In the summer of 2018, the deaths by suicide of designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain shocked America and the world. Both people were accomplished and well-liked, making their deaths even more egregious. Then, the suicide of Andrew Stoecklein, a 30-year-old California pastor, rippled through the Christian community. Again, he was successful and loved. While the circumstances surrounding the tragedies are unique to each person, the undercurrents of mental and emotional health are shared.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH)1, warning signs to look for in those who might be considering suicide range from obvious behaviors like speaking of wanting to die, to seemingly benign things like changing eating or sleeping habits. Because personality types self-express in varying ways, it can be difficult to predict the manner in which a person will respond in his or her situation.
While suicide is at the extreme end of the mental health spectrum, its precursor is one of the most common mental disorders in the US2 – depression. The intensity of depression can range from person-to-person and can change over time, but its affects are life-altering for sufferers and their loved ones.
Other common mental health issues include post-traumatic stress, anxiety, eating disorders and personality disorders. From mild to severe cases, the NIH estimates that almost 20 percent of US adults deal with some form of mental illness3. Mental health issues affect men, women and youth from all age groups, backgrounds, religions and ethnicities.
Mental health struggles are not unique to this generation or time period, but some of the trappings of modern life have not made them better. People generally must be more intentional to build strong support systems. For example, more people live alone and away from family than in the past, and face a generally more complicated world in which to navigate. Even those with strong families and connections can struggle alone with issues that aren’t shared with their loved ones.
Additionally, increased workloads, traffic, financial pressures, violence, the ever-present pull of the 24-hour news cycle and social media-esque opportunities for comparison4 all add to the layers of stress that individuals can feel. Added to modern lifestyles are the prevalence of drugs, and the social acceptance of behaviors, ranging from large debt loads to abortion, that lead to further grief and crises.
Dr. Tim Clinton, president of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), said, “As I scan the landscape of everyday life, I see people in a lot of pain. The pace is frantic and the pressure is extraordinary. The antidote to trauma is relationship – vertically with God and horizontally with relationships with others.”
The AACC provides Christian-based resources and services for mental health professionals and lay people throughout the world whose calling is to help others. Even devout believers are overwhelmed at times by life’s circumstances, troubles or disappointments. While church attendance and Christian fellowship offer the opportunity for healthy connections, spiritual education and social support that people need, psychiatrist Michael R. Lyles said in a Christianity Today column5 that a number of his believing patients don’t readily find the encouragement they are looking for in church. “Many people of faith are too ashamed, guilty or embarrassed to take the risk of revealing their struggles with mental illness,” he said.
Still, Lyles points out that when Christian communities can reach people, they are surprisingly effective. Christian circles are addressing mental health more now than perhaps at any other time. In a survey6 conducted by LifeWay Research, in partnership with Focus on the Family, about half of Protestant pastors said they have broached the topic of mental illness with parishioners.
Dr. Robert B. Sloan, HBU president, said HBU’s affiliation with the AACC for the new Global Center for Mental Healthcare and Ministry will be helpful to many. “Our strategic alliance is helping HBU to expand our program offerings both residentially and online in these critical healthcare areas,” Sloan said.
The Center will prepare practitioners to assist others in a holistic manner, taking into account physical, spiritual, mental, emotional and relational aspects of each situation. While trained professionals can’t solve every problem, they do offer an avenue for disclosure and support, and can offer proven guidance for healing and progress.
“We want to train students, not only with good head knowledge, but also with a real heart for God’s work. Each person has a soul and is an image-bearer of God,” Dr. Steve Warren, vice president of professional development for the AACC said. “People and families are in crisis. We need to do everything we can to help them.”
Clinton said, “I really believe HBU could quickly become an epicenter for the church when it comes to mental healthcare and ministry.”
If you know someone in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.
- “Suicide in America: Frequently Asked Questions.” National Institute of Mental Health Online.
- “Depression.” National Institute of Mental Health Online.
- “Mental Illness.” National Institute of Mental Health Online.
- “Is Mental Health Really Getting Worse or Are We Just Talking About it More?” Workplace Mental Health Institute Online.
- “Is Your Church Healthy for People with Mental Illness?” Christianity Today. October 2017.
- “The Church and Mental Health: What Do the Numbers Tell Us?” Christianity Today. April 2018. Today. April 2018.