often include “physical and mental/emotional illness.”