I got a private message this morning that started with, “I’m not as brave as you!!!! I can’t handle being attacked online. ”
The writer then shared her perfectly reasonable and perfectly fair observations about the way The Church handles the topic of suicide.
But, despite being kind and thoughtful and deliberately careful, she was afraid to share her thoughts publicly. Make sure you understand that, because it seems like a tragedy that thoughtful people don’t feel free to openly speak.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who has noticed the existence of an unwritten “Mental Health Awareness Script,” which can get you in trouble if you deviate from its course.
I alluded to the existence of “The Script” in a post I called “Fly High, Self-Murderer,” which I wrote when a friend-of-a-friend took all the pills in his cabinet and eventually succumbed to the internal injuries, inflicted on himself. (For the record, referring to a “suicide victim” as a “self-murderer” definitely does NOT follow The Approved Mental Health Awareness Script.)
In my post, I describe the danger of repeating Approved talking points like, “He’s at peace with Jesus” and “Fly high!” all while brainwashing people to believe that dying from suicide is exactly the same as dying from cancer… (Again, you can read the post here: Fly High, Self-Murderer.)
I’ve also written about The Approved Mental Health Script in a post called “Psychiatry–a Western Sacred Cow.” I confessed that I, too, wrestle with when to speak and when to sit quietly, because you’re almost guaranteed to get push-back unless you agree with a few sacred pillars, such as:
“-Mental illness is a disease, just like cancer.
-It’s not a choice, not a sign of weakness, and we cannot blame the mental illness on the individual.
-If you are experiencing depression, you should seek professional help.”
So, all of these old posts of mine were in the back of my head as I processed the news that a pastor took his own life this week, leaving behind his wife and two small boys.
As I began to see the same, predictable Script be rolled out by well-meaning but misguided individuals, the only words I could find to express my frustration on Facebook were:
“When are we going to talk openly about this rampant (and growing) problem? And by ‘talk,’ I mean: when are we going to say what we REALLY think instead of letting the Mental Illness Apologists tell us what we’re ‘allowed’ to conclude? Repeating ‘Mental Illness isn’t a Sin’ over and over doesn’t seem to be helping much.”
I understand why many readers wanted me to elaborate… But, as I started going through old blog posts, I realized I don’t have much to add that I haven’t said before.
The Script that was designed to make people feel loved and understood is actually making them feel comfortable with the idea of killing themselves.
Every, single time a suicide makes the news, it almost looks like we WANT people to believe it’s a valid choice. (Another post from 2014: Suicide Culture. It’s as If we WANT People to Die )
Somebody needs to get brave enough to ask whether we’re really helping people with our Approved Mental Health Awareness Script…or if all of our “awareness” is actually enabling.
Someone drew my attention to this post by Dale Partridge, and I think it’s worth discussing. This is the only thing I’ve seen, so far, that deviates from the Standard Approved Script. But I would welcome links to others…
“…men who are placed in shepherding roles at churches are committing suicide and public apostasy at an alarming frequency. These men did not have secret struggles, either. Nearly all of these recent tragedies were carried out by men who openly confessed their mental illness and doubts of doctrine. The million dollar question is this: Why are churches placing men, who are so candid about their current brokenness, in positions of leadership?
…Church, it is not accepting or tolerant or understanding or compassionate to hire a man to shepherd a flock of God’s people who is openly struggling with mental illness. It’s unbiblical, it’s reckless, it’s dangerous, and as we’re seeing, it’s an easy target for the enemy to reign down national tragedy on the church. If your pastor has admitted to a state of mental illness he needs to be discipled not discipling others. He needs physical rest not intense spiritual labor. He needs privacy not publicity. He needs diligent prayer not overwhelming pressure. He needs to step down not be lifted up…”