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Church should help mentally ill

Published on -8/15/2014, 8:49 AM

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Robin Williams is dead. The reactions around the world include shock, anger, grief, sadness and deep regret. He was a brilliant, talented man who seemed on the surface to have a charmed life.

Williams was a famous person, but there are many others who are not famous who will die by suicide in 2014 -- an estimated 14 deaths per 100,000 people. There's a concern that -- with the publicity surrounding Williams -- others will consider this possibility as a choice. Please, God, no. Every death from suicide leaves behind grieving circles of survivors who will question what they missed and how they might have prevented such a tragic loss.

A wise colleague whose beloved son died by suicide taught me that just as no one commits cancer or heart disease, suicide can be the tragic end of a terrible disease. Suicidal people often suffer with an illness that requires ongoing medical treatment and skilled care. Depression, mental illness and addiction so often happen concurrently and wreak damage on souls as well as bodies.

And yet, rather than encouraging people to get the medical help they need, some churches have conveyed the message that such illness shows a lack of faith and that suicide is the unforgivable sin. With all that negative history, when we or those we care about are suffering, church might seem like the last place to go. As people of faith and followers of our healing Lord, we can and must choose to do better.

Another support in addition to medical and mental health professionals and your local church is Hays Voice on Mental Illness, a chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The group meets for information, advocacy and support, on the first Monday of every month at 6 p.m. for peer connection, 7 p.m. for an education workshop and 8 p.m. for family connection at the Center for Life Experiences, a ministry of First Presbyterian Church, located at 2900 Hall. If you have lost a loved one, Healing After Loss of Suicide (HALOS) meets on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 7 p.m. at the same location. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is (800) 273-8255. Please know you don't have to suffer alone.

And yet, the sad reality is as much as we genuinely might desire to be effective in the efforts to end suicide, we won't be able to save everyone. We won't be able to stop every single person from completing suicide, even in the church. But we as the church, the followers of Jesus who showed compassion for those who were most vulnerable, can be agents of healing for those who are struggling.

We who have known the darkness and despair of Good Friday can testify to the reality of Resurrection. Churches and people of faith can be the life-giving reason someone seeks help. We can offer a reassuring hand to hold on the long and winding path to wholeness. And we can be the arms that wrap around the family and loved ones who try desperately to get their loved ones help to no avail, and ultimately  are left behind to pick up the pieces. We can and must at least do that.

Celeste Lasich is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Hays.

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