Depression and Suicidal Thoughts
News of celebrity suicides headlined media over the past few weeks in America. The suicide deaths of Kate Spade, 55, a well-known fashion designer, and Anthony Bourdain, 61, a popular celebrity chef and author who regularly appeared on CNN, shocked us.
How could these successful people take their lives? Why would they want to stop living when they appeared so successful and were the envy of many? What was so troubling in their minds that drove them to do what they did?
And, what does this mean for us?
People are troubled as never before. These two deaths underscore the present escalating rates of suicide in almost every demographic group in America. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), suicide rates are up 25 percent, with roughly 123 suicides per day in the United States. Shockingly, suicide has become the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, including teenage deaths.
CDC and other medical professionals remain somewhat puzzled overall as to the escalating rate of suicides, although depression plays a major contributing cause. Other issues include social isolation, untreated depression and anxiety, and drug and alcohol/substance abuse. Specific related causes include the loss of a relationship and financial setbacks. A lack of sustaining purpose in life is also cited, as is the high level of divisive disagreement almost everywhere. The increasingly negative social environment we live in—where people progressively try to cut themselves loose from the laws of God and suffer the consequences—plays an important role.
Adweek magazine recently pointed out that Americans are “exhausted” by bad news. Citing recent findings by Pew Research, Adweek confirmed that people from all walks of life feel drained by the divisive environment of never-ending conflict and bad news. Things are presently so bad that the magazine recommended that people start “skimming the news instead of giving it a deep dive, not reading or watching the news before bedtime and removing social media platforms from your phone.”
We live in this society. We, as the Church, came from it. If we are not careful, we can fall prey to this mental/emotional exhaustion and potential depression. If we neglect this, we can be at risk, as we are not taken out of the world (John 17:15 John 17:15I pray not that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil.
American King James Version×). Indeed, we are called to be bright shining lights in an otherwise darkened world (Matthew 5:16 Matthew 5:16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
American King James Version×). We have not only been called to be the “people of God,” but called to receive help from God and to be equipped to confront society’s influence on us.
We in the ministry are not immune to the mental and spiritual pressures that are inflicted on us. In our regional ministerial conferences, we have one lecture directed at an area of personal vulnerability in the minister’s life. In this current round of meetings, the subject is stress, burnout and depression in the ministry. But, more importantly, resilience, change and focus in a stressful world are expounded ably and clearly by pastor and presenter Scott Hoefker. We felt that it was vitally important to address this subject. Our ministry is human and we are all subject to the same influences and indeed the consequences of this world’s unsympathetic power.
So, how can we live, find stability and even prosper in a negative environment? We in the church have many advantages given to us by our spiritual knowledge. We understand that our lives have a vibrant purpose. The Apostle John wrote that “now we are children of God” (1 John 3:2 1 John 3:2Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
American King James Version×) and that we “have an anointing from the Holy One” (1 John 2:20 1 John 2:20But you have an unction from the Holy One, and you know all things.
American King James Version×)—we are set apart by God Himself! If we have surrendered our lives to God—turning over all problems to Him in an attitude of positive repentance—and are actively committed to “work out [our] own salvation” (Philippians 2:12 Philippians 2:12Why, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
American King James Version×), then we have nothing to fear. As I wrote previously, weekly fellowship at Sabbath services remains a powerful antidote to isolation. We see our spiritual brothers and sisters hopefully every week, where we can share and be encouraged.
So, while society’s looming harsh and cruel influence is at times overbearing, we have a “bigger button” than society’s. We have help from God to counter any of society’s attacks that stress and depress.
Hopefully we can meditate on and deepen our understanding that our God is a God of love (1 John 4:8 1 John 4:8He that loves not knows not God; for God is love.
American King James Version×). And what’s important about that is the fact that God loves us all the time, regardless of our situation. God is a God of mercy . Note what the apostle Paul teaches us: “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow —not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love” (Romans 8:38 Romans 8:38For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
American King James Version×, New Living Translation, emphasis added throughout).
For a Christian, this comes from first being aware of God’s capability and offer to us: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7 2 Timothy 1:7For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
American King James Version×). We must never allow the world to so occupy and preoccupy us that the Holy Spirit has no place in our thoughts.
But even if we understand that and believe it, sometimes we can still feel overwhelmed. Some things, like the loss of a child or close friend or family member, a prolonged sickness, or painful financial troubles, can deeply discourage or drag us down. Sometimes a thousand small things that happen relentlessly can drag us down.
We should understand that occasional depression or anxiety is one thing. But if we find ourselves in a chronic condition where we become depressed or anxious much of the time, then we need help. This is a tough world to live in.
If we are feeling seriously depressed, or in some cases depressed to the point where we may even have suicidal thoughts, then we need to understand that it is not a sin to seek help. Also, we need to understand that seeking help in those conditions is definitely not a sign of weakness or character issues. In fact, seeking help is a major positive step forward.
In the church, our pastors and ministers are always available. If your challenge is clinical in nature, ministers can help you find a professional counselor, medical professional or other resource that can help you find relief and restoration. One should hopefully never feel any kind of judgmental stigma or false sense of “I’m no good” for seeking help.
The biblical record includes many instances where people—like Elijah, who prayed for death (1 Kings 19:4 1 Kings 19:4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.
American King James Version×)—suffered from anxiety and depression. David writes at length about those conditions in the Psalms. Even Jesus Christ Himself found it important to earnestly talk through the major trial to come with His Father (Luke 22:41-44 Luke 22:41-44 41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, 42 Saying, Father, if you be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done. 43 And there appeared an angel to him from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
American King James Version×) before He was tortured and crucified, even though Jesus fully knew what the outcome was going to be. If this was the case with mighty biblical figures, we should be able to seek help when we need it.
At the end of His ministry, Jesus knew that life would be tough for His disciples. But He gives us great hope: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world ” (John 16:33 John 16:33These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
American King James Version×, NLT).
God wants us to live . Life, our being, is precious to Him, and we should regard our existence and consciousness likewise. Only an evil force would want us to terminate it.
Don’t fret about bad news or depressing headlines. Instead, “let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2 Hebrews 12:1-2 1 Why seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
2 Looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
American King James Version×, NLT).