Many religions have a history of considering suicide a sin, and as such, houses of worship often overlook and even stigmatize mental illness. Some churches view psychological suffering as a test of faith, offering platitudes such as “God never gives us more than we can handle,” while others sometimes remain silent on issues such as suicide. Yet for people with mental health problems, more than medicine, more than therapists, it is their faith that brings solace and hope for troubled times. And today, leaders from a variety of faith backgrounds are committing to mental health support programs and suicide prevention, according to NPR.
Further, several recent and forthcoming books are exploring the comfort faith can–and should–provide for those suffering from mental illness and suicidal thoughts.
Rachael A. Keefe, author of The Lifesaving Church: Faith Communities and Suicide Prevention (Chalice, May, 2018), says, “There’s so much silence around suicide in the church that it is quite literally killing us.” A pastor and suicide survivor, Keefe breaks the silence of the Church on the topics of mental health, depression, and suicide prevention. The book includes resources about how to educate congregations about suicide prevention, a “What Your Congregation Can Do Now” section, clinical and theological reflections on suicide, and specific resources, scriptures, and prayers for clergy and church leaders, suicide loss survivors, and those struggling with suicidality.
A Catholic priest with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the author of The Holy Longing and the award-winning weekly column “In Exile” that appears in more than 70 newspapers, Ronald Rolheiser is also the author of Bruised and Wounded: Struggling to Understand Suicide which comes out in December from Paraclete. Rolheiser seeks to erase the stigma surrounding suicide for those left grieving. Specific chapters include: Removing the Taboo, Despair as Weakness Rather than Sin, Reclaiming the Memory of Our Loved One, and The Pains of Ones Left Behind.
Church Publishing has two titles that deal with mental health issues surrounding suicide. Christ on the Psych Ward (Sept., 2016), Georgetown University’s chaplain-in-residence David Finnegan-Hosey recounts his own experience when he admitted himself into a hospital during a mental health crisis. With his personal testimony, he weaves theological reflection and practical ministry experience to offer hope for those living with mental illness and for friends and faith communities committed to caring for them.
David Peters, who was a wartime chaplain in Iraq, tackles issues facing those who are unable to escape the hell of war upon their return, trauma that he experienced himself. In Post-Traumatic God (2016), he tells the story of how he put his life and faith back together and how we can help others. He believes that the first Christians were traumatized by Jesus’s crucifixion; thus he sees the New Testament as a post-traumatic book written by a post-traumatic people. He also refers to the great twentieth-century theologian Paul Tillich who was traumatized during World War I and subsequently developed new ways of understanding God that helped Peters recover his sense of the sacred.
In November, Beacon Press will publish The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother's Suicide by Gayle Brandeis. The memoir details the author’s mysterious family history of mental and physical illness as well as the grief, confusion, and a search for grace that resulted from her mother’s suicide. “Joan Didion says we look for the sermon in the suicide,” Brandeis writes in the book. “I’m not sure I’m looking for a sermon. I’m just looking for you. I am aching to understand you now, to figure out your story, the path that led to your unraveling.”