Rick and Kay Warren are speaking for the first time after 16 weeks since their son Matthew committed suicide. Their return is emotionally daunting, the couple says, but their knowledge of the prevalence of mental illness has spurred them on to face a new challenge: removing the stigma of mental illness, a sickness that affects 60 million people in USA and 400 million people worldwide.
The Warren couple admits one of the most difficult things during services this weekend is containing their emotions as they see the church members who have supported their family, according to Orange County Register. Kay Warren said, “It is difficult to grieve publicly, not because I’m embarrassed or ashamed of my grief, because I’m not at all embarrassed. It’s just the feelings are so intense. I feel both strong and fragile.”
Rick Warren explained the reason why they didn’t share Matthew’s problem of mental illness when he was alive. “We felt it was Matthew’s story to tell, and to protect his dignity, we were waiting until he was well enough to tell his story.”
“We believe God never waste a hurt and your greatest ministry to others often arises out of your greatest pain,” said Rick Warren, who is the author of the world’s best-selling book Purpose-Drive Life. He added that his church offers classes once a month going over this concept.
While the church already offers support groups for bi-polar disorder, depression, eating disorders, ADHD, and severe mental illness, and programs through NAMI (National Association for the Mentally Ill), the couple has decided to spend a year learning more about mental illness before doing anything in the short-term and long-term. However, they’ve pointed out a major problem that needs to be addressed:
“America’s mental health system is irreparably broken and inadequate. In many ways, it failed Matthew with misdiagnosis and wrong treatments his entire life. (For years, Matthew was diagnosed as having bi-polar disorder when he actually had Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and major depression (MDD). America’s mental health system needs far more than repair. It needs to be reinvented and revolutionized.”
During the past 16 weeks of grieving, the Warren couple have been inundated with stories from those who had loved ones take their own lives, or currently live with that threat. Kay said while she noticed the uniqueness of each story but also the strong similarities – “They all experience fear, stigma, shame, helplessness, and the sense that ‘we’ve tried everything and nothing helps.’”
With this as the starting point, Kay wants to “encourage more research into the cause of mental illness in children so they can receive effective interventions at an earlier stage.”
Rick Warren said, “Matthew’s struggle sensitized me to an enormous body of pain that our culture teaches us to ignore. Mental illness is the last taboo. Sixty million Americans suffer with mental illness and everyone knows someone struggling with it but few are willing to talk about it.”
While the couple has been instrumental in removing the stigma attached to HIV & AIDS through their work in Global PEACE Plan, they felt they are being called to “help remove the stigma to a much bigger disease. 34 million people have HIV & AIDS but 400 million battle mental illness worldwide.”
The mega-church pastor recommitted the rest of his life to battle hopelessness, which he believes is the “most widespread epidemic on earth.” And the cure, he says, is the “Good News of Jesus,” a conviction that forms the motivation behind all that they do at Saddleback Church.
“If people are in pain, we want them at Saddleback Church,” said the purpose-driven pastor.
Saddleback Church's weekend services will begin on Saturday at 4:30pm. Online live broadcast can be accessed here.