Recently, a friend emailed me that their twenty-three-year-old son had attempted suicide. The young man had been found fairly quickly, but due to the nature of his attempt and his severe depression, he is now in a hospital's psychiatric ward. My friend asked, “How did it get so bad and I didn't know?” She is trying to process guilt and anxiety about what might have happened. Her son is getting the help he needs, but it’s a long journey back to health and wholeness for the entire family.
Belgium is embroiled in a religious freedom controversy after the new head of the country’s Roman Catholic Church demanded that faith-run hospitals and nursing homes have the right to refuse euthanasia to patients.
A 2002 law decriminalized euthanasia for terminally ill adults and it has the support of a large majority of public opinion and politicians. But opposition in this historically Catholic country has grown as lawmakers extended the practice to including terminally ill children and people with severe psychological problems.
Chaplains who are part of the Army’s first line of defense against suicide say they need more training in how to prevent soldiers from killing themselves, according to a Rand Corp. survey published online April 7.
Nearly all the chaplains and chaplain assistants surveyed said they have dealt with suicidal soldiers, and most said they encourage troubled soldiers to get help. Because of confidentiality, roughly half said they would be reluctant to alert someone in the chain of command about the soldier, and roughly a third said they would not call a crisis hotline for the GI.
In addition, the study found that chaplains and chaplain assistants hold some of the same negative views about therapy that often discourage soldiers from seeing a behavioral health specialist. Most in the survey agreed that service members who seek help for suicidal thoughts would be seen differently by their peers. About half said they would be embarrassed.
Researchers said they believe this may be why chaplains are reluctant to intervene when a soldier comes to them with signs of suicidal thinking.
Death never makes for easy conversation. But the choice of a 29-year-old Brittany Maynard to take her own life over the weekend has a lot of people talking. There are the sad and belligerent comments in the name of Christianity, as well as those from supporters of her decision and still others who seek to be empathetic but strongly disagree.
Nearly five years ago, I was laying in an ICU, on oxygen, catheterized, wearing a diaper, and on a constant flow of the most potent narcotics the hospital had available. I could not eat, drink, or even hold an ice cube in my mouth and was unable to get out of bed under my own power. Much of my family had gathered in the room to hear the doctor pronounce that there was nothing more they could do.
My situation was not the same as Brittany’s or any others’ with terminal cancer, but this experience left me with a heightened awareness of some areas where Christians need to do better when faced with death and pain. It’s beyond the scope of this post to lay out all of the theological and moral implications involved, let alone all of the political and legal implications, but here are four areas for thought.
When I began a Masters of Divinity program at Wesley Theological Seminary, I was convinced that my generalized anxiety would be a wrinkle I’d iron out as I became more competent in preaching and pastoral care. What I failed to recognize was that my aptitude for ministry in itself was not the issue. I already felt called to hospital chaplaincy and had had experience working with the sick and dying as a nursing assistant. However, despite all the practical knowledge I’ve continued to gain at Wesley, anxiety has remained a debilitating problem.
When my anxiety was at its worst this past spring, I often asked myself, what business do I have pursuing ordained ministry? How can I serve others if I can’t take care of myself? Last week, regarding the suicide of Robin Williams, I heard frequently: “How can someone so funny do that?” The best answer I’ve found is that even when we are in great pain and anguish, feeling isolated from others, we don’t stop doing what we do best. Even in times of depression, and drug and alcohol abuse, Williams never ceased to do what he did best — make people laugh when they most needed to. Likewise, despite my anxiety, no matter how I attempt to close out the world, I still feel called to the ministry of chaplaincy, to bring healing to others through my presence.
It feels awkward and even a bit inappropriate to be talking about ‘celebrity news’ when so much is going on around the world: Iraq, refugees in Syria, children stranded at borders, Michael Brown’s death and Ferguson, Ebola, Ukraine, and the list tragically goes on.
But then again, it feels appropriate because it’s another reminder of the fragility of our humanity.
As has saturated the news, Robin Williams passed away this week. His life ended way too short at the young age of 63 – apparently because of suicide. While this was news to me, Robin had been struggling with intense depression – especially as of late — and was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.
To be honest, I don’t get caught up too much on celebrity happenings mainly because there’s not much genuine connection. I don’t really know them personally. Make sense? Robin Williams’ death – on the other hand – just felt like a painful punch in the gut. Perhaps, it’s because Mork and Mindy (Nano Nano) was the first TV show I watched (along with Buck Rodgers) after immigrating to the United States. I deeply resonated with Mork – this ‘alien’ or ‘foreigner’ from another land trying to fit in. Perhaps, it’s because so many of the characters he played in countless movies influenced me on some level as it did so many others.
Yesterday morning I was prepared to write about being a sacred place where others could come for healing, encouragement, and restoration. I had no idea Robin Williams committed suicide yesterday. I didn't hear the news because all evening I was sitting with a friend who is going through one of the most difficult times in her life. I also rushed out the door this morning with two friends on my heart who were also going through a great deal of suffering. It was late morning before I found out Robin Williams passed away. Robin Williams, the great comedian? The one who warmed my heart in Patch Adams. The man who challenged me, through Patch Adams, not to just be a professional, but a professional who cared for people.
I've read a lot of posts on Facebook about how we (those still living) never know what a person is going through on the inside. I've read that a person can be smiling on the outside, but hurting on the inside. While this is certainly true for some, I find many who are hurting tell us they are hurting. In their efforts to reach out, we often shut the door on them. Sure, the first time or two we listen and tell them we are going to pray for them, but then they become "needy." I don't know how many times Christians have warned me to stay away from a person because they are "needy" or "too clingy." I remember one time thinking, "Why wouldn't they be needy?" I thought this because we both (the commenter and I) knew the horrible situation our sister was in. I couldn't imagine the pain she was going through. However, this person believed our sister in Christ was being too "needy."
While I believe that we should never replace God by trying to be the Savior, I do believe we should be a place where those who are hurting can come.
That a “universally beloved” entertainer such as Robin Williams could commit suicide “speaks to the power of psychiatric illness,” mental health experts say.
Williams, who died Monday at age 63, had some of the risk factors for suicide: He was known to have bipolar disorder, depression, and drug abuse problems, said Julie Cerel, a psychologist and board chair of the American Association of Suicidology.
People who are severely depressed can’t see past their failures, even if they’ve been as successful as Williams.
“With depression, people just forget,” said Cerel, who is also an associate professor at the University of Kentucky. “They get so consumed by the depression and by the feelings of not being worthy that they forget all the wonderful things in their lives.”
They feel like a burden on their family and that the world would be better off without them.
“Having depression and being in a suicidal state twists reality. It doesn’t matter if someone has a wife or is well-loved,” Cerel said.
Williams was certainly beloved, as shown by the outpouring of grief and sympathy on social media outlets Tuesday night.
I log onto Facebook every day. It tells me that it’s OK to talk about a bad date, to engage in family arguments for all to see, or even to display how envied one believes him/herself to be via self-portraits from a bathroom mirror.
Let’s be honest. Social media has caused an eruption of platforms in which people across the globe feel comfortable laying it all out there. There is a certain acceptance of divulging personal information that my parents’ generation wouldn’t dare ever bring up in a private forum, much less a public one. This phenomenon raises the question: If it’s OK to talk about almost anything these days, why are important topics still being held captive in the land of anonymity?
Abortion. Incest. Rape. Bankruptcy. Depression. Mental illness.
And then there’s suicide.
So why write about it now? Because I fell into the trap of ignoring an important topic simply because it had never hit close to home. And then came the phone call.
DRAPER, Utah — As young brothers, Kris, and Kourt McGuire often spent hours chasing the shimmering dragonflies that floated above a lush, green pasture behind their house.
One day, when their mom told them to come inside to clean their room, they silently obeyed — or so she thought. After a time, she went to check on the two youngest of her four sons. She found their bedroom alive with dragonflies, which they had tied with strings hung from the ceiling.
She smiled, and they all broke into laughter.
It’s one of Lyn McGuire’s favorite recollections of the two boys — a memory that predates the heartache of losing them both.
Kris died at age 8 in 1986, when a car hit him on the way to school. Kourt died about 10 years later, at age 17, killing himself amid depression and the still-stinging absence of his older brother.
The Rev. Frank Page, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was getting ready to work in the yard in the fall of 2009 when the phone rang. His daughter was on the line.
Daddy, I love you, she said. Tell Mama and the girls I love them, too.
Then she was gone.
Melissa Page Strange, 32, took her own life just after hanging up the phone with her dad.
“I do not want you to imagine what that is like,” he said.
For years, Page did not share the painful details of Melissa’s death, fearing that some Christians might speak ill of her if they knew. Mental illness and suicide were taboo topics for many churches, seen as a kind of spiritual failure.
But that may be starting to change.
RIDGEWOOD, N.J. — The parents of Tyler Clementi have left their longtime evangelical church due to its views on homosexuality.
Jane and Joe Clementi told The New York Times that they had grown increasingly out of step with the Grace Church, a nondenominational evangelical church in Ridgewood, N.J., due to its casting of homsexuality as sinful.
Tyler Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in 2010. His death came just days after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, had spied on him during a tryst with another man in their freshman dormitory at Rutgers University.
Ravi was convicted of 15 charges, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, in March. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, of which he served 20.
The case garnered national attention from the media, as well as gay rights and anti-bullying activists. Clementi had come out to his parents just days before he left for college, and numerous news outlets reported that he had left feeling rejected. According to the Times, Tyler told his mother that he did not believe he could be Christian and gay.
For Newsweek Magazine, Andrew Swofford writes:
About 18 veterans kill themselves each day. Thousands from the current wars have already done so. In fact, the number of U.S. soldiers who have died by their own hand is now estimated to be greater than the number (6,460) who have died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Eleven years of war in two operating theaters have taken a severe toll on America’s military. An estimated 2.3 million Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and 800,000 of those service members have been deployed multiple times.
Read his full story here
For the past few years, Terry Daniel Sr. and Lisa Haynes used good cheer to camouflage their deteriorating health and dwindling finances. They kept up running jokes with neighbors. Their easy banter made them popular at their mobile home park's annual picnics.
But about 10 months ago, their problems finally overwhelmed them. Haynes, 55, saw her epilepsy rage out of control, resulting in seizures so violent that she injured her neck and was forced into a rehab facility. Daniel, 60, was debilitated by a life of hard labor, and had began using a walker full time. That was hard on both of them because he was Haynes' caregiver.
Feeling desperate and out of choices, they planned a final exit together, police said, and made a recording to explain their reasons. On Feb. 12, Daniel shot Haynes and then himself. Haynes died as planned in their mobile home near Milwaukie, Ore., but Daniel survived a gunshot wound to the chest. He may have ended her suffering, but he turned his own life upside-down, tripping legal and social dominoes that haven't yet settled.
Daniel immediately confessed to police. As soon as he was released from the hospital, he was charged with murder, spawning discussions in health and legal circles about how two very poor people with disabilities found themselves in such desperate circumstances.
Eric James Borges was teased his entire life for being different. Though he didn’t come out publicly until his sophomore year of college, he recalls emotional and physical abuse as far back as kindergarten for his differences. And though most children undergo some degree of hazing from time to time, the seeming indifference of the adults in his life made matters dramatically worse.
In a video recorded for the “It Gets Better” Project, an LGBT advocacy group focused on offering hope and community to LGBT people on the margins, Borges, 19, recalls being physically assaulted in a full high school classroom while his teacher stood by and watched.
The distressed teen had nowhere to turn at home either. His Christian parents decided to perform a ritual exorcism on him with the hope of “curing” him of his orientation. When that failed, they kicked him out of the house.
Though Borges went on to advocate for LGBT rights through the “It Gets Better” Project and his work with The Trevor Project (a group committed to preventing suicide among LGBT teens), the demons of his past still lingered. Despite finding a community that affirmed and embraced who he was, the damage had already been done.
He killed himself on Jan 11.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said about the war in Vietnam, “Some are guilty, all are responsible.” It is a good reminder of our responsibilities now that the war in Iraq has officially been declared ended.
First, we as a society are responsible for the necessary care for our returned veterans. A total of 1.5 million American men and women served in the armed forces in Iraq. Nearly 35,000 suffered physical injuries, as many as 360,000 may have brain injuries, and as many as 25 percent have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Suicides and divorces are rising, homelessness and unemployment are high.
Having sent them to war, our society now needs to assume the responsibility for providing what they and their families need. As Abraham Lincoln reminded the country in his second inaugural speech, as the Civil War was ending in March 1865, one of the unfinished tasks was “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan …”
We must advocate for and ensure that in the budget and deficit cutting battles to come, the necessary funding for veterans care and benefits are maintained. It’s a moral obligation.
This is so horrendous it's almost too awful to type.
Early this morning at a welfare office in Laredo, Texas, a mother, desperate after months of being denied food stamps for her family, pulled a gun and shot her two young children, before killing herself.
Today’s veterans are suffering through the current recession. They have a higher unemployment rate are are more likely to be or become homeless than the rest of the U.S. population.
Thankfully, the Senate yesterday unanimously passed jobs for veterans legislation that should begin to help.
But other problems remain. As many as 25 percent have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicides are rising. Forty-six-thousdand have suffered devastating physical injuries, and as many as 360,000 may have brain injuries.
With this set of problems, the Veterans Administration doesn’t have the necessary resources to meet the profound need.
Christians are called to be peacemakers and healers. Disagreement on policy does not excuse us from a responsibility to help those who come home broken and in need of help.
You might call yourself a pacifist, a just-war theorist, a pragmatist, a dove or a hawk but today (and every day), you should be a good neighbor to a veteran.