Any time of the day, any day of the week, anywhere in the world we hear the same thing … the state of mental health is suffering and declining. Recently the Associated Press reported that suicide has reached an all-time high in the US. About 49,500 people died by suicide last year in the US alone, the highest number ever. For you mathematicians, that comes to 135 per day.
The CDC lists anxiety and depression as huge factors with respect to suicide; teens and their parents are especially at risk. Serious illness, criminal/legal problems, financial problems or loss, impulsivity, substance abuse, adverse childhood experiences, violence and victimization, and a sense of hopelessness are factors cited. What caught my eye in the CDC report was a “sense of hopelessness” as a cause for suicide. Without hope, people have no reason to get up, suit up and show up. Without hope, there’s no reason to keep on keeping on.
David H. Rosmarin, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and the founder of the Center for Anxiety, published an article where he provides evidence that faith is enormously significant in helping to save lives. In short: religious faith helps people counter hopelessness, the best-known predictor of suicide. It also helps create a buffer against impulsivity, another key suicide predictor. And it helps us reframe depression and other problems as being potentially constructive in our lives.
Where his article falls short in describing the difference between a religion about God and a personal relationship with Him. Religion is man’s attempt to find God — rules and actions we must take in this pursuit in our own power then produce shame and guilt when we inevitably fail. However, a relationship with God in Christ rests on grace—God’s unmerited love for us demonstrated in his Son’s atoning death for our sins—and produces hope and community. Distinguishing between the two is vital with regard to suicide, mental health, and human flourishing.
By contrast, a personal relationship with God built on his grace and love for us can empower us when we face suicide risk factors. We can turn our depression and anxiety over to him, choosing to value ourselves as he values us. We can ask for his help and that of our faith family when we face life’s struggles and the loneliness they can produce.
I am not saying that those facing suicide/mental health risk factors should not seek the help of mental health professionals. These professionals are often a significant way God helps us find the hope and healing we need when experiencing the disease of depression and other challenges. What I am saying is that an intimate relationship with our loving Father, as opposed to a legalistic religion about him, is vital for human flourishing.
This is by design. Our Creator made us in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:27) for the express purpose of loving him and each other (Matthew 22:37–39). When life feels hopeless, we can make this declaration: “‘The Lᴏʀᴅ is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:24).
So what does this world need? Hal Lindsey said, “Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air…but only for one second without hope.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (dial 988) or go to their website: 988lifeline.org. Help is available!
Debby Efurd is co-founder of Cary John Efurd Ministries. Learn more about the ministry by liking our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/CJEMinistries) and downloading our FREE mobile app (get.theapp.co) from App Store or Google Play. Once downloaded, allow notifications to keep you up to date on what’s happening in Cary John Efurd Ministries. Debby can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to comment at debbyefurd.com.