"You can do this"

From October 10, 2006:

carI’m tempted to go crash my car.

Again, the boy cried wolf.

Except I’m a girl.


Right now, I’m going through what my old pastor used to say is a “spiritual winter.” I just fall into moments when I just cease praying and reading my Bible for whatever reason. I’m not mad at God or anything; I still struggle with believing in a God that I’ve never seen with my own two eyes. But then I think about the specific events that have taken place in my life and I know He exists.

With that being said, I sat in my car this morning with the ignition turned on, ready to drive my car over the bridge into the Schuylkill River. I was ready to run home, make the stupid “goodbye world” post on this blog, text my husband “I love you. Goodbye” and then ram my car into a divider on I-76. It’s the worst suicidal thought I’ve had since I ended up in the hospital in October 2006.

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God and mental illness

Thanks to Gianna for sending me a link to an ABC News article about the relationship between religious faith and depression. The article analyzes whether faith can help or exacerbate a mental illness. The exacerbation, as referred to in the article, mostly comes from the stigma of mental illness within the religious community.

“You might be shocked to find out there are some denominations that do harm to people,” said Patricia Murphy, chaplain and assistant professor of psychiatry at Rush University. “Some congregations teach that depression is a sin … that’s the reaction they get when they turn to their pastor.”

Being punished by your religious leader for an unavoidable disorder sounds bad enough — yet it’s often compounded with tacit warnings against leaving the condemning sect.

“Studies have shown that faith leaders are least supportive [with mental health problems],” said Gregg-Schroeder. “There’s this attitude that if you pray harder, you’ll be able to pull yourself out of it. I’ve gone to funerals of people who were told to just pray to Jesus and stop taking your meds.”

praying dogI’ve been told that I suffer from depression because I didn’t pray enough or I wasn’t “right with God.” When I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after my high school graduation, I found my pastor and church noticeably absent even though they were aware of the situation. When I was depressed, I’d get verses like Proverbs 15:13, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Great. That’s helpful. Especially when I don’t have a “merry heart.”

When I was forced to leave a fundie conservative Christian college midyear because of my depression, my pastor at the time was clearly disappointed with my decision not to return the following year. I decided that attending a college close to home as a commuter student would be better for my mental health. There was no need to scare more roommates with my occasional mixed episodes. I felt like I’d failed my pastor, my church, and my God. God more so than anyone else. I convinced myself that He must be upset with me – disappointed in me. It’s not easy to recover from depression when you feel like the One who dangles your life from His fingers is pretty pissed at you.

(Image from AP via Yahoo! News)

Continue reading “God and mental illness”

Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Conclusion

"The basic rule of suicide intervention is this: if the level of suffering can be reduced a little, the individual might choose to live." – Jeffrey S. Black

The quote above is the entire point of this post and the preceding posts on this subject. Suicide’s a difficult and divisive topic. People never seem to run out of opinions on the matter.  Jeffrey Black’s booklet was directed to an audience that wanted to know how to help a suicidal individual. I added a couple of things that I thought were relevant, but for the most part, Black is on target. I stopped harping on this through my posts, but I remained dismayed at the straightforward approach and lack of empathy in the book. While a person struggling with suicidal thoughts shouldn’t be "babied," he should be treated with compassion and care. Tough love works on some people, but its potential for backfire is great. Many people who consider suicide are extremely fragile and the slightest criticism could further convince them that they need to kill themselves. (FYI – I am one of these.) If you’ve known the person for a long time, assess his normal-tempered personality. From there, decide whether he is capable of accepting a bit of a heavy-handed push. A general rule: Avoid tough love if the suicidal person normally wouldn’t consider you "a loved one."

So this post concludes my longest-running series on suicide. This series has been in the works since October, when I entered the hospital, but I never had any time to really devote to it. The semi-meticulous person I am, I went through my posts and tried to edit them as much as possible. (OK, with the exception of this one.) A few mistakes might slip through, but for the most part, they should be relatively readable.

The point of this series wasn’t to bang non-Christians over the head with a Bible. (Uh, so to speak.) The booklet I dissected came from a Christian point of view, but I think there was a lot of helpful information, not just for Christians, but for anyone who wants to help a suicidal person. It’s not foolproof and it certainly isn’t the "be-all and end-all." It’s a guideline and a good start. Purchase the book at Amazon, if you’re interested.

Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Part VI, Hopelessness

“If a Christian is without hope and sees himself as helpless, it underscores that his thinking is out of alignment with God’s.” – Jeffrey S. Black

A hopeless Christian is a paradox considering that Christians should have reason to hope. But when faced with trials of life, “keeping hope alive” proves difficult.

Black defines hopelessness in three ways:

  1. A failure to recognize God’s wisdom.
  2. A failure to desire what God desires.
  3. An unwillingness to view time the way God does.

Important questions for a hopeless Christian to ask himself:

  • Are my hopes in the situation getting better or in Christ?
  • Are my hopes in me or in Christ?
  • Are my hopes in other people or Christ?

A quote from Psalm 73:21-22:

“When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant.”

When a Christian’s focus isn’t on Christ, everything is hopeless. I struggle with answers how to get a Christian from a point of hopelessness to hopeful ness.

Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Part III

A “situational crisis” may lead a person to have “intense psychological pain.” As a result of this psychological pain, a person can begin to experience “distorted thinking” and/or may “abuse medication.”

1. Situational crises

These include financial problems, illness, bereavement, relational conflict, or public humiliation. Black notes that situational crises tend to act as a “catalyst to suicide,” driving the person to believe he or she has no other solutions to solve his or her problem(s).

2. Severe psychological pain
Black gets to the heart of suicide attempts:

“The goal of suicide is often simply to end that pain: ‘I just want the pain to go away.’ … ‘I just want to die’ most often means, ‘I want to stop feeling bad.’”

This, above all things, is the biggest reason behind a suicide attempt. If people felt like they had other options to their problems apart from suicide, most would take the alternate routes. In a suicidal moment – whether planned or not – the suicidal person is thinking about ending the “pain.” Death itself is not the goal; it’s an end to emotional pain. Death seems to serve as a means to that end.

3. Distorted Thoughts
Distorted thinking is a characteristic of suicides. Black writes:

“Problems may seems catastrophic when they are not. Predictions about the future can become arbitrary and unrealistic.

While problems get unbearable and circumstances may seems bleak, instead of looking for assistance, those who are suicidal convince themselves that only death or loss of consciousness can release them from emotional pain.

4. Abuse of medication
A person who attempts to overdose on medication seeks one of two things: death or loss of consciousness. Abuse of medication that requires hospitalization provides a legitimate reason to “escape” the problems of life. Abusing medication is a person’s way of saying that he needs, as Black puts it, “an emotional vacation.” The person feels overwhelmed by the stressors of life and temporarily need to block out all distractions. At this point, it is safe to say a person is mentally ill. The need for escape from problems is the mind’s way of saying that it needs time to recover and become mentally healthy again. Abusing medication is the desperate way of doing this.

Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Part I

Black’s Common Features of Suicidal Thinking

  1. Bitterness
  2. Anger
  3. An unwillingness to forgive
  4. The “last word” in argument
  5. A way to punish someone

“Romans 1 suggests that a person – believer or unbeliever – who contemplates suicide must actively suppress the Spirit’s testimony that he is a creature made in the image of God, living in dependence on him.”

“Actively suppress” is a strong statement. If it means a person is aware of this suppression, then I’d disagree. Some people may be aware of this but that isn’t always the case. Black emphasizes suicidal believers are made in the image of God and insinuates that suicidal attempts are willful acts of disobedience:

“We want to demolish the idea that someone who takes his life is a sad, wounded, and weakened victim, and that suicide is a noble expression of his fragility and God’s failure to rescue him.”

While suicide is not a noble expression of fragility, suicide shows a suicidal person and those around him how weak he is. This is not “weak” that describes someone with a character flaw; those referred to as weak are those who need emotional help. Those who are emotionally stronger are able to encourage someone who is emotionally weak. A man who takes his life may have been sad, may have been wounded, and may have been weak – but God’s grace was not beyond him and what is perceived as God’s “failure” to rescue him was still within God’s control. (I won’t get into the fine details of why He allows some people to live and some to die in this post.)

Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Outline

While the book had me put off, I did glean a couple of things from it, mainly things that pertain to Christians who struggle with suicidal ideation.

“The paradox is brought into full focus when a suicidal Christian wants to know if she will lose her salvation if she kills herself. The contradiction in her thinking – that the same God who has the power to condemn her eternally doesn’t have the power to help her now – seems lost on her.”

The key here for Christians is to focus on “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” This is especially difficult to do when a person doesn’t know the next path to take, what to believe, or desperately wants die. The Biblical view of Christianity holds that a person who has trusted in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and commits suicide is not condemned to hell. However, the booklet deals with issues leading up to this point and does not focus on suicide per se.

While suicide is viewed as a psychological act born out of a depressive state, the author correctly states it is “the act of a sinful heart.” All Christians must come to terms that many mental illnesses are a result of a sinful, fallen condition. Christianity rejects the teaching that “all people are inherently good.” From a Biblical standpoint, that’s a fallacy. Psalm 53:3 reminds readers, “There is none who does good, not even one.” Those who believe in God must accept that they are fallen, sinful creatures incapable of consistently doing good in and of themselves. Depressive and suicidal tendencies stem from this sinful nature.

Black quotes G.C. Berkouwer:

“One cannot find sense in the senseless and meaning in the meaningless.”

Life as a non-Christian can be senseless and meaningless because there seems to be nothing to live for other than the self. A belief in Jesus Christ as Savior gives life a brand new sense of meaning. But even a Christian can lose track of that. Again, the inability to remain focused on God stems from a sin nature.

Black uses the apostle Paul as an example of someone who overcame trials, hardships, and suffering. In II Corinthians 4:17, Paul refers to his suffering as a “light affliction, which is but for a moment.” Black outlines how Paul is able to regard trials as light, momentary afflictions:

  1. Paul lives his entire life with purpose. He endures the suffering because of the good he knows will come out of it.
  2. His life is lived for the future, for a “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (II Cor. 4:17)
  3. Paul is “strengthened” to face the challenges that God has given him through the Holy Spirit.

While Black explains how Paul overcame his difficult trials with courageous faith, his application flies over the head of any depressed believer. The above may be encouraging to a believer who is disappointed by trials, but it is an application out of the grasp of someone who is suicidal. A more appropriate application would be King David in the Psalms, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 43:5) or rather Elijah, who after a great spiritual victory, prays to God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.” (I Kings 19:4) Perhaps even a suicidal person can relate to Job, “"Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not.” (Job 3:20-21) Black overlooks believers with applicable moments of despair and opts to use the apostle Paul as example for hope. Here, the cliché is applicable: a person must go through the darkest part of the tunnel before he can see the light.

Not only did I feel as though Black throw Paul’s example in for a “See? This is how a true believer should act,” he immediately delves into how “suicide is a sinful act.” Pitting depressed people against a great apostle like Paul is just an awful reminder that they just don't “stack” up. Contrasting a suicidal person with a spiritual giant is yet another reminder as to why he needs to die, not to live. As I mentioned before, using Elijah, David, or Job would have been a more empathetic approach.

An underlying base of suicide is selfishness. Black capitalizes on this thought:

“My goal is not simply to get the person to repent over a specific act of lawbreaking (suicide), but to undermine his pattern of sinfully self-centered rationalization.”

He adds that suicide is an “expression of self-centeredness contrary to our position as creatures responsible to a Creator.” Suicidal thoughts remove God from being the primary focus of life and make people gods in their lives. Suicide seems like a noble way of dying (a form of narcissism) while it is essentially a slap in the face to God. Suicide says to God, “I don’t trust that you can help me through life so I’m taking matters into my own hands,” whether the individual is aware of God or not.

Suicide From a Christian Point of View

I was excited to stumble upon a Christian blog that dealt with the topic of suicide. However, despite the fact that I think the author makes many good points, her ending left me a little more than sour: "Deciding to commit suicide whether because of financial, emotional, spiritual, or physical circumstances is a sin that separates one from God for eternity (1 John 5:17)."

I John 5:17 (NASB) says, "All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death."  The sin that leads not unto death is pardoned sin, sin that a Christian has asked forgiveness for.

The author of this blog makes the statement of saying that a person who commits suicide spends eternity apart from God. A person who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and commits suicide does not spend eternity apart from God because even though the sin is committed in death, Jesus’s atonement on the cross pardons that sin. (I John 1:7-9) If the author is making a statement that a born-again Christian who commits suicide is plunged into eternal condemnation, the author is in grave error.

Twisted Christian Viewpoint on Mental Illness

Despite the fact that Liz Spikol is messhuggeneh, she linked to an amazing blog with a Christian perspective on depression. (I’m ashamed I didn’t find it before!) I’m pleased and excited that a Christian in the blogosphere finally has the correct approach to mental illness.


CLIFFS NOTES VERSION: Christians have a very limited understanding of depression, suicide, and other various forms of mental illness even though there are SPECIFIC examples in the Bible. Christians need to learn how to take care of those with mental illness or they may very well isolate the people they are called to love.


(The rest is a half-finished personal background. You can stop reading here if you choose to.)

Continue reading “Twisted Christian Viewpoint on Mental Illness”