The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) met on Wednesday to discuss several important topics, including how the church can help people suffering from mental illness and those who have been impacted by suicide. The Convention voted to support a resolution regarding "Mental Health Concerns and the Heart of God," encouraging churches to be more open about the difficulties of mental illness.
Millions worldwide suffer from mental illness, and about one million people commit suicide each year. Many may have felt isolated in the church because of stigmas that are associated with their condition. In light of this, the Southern Baptist Convention urged Christians in their resolution to seek to minister to those who are affected by mental illness –both individuals and family members who are serving their loved ones.
Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California, says that the SBC’s resolution to address these issues in the church will “help churches serve the millions who struggle with mental illness.” The Convention voiced their support for medical treatment that aligns with Biblical teachings, and encouraged churches to talk more about mental illness such as clinical depression, autism disorders, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and bipolar disorders.
“The most painful kind of loneliness is feeling inadequate to express to others what you feel inside yourself,” tweeted Warren, whose 27-year-old son Matthew committed suicide earlier this year after battling with depression and suicidal thoughts for over a decade. In a note to Saddleback Church on the evening when his son took his life, Warren said that they had sought medical attention for Matthew’s condition, and that only their closest friends knew that the young man was suffering from mental illness.
Frank Page, one of the SBC’s committee members, also lost a daughter to suicide. He describes the grief that he and his family went through in his book, “Melissa: A Father's Lessons from a Daughter's Suicide." The product description reads, “Desperately hurting people take their own lives every day throughout the world, yet the church is not on top of the epidemic and often seems ill- equipped to address it biblically and effectively.”
When asked which areas he thought the church should address first, Resident Psychiatrist Matthew Perry, M.D. said that “the major targets should be substance abuse - alcohol addictions and other drugs would be good things to address.” He said that depression should be next in line. “Out of every 100 average Americans, five would be alcoholics, two would be addicted to opiates or heroine, two would have a severe major depressive episode that year, one would eventually die by suicide, and one will develop schizophrenia,” he said.
Dr. Perry said that statistically, men commit suicide four times more than women. He encouraged those who are thinking about suicide to always feel open to talking to their pastor about it, and to seek medical attention if there is significant concern.
Says Warren of the Biblical truths that have comforted him while mourning his son’s death, “My great comfort in pain isn't in knowing that God will someday use it for good, but that right now He’s suffering with me.” Warren also thanked his congregation for giving him time off to grieve and to heal from his family’s loss.