The evangelical world mourned in April 2013 with the news that Rick and Kay Warren’s son, Matthew, had committed suicide. News that Matthew had dealt with mental illness his entire life caused many to consider how ministry might be done to help people like him. Less known, but just as painful, was the suicide of Frank Page’s daughter, Melissa, in November 2009. Page wrote a memoir bearing her name in which he explores A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide. Page, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, hopes to turn his tragic experience into healing for as many as possible.
What research tells us
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 10 adults in the United States suffer from depression.1 A study from LifeWay Research found 64% of those who identify as born-again, fundamentalist, or evangelical Christians believe churches should do more to address suicide. The same study found only 21% of people who attend church once a week or more believe most churches would welcome them if they had a mental health issue. Fifty-five percent of those who do not attend church believe the church will help them. Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research expressed concern that evangelicals “forget that the key part of mental illness is the word ‘illness.’ In a typical evangelical church, half the people believe mental illness can be solved by prayer and Bible study alone.”
Christians and mental illness
It is a problem in our churches when we view mental illness differently than physical illness. Very few if any evangelical Christians would advocate prayer and Bible study alone for the victim of an automobile accident or a child with a broken leg. This attitude is unhelpful for those dealing with mental illness and those trying to minister to or with them.
Family and friends of those dealing with mental illness or those who have ended their own lives have a place of refuge themselves. There is power in the word of God to bring peace and assurance in the goodness of God. Frank Page provides helpful encouragement to people suffering in times like those: “It’s easy to become bitter toward God and blame Him (or others) for what happened. Thankfully, I chose to turn to our Heavenly Father in my time of need. Words of Scripture I had memorized long before came to my heart bringing both compassion and comfort.”2
What God’s Word says to us
God’s word says in 2 Corinthians 1, “Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows.”3
If you know someone suffering from mental illness, most definitely pray for them and don’t stop, but also encourage them to get professional help. If someone you know is depressed or struggling with thoughts of suicide, please encourage them to get help and take them if necessary. God can and will bring comfort and often healing, but we should respond with all the provision God has made through the medical field as well.
Yours for the Great Commission,
Ronnie W. Floyd
1– Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “An Estimated 1 in 10 U.S. Adults Report Depression,” http://www.cdc.gov/features/dsdepression/
2– Bible Studies for Life, Ministry in the Face of Mental Illness, Frank Page
3– 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, HCSB