Matthew Warren, son of Saddleback Valley Community Church Pastor Rick Warren, committed suicide, the Southern California church announced Saturday, April 6, 2013. (Courtesy Saddleback Valley Community Church and ABC News)
I’m sure you’ve all heard the very sad news that Pastor Rick Warren’s son committed suicide Friday night. I was so very sad when I read the news, because I suffer from depression and I understand how hard it is to stay afloat sometimes. Many people aren’t able to and it breaks my heart. Treatment doesn’t always work and finding a treatment that does work takes years, usually progress is slow, if at all. For example, I’ve been on medication for my depression for a few years, maybe four? Until a year ago, I hadn’t felt significant relief. I do now, but it’s been a roller coaster of emotions and managing side effects and symptoms.
If there’s one thing that’s challenging about depression, it’s the fact that as a depressed person you’ll be largely misunderstood by people who love you, by strangers, by bosses, and by friends. This, coupled by the feelings of overwhelming loneliness make for a very hard life.
Rick Warren’s mentions the persistent pain of his son Matthew in an email:
“I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said ‘Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?'”
The church released a statement of its own yesterday saying, “Despite the best healthcare available, this was an illness that was never fully controlled and the emotional pain resulted in his decision to take his life.”
What’s important to talk about with Matthew’s story is this: Rick Warren and his family sought the best healthcare they could for their son and he didn’t find relief. It’s easy for families to blame themselves when a person kills themselves, but sometimes even the best treatment won’t work. The Warren’s aren’t to blame–if anything they are an example of a family who did everything they could, judging from their statements. It’s exhausting being on-call for suicide watch and as much as families help those they love, it’s ultimately out of their hands how the situation is going to play out.
In many Evangelical circles, suicidal people are labeled “attention seekers” and blamed for their depression, or worse yet, dismissed. This is plain ignorance. I have yet to meet a suicidal person who just talked about it for attention. If someone is talking about suicide, or having suicidal thoughts the best thing you can do for them is talk them out of it and (thanks to my friend David for this line) tell them not to make any decision like that until they’ve waited 24 hours. Usually the feelings of depression can subside in 24 hours, and even though they will return, it’s a good exercise in learning: for family/friends and the person suffering. For many years I’ve “held on” a few more hours and realized my emotions changed and I was feeling better. Not that I ever switched to euphoria and happiness, but the point is if you are depressed you need to understand how your mind and body works. You will feel some relief and you need to start charting those patterns on a calendar or mentally and understand that your moods swing, so where there’s a very low low, there will be movement toward relief. Just give it time. Know your patterns and ride them out. If you need to sleep through the dark times, go to bed. If it helps to talk to someone, find the one person in the world who will listen at any hour of the night and talk to you about your feelings or your sadness (again, David is often that person for me).
Sure, people won’t understand. In fact, people will be downright cruel. You don’t have to tell everyone, but tell the people who care the most, who are sincere and kind hearted. Tell the people who know how you feel, who’ve experienced it as well. And maybe you should tell your parents. For years I didn’t and then I realized they cared a lot and wanted to do everything within their power to help me. Some of my friends haven’t told their parents because their parents don’t really understand stuff like that, but in some cases, telling their parents was the best thing they could’ve done.
My friend and I were recently outside feeding her horse. She was talking about her mom growing old and developing dementia. “It helps to have something to take care of.” She said. Her mom had been driving the kids home from work and this was keeping her mom alive, she felt. It’s true. My job and my pets help me. Whether it’s knowing I’m needed and appreciated for the work I do, or knowing that no one is going to take care of my cats like I do, it helps me try to fight it out.
I’m not sure if there is a cure for depression, but I do know from experience it can be managed. Yes, there are side effects to medication and yes, you may feel your emotions numbed and sometimes your creativity might subside. Medications can often increase anxiety or make you hyperactive. Even with treatment, your life won’t look like other people’s lives and they won’t understand why. In fact, things like dating are particularly hard for people like me. People don’t understand why we’re sad all the time and worse, they think we choose to be sad on purpose. They don’t want to hear about it or talk about it and they think we’re just stubborn and having a pity party. None of that is true, although embracing sadness rather than fighting it can be empowering.
It’s not easy to talk about my experiences and sometimes I wonder if it aggravates my symptoms. Because of that, I’m going to leave this post comment free. If you need to talk, please reach out to someone in your circle of friends or family. If you need help, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to reach out to your friends/family, a professional therapist, or your doctor. There are other options, too, if you’re feeling really down: have someone take you to the emergency room or call the suicide hotline: In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). There is nothing wrong with you and it’s more common than you think. In fact, some of your friends or family may deal with the very same thing.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (US): 1-800-273-8255
International Suicide Hotlines: http://www.suicidehotlines.com/international.html
Suicide Hotlines http://www.suicidehotlines.com/
Why Call? Can it possibly help? http://suicide.com/suicidecrisiscenter/whycall.html
CDC Depression Stats: http://www.cdc.gov/features/dsdepression/
NAMI Major Depression Fact Sheet: http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Depression&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=88956
Depression: Ask the Doctor (NAMI) http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Depression&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=89093
From “Ask the Doctor” (link above):
I am worried about suicide for my depressed relative. What should I do?
Suicide is a central risk in depression. “Safety first” is a good rule of thumb. Be sure to talk with your relative if you have this concern and strongly encourage him or her to get an evaluation as soon as possible. Untreated depression can lead to suicide. Fortunately, most people with depression respond to treatment.