James E. Copple
The human predicament continues to amaze me. Predicament is defined as a difficult, trying, and often dangerous situation. On Sunday, April 7, while sitting in the airport in Amsterdam, I read the New York Times report on the tragic suicide death of Matthew Warren, the 27 year-old son of Pastor Rick Warren, one of America’s leading religious figures. Matthew had long battled depression and struggled with the pain of mental illness for a number of years.
My brief encounter with Matthew is forged by a memory of a young man that loved and worshipped his family and showed only admiration and respect for the work of his father and his church. I don’t pretend to know Matthew’s story and I don’t need to know. However, Matthew’s death is a painful reminder that no family is immune from the pain of mental illness or the tragic consequence of a suicide. It would be difficult to find a family that does not have suicide in their family history.
Suicide is preventable but not absolutely. You can have access to mental health services, a strong and supporting family, and have the support of the best psychotropic drugs available but still not overcome the predicament of life. Something snaps. Approximately 30,000 people commit suicide each year in the United States. Over 400,000 people attempt suicide. Depression is not the only contributing factor. Alcoholism is a factor in 1 out of 3 suicides. The suicide rates among our veterans is alarmingly high when compared to the rest of the population. We have now lost more veterans to suicide than we have lost in combat in the last ten years. PTSD and its diverse manifestations can take people to the edge of the cliff with no hope of returning. A crisis, the loss of a job, the loss of a family member through divorce or the predicaments of living that are difficult, trying and dangerous hit us like a tsunami that threaten our very survival.
Thirty-three years ago, as the result of several bad decisions, I lost my job, my identity, my family, and my sense of purpose. I seriously contemplated suicide complete with a plan to end my life to escape the embarrassment and pain I had caused others. My mother and father intervened just in time and hospitalized me. A crisis counselor pulled me through and I began a road to recovery that included spiritual, intellectual, and mental healing. In the midst of this crisis, I was reminded of the scripture from Hebrews 13:5 – “Never will I leave you – never will I forsake you.” That promise was the knot at the end of my rope that allowed me to hang on.
This most recent and highly publicized suicide is a reminder that mental illness masks itself in a variety of ways. It is also clear that we have a long way to go before we will ever understand the fragility of the mind, the darkness of the soul, and the pain that can undermine our journey. Mental illness is physical, it is social, it is complex and we all experience it in some way in our lives.
We tend to highly stigmatize suicide when in reality, most of us walk along the precipice of existence and we see its possibility in ourselves, our families, and our co-workers. It is time we talk more openly about suicide and it is probably time that we recognize that seeking help for the mental illnesses we face is an “okay” thing to do. Regardless, we do have this confidence, that even in the midst of our despair, He will not leave us nor forsake us and He stands on the edge of that cliff ready to catch us.
For more information on the facts and myths of suicide go to:
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