This week there was shocking news from the entertainment world as comedian Robin Williams committed suicide. Now I’m not here to talk about whether or not Williams was a Christian – from all accounts, he probably was not. But the point that struck me was this. Here is a man who made a career from being funny. It might lead us then to think – How in the world would he get to the point of suicide? The answer unfortunately is this – he struggled both with severe depression and addiction.
When I heard the news, I immediately thought of a Steve Green song that I have sung for years – “People Need the Lord.” Here are a few lines from the song:
Every day they pass me by. I can see it in their eyes. Empty people filled with care, headed who knows where. On they go through private pain, living fear to fear. Laughter hides their silent cries. Only Jesus hears.
We truly never know what people are going through on the inside. One of the textbooks I studied when getting my counseling degree gives these statistics – According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 19 million people in America will suffer from depression in any given year. But the number one mental health problem in America today is no longer depression, but anxiety disorders, with chemical addiction ranking third.
Mental illness and addiction are clinical problems which need professional, clinical treatment. So, what can we laypeople do? First, we can understand that there are those around us who fight battles that we may never see. Unfortunately there is a stigma associated with these illnesses – a stigma that forces most of those who suffer this way to suffer in silence. We can pray that the Lord will open our eyes to those who “go through private pain, living fear to fear.” We can be ready to stop, take time and listen – really listen, when someone needs to talk. No, I don’t expect to have all the answers. No, I don’t expect us to be qualified professionally to treat their illnesses. But what we can do – indeed, what me must do – is show the love, compassion, support, understanding and protection that they need.
Many of you know my mother’s story. She struggled for many years with alcoholism. Her addiction was her way of treating those times in her life when she battled depression. But what you may not know is that she even tried at one point to take her own life. After years of battling her addiction, fortunately she was able one day to stop drinking. And though she never would take any prescribed medication for her depression (mainly because she did not want to become dependent/addicted to those drugs), she was able to live the last 18 years of her life sober.
Depression, anxiety disorders and chemical addiction are real. They are real clinical illnesses with physiological causes that manifest themselves in different ways in different people. They require professional treatment – again to varying degrees. They affect non-Christians and Christians alike. And they are not brought on by some sort of spiritual deformity and are not cured by the person trying harder, or believing more steadfastly.
So what can we do? We can all be the hands & feet of Christ. We can all demonstrate His love. We can all be helpers. We can all be listeners. We can all be there for those who fall into dark places. We can all share the love, hope, security and compassion of Christ. And we all must, because one suicide is one too many.