I had never heard of Jarrid Wilson before last week, but he seems like a guy I would have liked to have known. A devoted father of two young boys and committed husband, Wilson was described by friends as vibrant, caring, funny and sensitive.
Sadly, Wilson died by suicide on Sept. 9. Suicide is always shocking. It affects us in a way that other deaths do not. It leaves us with so many unanswered questions. There is an added layer of tragedy as those left behind struggle to come to terms with the fact that the person they loved was so depressed, so miserable, they could no longer stand the pain of living.
What makes Wilson’s death even more shocking is that he belonged to a group of individuals that many people feel should be immune to such a thing—pastors. Wilson was the passionate, well-known associate pastor at megachurch Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif.
A co-founder of the mental health nonprofit Anthem of Hope, Wilson was open about his own depression. He often posted on his social media accounts about his battles with mental illness.
Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, said the following in a statement released after Wilson’s death: “Sometimes people may think that as pastors or spiritual leaders we are somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people. We are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. But we do not.”
“At the end of the day, pastors are just people who need to reach out to God for his help and strength, each and every day,” he added.
Wilson shared a series of tweets throughout the day leading up to his suicide, including a post that encouraged Christians to remember that even though loving Jesus doesn’t cure illnesses such as depression, PTSD or anxiety, Jesus does offer companionship and comfort.
“Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that.”
In the days following Wilson’s death, many well-known Christian leaders shared words of comfort and encouragement. But a debate about the nature of suicide as it relates to salvation and heaven and hell also erupted. And while I think those are important issues to discuss, they are not the most important. Instead of theological debates, we should be joining together to help those who are fighting the same battle that Wilson lost so that their story will have a different ending.
In 2018, after the back-to-back suicides of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade, I shared the following frightening statistics and my thoughts on the changes the church needs to make to address this growing crisis. I share them again as a call to action. Let us not lose one more precious soul to the darkness of depression.
Christians and the church at large need to do a better job of handling the issues of depression and suicide. In 2015, more than 44,000 Americans died by suicide—one death every 12 minutes according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
The overall suicide rate has grown by nearly 30 percent over the past 15 years. For the first time, more Americans are dying from suicide than car accidents. The rate of suicide in the church mirrors that of secular culture.
On a personal level, we need to let people know that it is OK to not be OK. Too often there is the expectation that being a Christian means that all of our problems will go away. We fear people will think that our faith is weak if we share our struggles with depression or mental illness.
Pastor Rick Warren, who lost his son to suicide after of years of battling mental illness, puts it this way: “There is no shame in diabetes, there is no shame in high blood pressure, but why is it that if our brains stop working, there is supposed to be shame in that?”
One in three people sitting in our pews is battling mental illness. We can help them by talking about their struggles from the pulpit, providing mental health resources and support groups, and by creating a culture of honesty about our own struggles with mental health.
Increasing suicide rates and mental health trends heading in the wrong direction in almost every demographic point to a bleak and dark future for our society.
In order to stem the tide, we must let people know that they are not alone and that they are loved with an everlasting love. In the church, we need to pray for people, yes, but we must also partner with counselors and psychologists to provide help to the hurting.
If you or a loved one is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800/273-8255.