Tag Archives: #faithcommunties

What We Need to Understand About Those Who Die by Suicide


She was very young when it finally claimed her life. It had gone undiagnosed and untreated for many years. Self-medication made it better some days. Some days, it made it worse. Finally, her family took her to a doctor for help, but it was too late. She was dead within the year.


It is very much the same for all of us, regardless of the illness. You play out the same scenarios. You walk the tightrope of hope, trying to maintain balance in the midst of the inescapable truth: You are powerless. Your insignificance in the mean face of death is overwhelming.


You hold their hand and fight your tears. You stay up late, sitting in the kitchen when you should be in bed. You jump at the phone. You mull over the details with friends. You question the doctor. Are they doing everything they can? Are they doing it right? Could someone else be doing more for them? You count your blessings. You count each day. Then, you count each minute. Before you know it, you’re holding your breath for each second.


When the seconds stop, the funeral is unremarkable. The pain so evenly distributed over every inch of your body that you can hardly feel a thing. The food there tastes like sand. If you have the energy to tune in to what anyone is saying, then it is unfathomably inconsequential. You can’t believe you spoke that way, some unimaginable amount of time ago. You are sure you will never speak that way again.


The sort of condolences bestowed on us, the grieving loved ones, are many and they are truly empathetic. Even after all this time, they are warm and heartfelt. It is this warmth that drives the lump into my throat, the inevitability that a perfectly well-meaning person will inquire about how it happened. The lump will bob and choke, while I explain to them that she killed herself.


I watch as the shift takes place: They furrow their brow and click their tongue, the same reaction from everyone. What had just a moment before been perceived as the tragedy of an innocent death becomes the report of an insidious crime. Suddenly the blame shifts, as if every death is a crime scene and the only one of us unaccountable is God.


In order to help those suffering from mental illnesses such as depression, we need to begin acknowledge that falling victim to a mental illness is as irreproachable as falling victim to any physical illness. Imagine marching into battle knowing in the event of your death, instead of being remembered for your bravery, you would be condemned in your failure to prevail. We need to understand these victims are not committing acts of violence against themselves on a whim. We need to recognize they go to battle every day, and each day that they are still standing is a victory.


We need to accept their realities are their own, and not shove our own realities down their throats. Those of us who choose to enrich our lives with the power of positive thinking, we need to understand it is chemically impossible for others to do the same. Would you ask a friend battling another illness to try harder? Would you suggest maybe they go get a hobby, get out more and enjoy the sunshine? Would you suggest these things might cure them? Would you ever make them feel they were somehow responsible for the ultimate outcome of their illness?


Suicidal thoughts are as real and as harmful as the cancerous cells that infiltrate our bodies and claim our lives. As is the case with cancer, there is a chance the victims of mental illness will respond well to treatment and learn to live again. On the other hand, like cancer, it can fight them until they lose all fighting strength. Whatever the illness, the bottom line is this: it may take our loved ones from us. They will often go violently. They will leave us with what feels like intent.


Don’t do your loved ones the injustice of believing this lie. Their illness has already robbed them of a life, but don’t let it taint their memory in death. We don’t want to apologize for them anymore. Some of us won’t because we feel they have nothing to apologize for. Some of us can’t because we can’t forgive them ourselves.


Please, stop asking us to apologize for them. Don’t ask us to remember them for their ultimate defeat. Allow us to remember them for each day we spent with them, each memory a lasting victory.


If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.


If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.


Victoria Telfer
I write about Suicide

When to Give In and Let Someone Commit Suicide?

Is there a time when you should give in and let someone commit suicide? When you’re suffering, should you ever just commit suicide?

Source: When to Give In and Let Someone Commit Suicide?

Organizing The Mental Illness Disconnect In The Church

Mental Health Grace Alliance April 12, 2015

Recently, I had the honor to sit on a panel for a community luncheon to discuss mental health and the church (spear headed by Baylor Social Work Graduate students John David and Anna Chatham). The goal was to build a strong conversation and network … it was a great success and we’re now in process connecting with another great church in our city that believes more can be done!

Though I cannot capture the whole conversation of our luncheon in this short article, however the questions prepared by John and Anna articulates what many in the church are asking. For the larger audience and to keep the conversation going, I thought it would be helpful to elaborate on three of their questions.

1. In your experience, whether personal or professional, what are some challenges that people with mental illness face in regards to their life in the congregation?

There are three specific challenges I see.

a) The Fear of Stigma. Without a healthy dialogue happening within the church, mental illness remains spiritualized as a weakness of faith, sin, and demonic oppression, which causes people to become isolated within the congregation as, what I call, “The Silent Sufferer.” Having a mental health challenge has a negative impact affecting the person’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Without that healthy understanding of mental illness, the church leader often defaults to biblical teachings where the person’s symptoms often look like the outcomes of sin, lazy faith issues described in Proverbs, and demonic oppression (the extreme unexplainable). The problem is they don’t know to go past the default mode.

b) Misunderstood with Poor Counsel. If the individual does open up about their mental health challenges, because of the above spiritual stigma and misconceptions, many are given poor counsel that reinforce spiritual weakness, failure in God, and worsening their overall condition.

A classic misconception is equating the need for medication as a sign of weak faith. Another associates difficult mental illness symptoms as a “spiritual attack” from demonic forces and they must engage in “spiritual warfare” to “resist the devil” by quoting scripture, intercessory prayer to rebuke the “enemy,” and just “trust God.” These only reinforce anxiety and bring about spiritual exhaustion. There is a much better way through comfort and rest … in Christ!

c) Triggering Environments and Church Guilt. Many churches today are highly stimulating environments with loud worship, dynamic lights, intense or exhorting preaching styles, and large crowds. While many enjoy this inspirational environment, the person with a mental illness can be over stimulated triggering anxiety and other symptoms. In addition, many can misperceive and filter the sermon through their various symptoms leaving them uncomfortable and feeling condemned to do more works for God in order to “heal their issues” … which is their symptoms. Church becomes overwhelming and then the guilt for not able to handle or go to church settles in.

Here’s what happens. I have heard many stories of having panic attacks in the church parking lot or just stepping into the lobby. Others triggered by the sermon get up and leave. In fact, I told one individual if he had a hard time with the sermon to call me and we would do a simple bible study. He ended up calling the next Sunday. Then, another person over stimulated from the church service always went home feeling agitated. They later discovered the service was triggering their anxiety. The guilt then settles in, “I’m a failure because I can’t even enjoy church.”

“When we try to make mental illness a spiritual issue we will always reinforce stigma”
2. Some of the challenge seems to be around how different people perceive and define mental illness. While some may see it as a mental (physical) condition, others attribute it to sin or to other spiritual principles. How do you personally and professionally make sense of mental illness? Do you think that mental illness has any spiritual connection?

We have to remember that we do not first look at mental illness … we have to look at the person. This is how God looks at us … with delight and satisfaction, no matter the “illness.” If we see a God requiring us to get our lives in order, we will miss the heart of answering this question. He would do anything to let us know we are loved, with or without a mental illness, because every life is precious to Him … thus Jesus’ death on a cross is His satisfied love for us all.

If you want to know the answer to this question … ask any parent with a child living with a disability or “illness” how they feel about their child. You will probably see pure love and joy expressed in tears, smiles, and a gentle voice. You will hear something so simple, peaceful, and a beautiful confidence. You will see a valid picture of the will and heart of God. You will see the spiritual connection!

We are all God’s creation (Colossians 1.16, Ephesians 2.10) and that makes us all spiritual. In Christ we are His children through faith (Galatians 3.26) and that makes us spiritual. So, the pastor who is taking blood pressure medication – is that spiritual? A dear friend, father, and faithful man in the Lord died of cancer – was that spiritual? In those cases, much like the parent of a child with a disability or “illness,” we see after God’s heart for the man, not the “illness.” I choose to see mental illness how my Father in Heaven sees it … how He wants to respond with hope … that’s the spiritual connection.

When we try to make mental illness a spiritual issue we will always reinforce stigma, falsely create dogmatic and superficial “spiritual” answers which then everyone get’s boxed into … or for some, they get cornered. The problem is that spiritual stigma reinforces a broken heart … a broken hope. The person struggling with a mental illness has a story and a journey they are on with God’s lovingkindness, grace, and mercy. Mental illness doesn’t intimidate God. Thus, mental illness doesn’t define them, God does. That’s the spiritual connection.

3. In your opinion, what are practical things that congregations can do to appropriately respond to people struggling with mental illness?

This is really simple and I have written a blog to help understand how the church can be the answer for mental illness. In basic, the three elements the church can do is start moving towards more simple and adequate Education, Training, and simple Community Support.

At a recent training for a Chinese church I asked, “If you had one week to help break the stigma in the church … what would you do?” A young adult leader said, “I would get the conversation started, we need to start talking about this in a way we can all understand.”

Many do not know how to understand mental illness, therefore they do not know how to talk aobut it. We have to get the conversation started.

So the question to you is … How and where can you get the conversation started in your church?

Reimagine mental illness and the church!

Joe Padilla | CEO and Founder The Grace Alliance

Suicide, Stigma, and the Role of Religious Faith

Suicide, Stigma, and the Role of Religious Faith.

6 Helpful Things to Say to a Depressed Person

Providing non-judgmental support and showing empathy makes a difference Post published by Jean Kim M.D. on Jul 27, 2015 in Culture Shrink

My recent blog post focused on what NOT to say to a depressed person; I presented common statements that people tell their friends and loved ones in an attempt to alleviate the depressed person’s discomfort, but moreso their own unease in the face of a difficult, heartwrenching situation. But unwittingly or not, statements that tend to put blame on a depressed person’s willpower or lack of motivation and negative mindframe often backfire and increase that person’s feelings of isolation and hopelessness. The statements sometimes come from a fundamental misunderstanding of the illness that is depression, the biopsychosocial condition that traps its victims in a circuitous broken-record mindset that creates vulnerable, despondent thinking patterns.

So how can well-meaning people provide support to someone with depression, aside from avoiding tendencies towards judgment; how can one head towards greater empathy and understanding and connect with someone who is suffering?

1. I’m here for you.

Just offering to be there for someone with depression is a huge boon to someone who often feels trapped in a cycle of self-loathing and in turn feels unworthy of reaching out to people around them. They often worry about being a burden or nuisance to others, since they have some keen awareness of how infectious their mood can be for others nearby. When you decide to let them know you will be there for them, regardless of their fears of judgment or wasting your time or making them uncomfortable, they can feel less alone and feel less social pressure. You don’t even have to necessarily say anything to them while with them. This can help put a crack in the cycle of negative self-worth and have them realize people still care regardless of a sad outward presentation.

2. What can I do to help?

Depressed people may not necessarily be in a state of mind to know or say what will help them, but just hearing the willingness and openness of someone to do so can help lift their spirits. Even if they say nothing needs to be done, they have heard you. They can sense that you care, and that can reassure them when caught in guilt-ridden thinking. And if they do ask for something, you’re in a great position to help out. Even just being there to listen to their worries can help.

3. I like XYZ about you.

Low self-esteem becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy with depression, as it leads to feelings of being out of sync with everyone else, and feeling misunderstood. They often tend to beat themselves up with bad thoughts about themselves. Hearing positive reinforcement about themselves can help soften their self-berating tendencies and help reality-test their thoughts. The point is not to be treacly or fake with your praise; but to say honest reasons why you enjoy that person’s company or love them. Oftentimes their mood skews their perception of their lovability.

4. Yeah that is shi**y.

Some negative outlook during depression is not necessarily skewed or delusional. Some issues can be magnified or the person can become more sensitive to a bad event, but there is often valid reality to what is getting them down and real stressors happening. It’s important to acknowledge those concerns when brought up, so a person doesn’t feel they aren’t being heard and misunderstood/ignored and forced to be artificially happy. If they don’t feel alone in seeing a problem, they feel there is potential to move forward.

5. There are ways to get through this difficult time.

If you notice someone falling into a serious depression and not improving despite offering your finest support, the best thing you can do is to guide them to professional help. Taking that step can feel scary for most people, but if you are there to say it’s OK and accompany them in the process, that can make the difference between someone falling through the cracks or not. Feel free to reach out to mental health resources online or telephone hotlines as needed, to people you know who are mental health providers, or look up NAMI. Help people make appointments with therapists and/or help them consider adjunct medication carefully. Take someone to an emergency room if you are really worried about someone’s safety. Negotiating the fragmented mental health system can be tricky at times, so your advocacy can really matter to someone who can’t fight for themselves.

6. I’ve been through it too.

Coming from a place of mutual suffering can matter to someone who feels that no one understands them, or feels too ashamed to talk about their situation to anyone they know offhand. More and more stories are being shared in the media, in books and magazines about people of all walks of life who have gone through mental illness and have struggled to survive and improve. The more people talk about the reality of their conditions, the less misinformation will confuse the general public and help reduce ongoing feelings of stigma, loneliness, and social punishment. And the more people can see potential for recovery.

Overall, the goal with helping a loved one or friend with depression is to be caring and supportive, but also realistic and open to their state of mind. Each individual case of depression can be much more complex than I’ve outlined here, especially if complicated personality traits or problematic behaviors or substance abuse issues are mixed into the equation. But in general, the principle holds—to accept a depressed person without expectations of quick change or judgment, and to let them know they are loved and not alone in the struggle they face. Your caring can make a real difference.

What to Do During a Mental Health Crisis

By Anna Medaris Miller

All American youngsters know the rules: Don’t take candy from strangers, play nice in the sandbox and call 911 during an emergency.

But what if the emergency is related to mental health?

More than 4 million people visited the emergency room due to a mental health condition from 2009 to 2010, according to the latest data from the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That same year, Americans made 63.3 million visits to doctors offices, hospitals and emergency rooms for what were eventually diagnosed as mental disorders, the CDC also found. “The reality is, a mental health crisis is a common occurrence,” says Paolo del Vecchio, who directs the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Mental Health Services.

Here’s what to know if one strikes you or someone you love:

1. Get to know a psychiatrist.

Mental health crises rarely arise out of nowhere. “Psychiatric illnesses, for the most part, evolve slowly, and so there’s going to be a lot of warning,” says Dr. Daniel Lieberman, the clinical director of the Department of Psychiatry at George Washington University Hospital. Ninety percent of people who die by suicide, for instance, give some indication they’re considering it, he says. “There’s this really irrational myth that people who talk about suicide do not commit suicide, and that’s exactly the opposite of reality,” he says.

That means that, in many cases, there’s ample time to get in touch with a mental health professional before a mental illness — be it a psychotic disorder, bipolar disorder or depression — becomes an emergency. In addition to providing ongoing care that can help prevent a crisis, he or she can be your first point of contact should an emergency arise. “If somebody does have a relationship with an outpatient psychiatrist, that’s the first place to go,” Lieberman says.

Such a partnership is key after the crisis, too, since almost 1 in 10 people discharged from state psychiatric hospitals are readmitted within 30 days, according to SAMHSA. “Having that kind of ongoing care is critical,” del Vecchio says.

2. Empower yourself.

Before a crisis, people with mental illness and their family members can benefit from educating themselves about a condition. Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, president and CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, recommends reviewing the American Psychiatric Association’s consumer guide to the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or reading other research-based materials on your loved one’s condition. “Having a book is extremely useful because it really empowers the family and the person to understand the cutting edge information about these conditions,” he says.

You can also be proactive by getting to know the lay of the mental health services land in your area, del Vecchio says. Your community may have mental health services outside of hospitals such as mobile crisis teams, respite programs, and triage and assessment facilities. One way to find out is through SAMHSA’s treatment locator, which identifies mental health and addiction treatment settings based on ZIP code.

3. Recognize an emergency.

What constitutes a mental health emergency? Any time a person is an immediate danger to others or themselves, experts say. “In many ways, issues related to suicide are similar to having chest pain: This is an emergency, and it should be taken seriously,” Borenstein says. In other words, if someone around you is threatening violence, call 911 or take the person to the nearest emergency room yourself, he says.

Other situations that warrant quick care include people who show signs of psychosis that affect their functioning such as delusions, paranoia or fear, Borenstein says. People who are extremely agitated, wild, overly active and unable to calm down should also raise red flags — particularly if they don’t respond to verbal interventions like saying, “Hey, can we sit down and talk?” Lieberman adds.

Sudden behavior changes should be taken seriously, too. “If something evolves rapidly, it’s probably not psychiatric,” Lieberman says. It’s probably something really, really serious like poisoning, and they just need to be taken to the closest emergency room immediately.” If you have a choice, head to an academic medical center, since clinicians there tend to be up-to-date on the most effective procedures and treatments, he says.

4. Know where (else) to go.

The emergency room is often not the best place to go in a psychiatric crisis since the waits can be long and the psychiatric care insufficient, del Vecchio says. What’s more, most hospitals won’t hospitalize patients for mental health conditions unless they are suicidal or homicidal, Lieberman says. “Mental health professionals are using hospitals less and less as time goes on,” he explains, due to the high cost of care and low rate of reimbursement from insurance companies. That’s part of the reason why it’s often a better idea to call your mental health care provider (if you have one) or your primary care provider if you don’t.

Not everyone has quick access to a hospital or psychiatric care, either. “There’s a crisis in mental health care across the country,” says Virginia Sen. Creigh Deeds, who has focused on mental health care reform since his son died by suicide in 2013. “As your skin darkens, as your income goes down, as the people around you are fewer and fewer, your access to care is tough, very tough.”

If mental health care seems out of reach, try a hotline such as SAMHSA’s suicide prevention line or disaster distress helpline, which can walk you through the safest steps, or use a resource like SAMHSA’s locator, which can help you find the closest service.

5. Seek support.

Dealing with a mental health crisis is extremely stressful. In order to handle it as effectively as possible, the loved ones affected by a crisis need to take care of themselves, too, del Vechhio says. This might be by connecting with family members or friends who have gone through similar situations or reaching out to an organization like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which has chapters in every state, he says.

“It’s important to know that these types of things are fairly common and that they’re not alone,” Borenstein adds. “Treatment is available for their loved one.”