Pastor Jarrid Wilson’s death by suicide has reignited a conversation within the church about mental health.
What does a struggle with mental health look like in the context of the Gospel? How can congregants better support their leaders who battle depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts?
In light of Wilson’s death and the seventh anniversary of his own suicide attempt, Steve Austin — who is a former pastor himself — recently wrote an opinion piece for USA Today where he argues churches should look more like psych wards and that simply saying “I’m praying for you” isn’t enough.
In 2012, Austin was out of town for work when paramedics entered his hotel room and found him unconscious on the floor covered in vomit and blood. He had tried to die by suicide by taking a lethal concoction of various pills.
He was a pastor at the time, but his struggles with mental health continued to persist.
On the seventh anniversary of the attempt, Sept. 21, 2019, Austin shared a list of seven things that nearly killed him: mental illness, a lack of boundaries, toxic (or performance-based) theology, fear, shame, a low view of self and the sin of comparison.
“The only way I healed was by integrating my mental, spiritual and emotional health,” he wrote on a Twitter thread.
7 years ago today, I lost all hope & tried to end my life in a hotel room 2 hours from home. I thought the least I could was die far enough from home that my wife wouldn’t find my body.
In the past 7 years of recovery from a suicide attempt, I’ve learned a thing or two.
— Steve Austin ? (@iAmSteveAustin) September 20, 2019
One day after he shared his list of things that nearly killed him, Austin shared a similar yet more hopeful list: seven things that keep him living.
This weekend marks 7 years since I nearly died by suicide. Here are 7 things that keep me living.
A THREAD about #SuicidePrevention
— Steve Austin ? (@iAmSteveAustin) September 21, 2019
This list included his family, therapy with a mental health professional, sunsets and his faith.
“I’m not sure what you’re going through,” he encouraged his Twitter followers. “But I can tell you that I’ve lived through an unthinkable darkness, and I’m so glad I got another chance.”
Austin has since sought professional help and is helping others navigate through their own struggles with his life coaching business and book called “Catching Your Breath.”
Friends in the USA – I have 5 FREE @audible_com download codes for my latest book, “Catching Your Breath: The Sacred Journey from Chaos to Calm.” If you’d like a free copy of the audiobook, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send it your way!#catchingyourbreath pic.twitter.com/BAgXDfTyRS
— Steve Austin ? (@iAmSteveAustin) September 18, 2019
In his recent Op-Ed, Austin explained his theory on how the church can better come alongside those who struggle with their mental health, arguing that churches need to look more like psych wards.
“In group therapy, you sit in a circle, everyone looking at and supporting each other,” he wrote. “At church, the congregation (or audience?) faces just one person. That’s a performance, not a community.
“My life was transformed by living in community with unstable people at the lowest point of their lives. We came together, finding support in a safe place, all with the goal of getting better.”
Saying “I’ll be praying for you” isn’t enough, he said.
Austin suggested that churches seriously consider talking about mental health transparently and more often through messages from the pulpit, intentional conversations in Sunday School and even offering support groups for those that need it.
“By including mental health struggles in regular conversation, we can fight the stigma that persists in many churches,” the former pastor wrote. “This keeps us from telling a lie when the church sign says, ‘Come as you are.'”
He also suggested that churches consult professional help when necessary, acknowledging that pastors can still support their congregants through mental health battles through prayer after calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
“Much like the psych ward, Christians with mental illness are looking for a spiritual community that welcomes their dysfunction, disappointment and exhaustion,” he wrote.
“In the same way Jesus welcomed people to come without pretense, it’s time for the church to provide a sacred place to lay down our burdens and rest.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741.
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