by Justin Hancock
Hello friends. As I write to you today, I am struggling to come to grips with the suicide of a prominent pastor and advocate for mental health, who took their life not 48 hours ago. Because I did not know this person well, I will not go into specifics. I will only say that this death hit me particularly hard, because this individual was an outspoken advocate for mental health and not shy about sharing their journey on their long and difficult road.
As I reflect today, there are two specific things that come to mind. First and foremost, is the ways in which the recent gun control debate, in the wake of the most recent mass shooting,s has used and played on the fears and misconceptions of mental illness to turn a group of people who are struggling with a medical condition into a nameless, faceless scapegoat for violence and fear. Although I will not dispute there are definite needs for “red flag” laws and other measures that keep guns out of the hands of those who might be mentally ill and have violent tendencies, to place the whole weight of the gun debate on the shoulders of those who are suffering from mental illness is not only wrong-headed, it is amoral. In my work with the disabled and those dealing with housing insecurity, I have the privilege of interacting with some lovely people who struggle with a variety of mental illness; everything from schizophrenia to depression. The vast majority of these folks are not violent, and are just people who are trying to make their own way in the world.
As Christians and people of faith, we should be working to straighten out the mental health and Medicaid systems so that medications and help can truly reach those who need it. This is the mental health issue that is most prevalent in this country. It has got nothing to do with guns, but the months and years of red tape that can stand between those who need treatment and the solutions they need. This is the thing we should be calling our congressmen about, instead of scapegoating the mentally ill.
The other aspect that rises to the surface for me today, is the prevalence of mental illness among our clergy. A survey done in 2017 showed that mental illness was double the national average. As people of faith, I call on you to slow down, open yourself up, and pay attention to the expectations and demands that we place on our religious leaders in today’s turbulent times. Reach out this Sunday, or whenever you go to worship next, and ask your clergyperson how they are doing. Above all, remember that just because someone is an advocate, does not mean they are not on their own journey. Often we have to silence ourselves, to be able to notice somebody else’s silent struggle. I would close by asking us to pray that we notice mental illness, not as something that marks someone as different or violent, but as an opportunity to help someone live their best life by journeying with them in compassion, gentleness, and grace. Thank y’all.