Earlier this summer, the new national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline went live. The three-digit, memorable number was designed to efficiently connect people who are suicidal or in a mental health crisis to a trained mental health professional. With calls expected to increase as people learn about the helpline, some call centers say there are limits to what they can accomplish without more local resources.
Suicide is not something we like to talk about. Yet, we must acknowledge that there are times when the circumstances of life threaten to overwhelm—a spouse leaves, a child passes away, a business folds, or a house burns down. We watch people we care about hurt, wander, and undergo immense difficulty. Sometimes their pain can turn into to feelings of hopelessness, depression, or even suicidal ideation.
As part of the family of God, we’re called to walk alongside struggling brothers or sisters to help shoulder the weight of a trial that threatens to pull them under (Phil. 2:3–4). The strength and encouragement of others is often the difference between finding healing or giving up. Galatians 6:2 calls us to bear one another’s burdens and to hurt alongside those who are hurting. Helping our friends, neighbors, and friends carry the weight of their troubles ought to be a priority of every Christian—and could be the answer to the lack of local resources in place to help those who are suffering.
We’re one body, called to help the hurting
When someone experiences tragedy, loss, or other overwhelming circumstances, feelings of hopelessness can arise, sometimes even leading to suicidal thoughts. While a crisis hotline, therapy, and medicine are extremely important, they’re not always sufficient. The best antidotes for hopelessness are a perspective rooted in faith and a community of support, both of which the church can offer to help those burdened by situational depression and suicidal ideation.
A person with suicidal thoughts may feel like there is nowhere left to go and no one who cares whether they live or die. For many people, the church is their last hope. Statistics reveal that 1 in 5 people suffer from some form of mental health issue, and those who love them are also affected by it. Many of these people are sitting in churches week after week, suffering in stigmatized silence. Pastors need to wake up and start talking about depression and hopelessness from the pulpit, helping people to develop an attitude of looking to Christ for help long before a person would reach a point of suicide.
While no one can assume full responsibility for someone else’s circumstances or emotional wellness, the church can, and should, help to remove the stigma of depression and other mental health issues by addressing them. Let‘s not pretend the church is immune to these issues. There should never be a time when someone is embarrassed or ashamed to seek help for the way they’re affected by sin and brokenness.
Churches should prioritize caring for those with mental health struggles
Research shows that people who are deeply depressed or have thoughts of suicide feel relief when they have a community of people they can count on. A strategic way churches can facilitate these relationships is by establishing support groups that include people who have “been there” and can offer a listening ear, encouragement, and perspective. Programs like Fresh Hope for Mental Health equip churches to provide those who are hopeless a safe place to process their pain and experience faith-filled hope through support groups, classes, and other resources that are led and written by peers who are living well, despite their own mental health challenges.
Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” With Jesus Christ as our focus, the church can uniquely offer something to those who struggle with mental health and those who love them: hope through Jesus.
Large or small, every church should strive to become a nurturing and compassionate haven for people with mental health burdens and their families. People who are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide are our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s our duty as followers of Christ to create a safe and honest place for them and love them well.