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What Does Pastor Jarrid Wilson’s Death Tell Us About Mental Health and Faith

Jarrid Wilson is a pastor, as well as co-founder of an organisation that sought to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. News broke out this week that he had passed away by suicide. He was 30 years of age, leaving behind his wife and their two sons. But what could his passing away signify to the relationship between the struggle of mental health and faith?

Image Courtesy of Facebook
Image Courtesy of Facebook

Pastor. Mental Health Advocate. Father. Husband. Friend.

Co-Founder of Anthem of Hope: a faith-centered organisation dedicated to amplifying hope for those battling brokenness, depression, anxiety, self-harm, addiction and suicide.

Jarrid Wilson, was all these, and more.

He also frequently spoke on mental health, sharing candidly about his own struggles with depression. On his Instagram page, he wrote in August: “Admitting you struggle with mental health doesn’t make you a bad Christian.” He added, “I’m a Christian who also struggles with depression. This exists, and it’s ok to admit it.

There is a misconception that people of faith should not be susceptible to struggle:

“You have God, right? Doesn’t your God solve and know everything?”

“I don’t understand. You have such a mighty and all-powerful God, but why are you suffering like this?”

“If you prayed harder (read the Bible more, have a deeper walk with the Lord), you wouldn’t be having struggles like these.”

Here’s the truth: We can believe in a great all-powerful mighty God, but it does not mean that we are completely invincible in the face of the human condition.

We will suffer, we are not perfect, we will want to seek for support and help – despite our faith in God.

Growing up, there was a story my mother used to tell me. A man was stranded at the top of a tall-storey building. People were being evacuated left right and centre, as they needed to leave the town which no longer had any sustainability. Several helicopters were sent the man’s way to pick him up. However, at each offer, the man refused, saying, “Don’t worry. My God will save me“. Eventually, he passed away from starvation. When the man met God in Heaven, he asked why wasn’t he saved. God chuckled and said, “I sent people to help you, but you refused.”

This story reminded me that help from God (or a higher being) is able to manifest in many ways. It also reminded me that there is more to being a person of faith than just sole dependence on God.

Having faith in God’s ability to heal is hugely important, and personal faith can help ease depression. But to deny medical or psychiatric treatment to someone suffering from mental illness is really no different than denying them to someone with a physical illness.

The misconception that people of faith should not be facing struggles with their mental health still exists. “Sometimes people may think that as pastors or spiritual leaders we are somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people. We are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. But we do not,” Harvest Christian Fellowship’s senior pastor Greg Laurie wrote in a blog post.

As a result, many spiritual leaders and people of the faith ignore their own need for self-care. Jared Pingleton, director of mental health care and ministry for the American Association of Christian Counselors, commented how many pastors carry the burdens of those in their churches: “I think many times, pastors feel guilty to take care of their own needs. It’s an occupational hazard.”

If this is truly the case, why is mental health still seen as such a taboo topic by most of the church?

The reality is, a person of faith can struggle with their mental health. Additionally, just because someone advocates for mental health, it does not mean that they are granted immunity from ever struggling themselves. More often than not, we have been taught to stay on the positive side of things, rather than acknowledging the negative.

Yes, we have been told that ever more so in our darkest of times, we should turn to God. However, there is a second part to this. Living together on this earth, we are not meant to go through this life all alone. As we are discovering more about ourselves, we are allowed to cheer each other on, seek for support, or offer support to others during our individual journeys.

Someone struggling with their mental health does not mean that they have a weak relationship with God, nor does it mean that their faith is not as strong as it should be. In a 2017 podcast interview with ChurchLeaders.com, Jarrid cited the Bible’s Book of Job, saying, “Some of God’s brightest saints dealt with the darkest of depression. What we have to understand is that just because you’re dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts does not mean you’re any less of a believer or a Christian than anybody else.

Do not shun those who are hurting. Show love. Hear them out. Help them. Support them.

Struggling with your mental health is real, as much as it is valid. It is not a sin in and of itself. It is in how you choose to respond to it, that determines so.

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