Pastor and author Jarrid Wilson was a strong advocate for mental health, but his life ended tragically by suicide earlier this month.
I am disappointed and angry – and my heart hurts.
Before I go any further, I want you to know that my intentions are pure and that my heart goes out to his family and anybody that knew him. The point of this post is to give hope and support - and perhaps a little education. I’m sorry if my thoughts offend you. I welcome your opinion. I’m not saying I’m right and perhaps I can learn something from you.
If you are advocating for mental health and struggle with mental illness, you must be doing the work yourself. Look at Chester Pennington of Linkin Park. He had a fan base in the millions and a built-in platform for advocacy. He was open and honest about his struggles and personal demons, and yet he ended his life. There was a void in his life – and he left this world with his work unfinished.
Like Jarrid Wilson, Pennington cared about those in his audience who were struggling – and told countless people that things were going to be OK – to breathe – to take things one day at a time. But now he’s gone. Sadly, so is Wilson.
It’s great to provide hope for others – and it’s OK not to be OK – but it’s not OK if you don’t do something about it.
Wilson was also the founder of a suicide outreach group and presided at the funeral of another suicide victim on the very day he took his own life.
THE CHURCH AND MENTAL HEALTH
I just read that churches are now faced with addressing mental health after this pastor’s suicide – and I know that in addition to the stigma attached to mental illness and suicide outside of the church – there is also the complicated theological matter surrounding the concept of sin and suicide. This needs to change.
I have two issues here that hurt my heart. Number one is our churches. Number two is our pastors or those that lead the congregation. My argument isn’t with God or the Bible.
Mental health is something we should have been addressing all along. In short, maybe our churches have been part of the problem. Let’s be part of the solution. We need you and we need truth. God knows the truth.
Being in a position of leadership in a church carries with it more responsibility than I can imagine. To me, pastors are the closest people to God’s presence in the here-and now. Besides praying, when I have something on my heart, I think of my therapist and my pastor – but is my pastor a mental health professional? Is my pastor trained to counsel me when it comes to my mental health, or is the advice coming only from his perspective on faith or the Bible?
Trusting God is one thing. We live in an imperfect world, and some of us turn to God for hope – but if we had cancer or another physical illness, we would seek help from a physician right away. This should be the same if we are struggling with mental illness. How about praying to guide the professionals in our path to treat us in the best and most effective manner possible?
If you are living with mental illness, trust God while seeking out a mental health professional. Doesn’t that make sense?
Being a pastor can be a lonely job with a great deal of pressure, and these factors could contribute to anxiety, depression, addiction and as we have seen – suicide.
I wish Jarrid Wilson could have taken a time-out. He shared his struggles and worked hard for others. If only he could have opened up to his wife or his senior pastor and said, “I’m really hurting. Stay with me…”
I wish there were people he could have trusted in, where he could have put aside the mantle of mental health advocacy and just opened his heart to a confidant. Perhaps that person could have told him to take a few days off.
We should all know that those who lead our churches are flawed human beings, just like the rest of us. I believe many pastors hide behind a mask – and this mask prevents the flow of real authenticity. Don’t pretend to be all mighty. In fact, I’d prefer to know about your shortcomings. I’d prefer to know that my pastor is a real person who has struggled or failed – and relies on God for guidance and grace every day.
Also, isn’t the church about honesty? We need to be more open and honest and that will protect and inspire your congregation.
The way of God is direction.
MIXED SIGNALS VERSUS THE TRUTH
Lately, we’ve had influential pastors who are mental health advocates who have chosen to end their own lives. That hurts.
As a mental health and youth motivational speaker, I see and feel our influence almost daily. I take great responsibility for our words, our presence – our truth in how we live and the message we impart. We develop a following with our words, our beliefs and how we live our lives. We must be aware of our influence and impact. If you do something that goes against the message you preach from the stage or the pulpit, you are sending out mixed signals at best. The worst-case scenario is that you have invalidated your original message.
Case in point: You can’t preach mental health advocacy while condemning suicide as a sin (which I think is a strongly inaccurate and uneducated stance, but that’s another conversation) – that it’s OK not to be OK, to encourage others to ask for help, have hope and don’t give up – and then going against everything and making the forever decision to end your life.
In this most recent case, this pastor was a well-known speaker and author, mental health advocate, a husband and the father of young children. I didn’t know him or his message, but I can’t help but be angry in my heart. Like Chester Pennington, he had a large following and was truthful.
This is beyond my understanding, and obviously this is all just my opinion – but as my therapist says, I am a high-functioning man who lives with mental illness. I am diagnosed with major depression, bipolar II disorder and PTSD. I do not just talk about this to provide a sense of hope. I do the work. I’m honest and upfront. I don’t hide it. I don’t deny it. I’m in counseling. I take my medication every day.
If I’m not well for whatever reason, I would immediately ask for help and be truthful – and I know not to make decisions based on emotions.
My point is that we need to be more congruent with the message we present and who we really are in the eyes of those we inspire. We have a huge responsibility to these people. If we are struggling, we should be honest enough to take a time-out without the feeling that we are failing the people we are serving.
You might be surprised to know that you will have the support you need – and that by taking a breather, your message will resonate deeper with your following.
We need to not be ashamed. Shame only serves to strengthen the stigma attached to mental illness. Let’s keep the conversation going, wherever you find your platform. This is for everybody.
We can make a difference.
Jeff Yalden is a speaker and Amazon bestselling author focusing on mental health, motivation and suicide prevention. Find out more about Jeff and The Jeff Yalden Foundation HERE.
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This content is based on an upcoming episode of Jeff’s podcast, Mental Health and Motivation: The Unlikely Life Coach. Listen and subscribe HERE.