When I summarized a handful of reflections various representatives of the Christian faith offered about suicide in the wake of the suicide of the son of mega-church pastor Rick Warren, I found great hope in the compassion and understanding that was universally expressed by the commentators I quoted.
[Warren] resisted the urge to explain the unexplainable and instead delivered a sermon with a passionate call to action. His emphatic message was that neither suicide nor mental illness should be cause for shame; and he committed to his global audience to use his public ministry to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness.
Ellis touches upon a few highlights (lowlights?) of the history of shame and stigma that was heaped upon suicide victims and their surviving loved ones, then notes, "It is good news that times are changing":
Most mainline religious traditions now recognize that, far from a sin, suicide is typically a desperate act of an individual not in his or her right mind -- not necessarily psychotic, but significantly impaired by severe depression, hopelessness, anxiety and other overwhelming emotions. To their credit, many religious teachers now acknowledge the mountain of research showing that people who kill themselves are not exercising a freely chosen option; they are taking the only path they can see for relief from unbearable suffering ...In his sermon, Warren leaves no doubt about his views on mental illness:
"It's amazing to me that any other organ in your body can break down and there's no shame and stigma to it ... But if your brain breaks down, you're supposed to keep it a secret ... If your brain doesn't work right, why should you be ashamed of that?"In a very moving interview with the Orange County Register, Warren indicts the current mental health system, declaring that "it needs to be reinvented and revolutionized":
"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 and major depression. America's mental health system needs far more than repair."As Thomas Ellis noted, Warren's sermon included an extraordinary promise. According to a post from Time magazine, Warren declared that "Saddleback's next big ministry push will be to remove the stigma associated with mental illness in the church":
"Your illness is not your identity, your chemistry is not your character," he told people struggling with mental illness. To their families, he said, "We are here for you, and we are in this together."Time's report quotes Warren -- speaking, of course, from a religious point of view -- exclaiming on the power of hope many survivors of suicide loss find buried within their tragedy:
"God wants to take your greatest loss and turn it into your greatest life message."Warren's entire sermon can be viewed here.