According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
With the recent suicides of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, combined with the fact suicides have risen sharply over the last 20 years, suicide leaves an indelible mark on many who don’t know what to do about family and friends who have mental illness.
Jennifer Webster and Jared Pickrell of River Pointe Church are doing what they can to change all that.
Webster, a professional counselor and instructor of an upcoming mental health class at River Point Church in Richmond, said knowing the signs of mental illness, and helping loved ones struggling with depression is the first step.
Webster works with many cases centering on depression and anxiety. Depression, she said, is a red flag for suicide.
“And given the recent deaths of two well known Americans who seemed to have it all, and knowing suicide touches every family, every person, we wanted to be aggressive in talking about it and offering hope because one of the main things we’ve seen in light of these last two suicides, it’s not a matter of success or money or talent; it’s people who have just lost all hope that things will get better. Statistics have gone up in every age category. So we have to get in there and offer people hope.”
Why such high rates, when it seems sometimes people have everything they want?
“I think sometimes it’s just the deepest part of us is longing for things success can’t touch. We all want to be loved and known. But 58 likes on a Facebook post is never going to achieve that. Unfortunately the younger generation has grown up with that being the only way to feel validated.”
Social media is not only to blame, addiction goes hand-in-hand with suicide as well, Webster said.
“The three main reasons for suicide – and they are all lies – are ‘this is never going to get better,’ that ‘no one really cares,’ and that ‘(suicide) will make the pain go away,’” she said.
Webster believes change is possible.
“You have to go to the core message they are telling themselves in their head. Convince them you do have worth, have value and are loved for just exactly the person you are,” she said.
How does she address that?
“We are a church and we tell people they are designed by a creator who know us and loves us and accepts us as we are. I think it’s the core belief: I am loved and I am worthy. If you have those two beliefs, people can dramatically reduce the risks of suicide,” she said.
For Webster, while some days are more challenging than others, she sees hope when people make an appointment to talk with her.
“The human experience is none of us get through this world without hurt and pain; it’s how we react to it, so the fact we have people in our office seeking help is incredibly hopeful to me. Because they are saying ‘I want things to be different. I want change. I don’t want to feel this way,’” Webster said.
The important thing, she said, is to connect with others.
“And we have to get past social media. That is not connecting. When you really connect with others, there are four important questions to ask people: How are you really doing, what are you excited about this week, what are you worried about this week, and how can I pray or help you this week? We can get past this superficiality we’ve bought into with social media,” she said.
A heart of gratitude helps, too, said Webster.
“Have kids write 10 things a day they’re grateful for. Then you start changing your mindset, and realize there are basic things to be grateful for,” she said.
Jared Pickrell, a student pastor at River Pointe Church for over 10 years, agrees. He also talks about the importance of parents engaging with their children, to better understand mental illness, the circumstances and the environment surrounding it.
“Students are looking at these well-known people committing suicide. They are looking at school shootings. The topic of suicide is a big deal with them. It affects them,” he said.
In his role at River Pointe Church, he focuses in on middle school and high schoolers.
“There is so much middle schoolers have to navigate through today, and parenting is hard, too. In terms of news, kids get that from social media. Some parents think, well, my kid doesn’t have a phone, so we don’t have to worry; but what they need to understand is, their kids’ friends have phones, and they do have access to social media.”
How do parents make things better?
“Have a conversation with your children. Not a coming-of-age conversation. It can’t be only about sex. More than that – a talk with your kids about how they are engaged with the culture today. There’s the thought ‘oh, not my kid.’ Start the conversation about what your child is engaging with. They are consuming so much information,” Pickrell said.
What is his advice for helping prevent suicide in communities?
“It takes a village. Really, surround your child with good communities. At River Pointe, and I’m sure every church in the area does as well, we work to offer these small and large groups who meet and talk … measure what matters. Not the likes on Facebook or touchdowns. The focus is about quantity and not quality. Real relationships are what help you. It’s why a good community is so important. It’s easier to manage things with the right attitude,” he said.
On July 17 at 7 p.m. at their Richmond campus, River Pointe Church will host ‘Mental Health in Families: Confronting depression, suicide, and mental health issues.
It’s a session Pickrell feels is important for people of all ages, including parents, to attend.
“So many parents are isolated, and feel they are alone parenting. With the pressure of parenting, sometimes parents don’t reach out. We have care and support groups, recovery groups. We want to help relationships as much as we can,” he said.
Pickrell said it’s a privilege to help these relationships.
“At River Pointe, we are for people and for relationships. We want to know what people need right now. With mental illness on the rise, how do we get families to seek help or seek therapists and counselors for help when they need it? The signs are hard to read. These suicides and school shootings … those are life-altering decisions. There are no take-backs,” he said.
For more information, visit www.riverpointe.org, suicidepreventionlifeline.org, or afsp.org.