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Scouring the Suicide Stigma Within the Church

Jarrid Wilson, a pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, died by suicide on Sept. 9. He was prominent within the Christian community because of his dedication to purging the shame about mental disorders within churches, co-founding with his wife a faith-centered organization called “Anthem of Hope” with the mission of “amplifying hope for those battling brokenness, depression, anxiety, self-harm, addiction, and suicide.”

Wilson was very outspoken about his own battle with depression on his personal social media accounts and throughout his ministry as well. 

Wilson, however, is not the sole spiritual leader who has fallen from this disease. Andrew Stoecklein and Bill Lenz, pastors who also suffered depression and anxiety, both died by suicide within the past two years. 

In an interview with Dawnchere Wilkerson, lead pastor of VOUS church, Stoecklein’s widow described her husband’s death as “not Andrew’s fault. He did not want to die. He had so much to live for and I truly believe to my core that the suicide was not a choice… and it was not selfish. It was ultimately the illness that took his life and I will stand by that until I get to see him again.” 

Mark Mann, a professor of theology at PLNU, said that “the Christian community has

been a hindrance to true healing insofar that it has spiritualized mental illness and therefore

has stigmatized people who struggle with mental illness. Because of this, the church has

advocated for only spiritual answers, such as prayer. I would call this a significant problem

because we are not simply spiritual beings, but we are multifaceted – spiritual, mental, and physical beings – and mental illness includes all three of these dimensions.”

Professor Mann said that he suffered an accident three years ago that caused significant brain damage, and he still lives with the ramifications to this day. He attributes his swift recovery to the support from the community within his church where people provided meals, prayed and reached out during this time of heavy burden on his family. Thus, he said he feels strongly that the church, upon the removal of all disgrace, has the greatest possibility to be a center of healing for people with mental illness.

Jarrid Wilson sent a tweet the day he died saying, “Loving Jesus does not 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.”
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

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Will Davis

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