By DAN HALL
From the time I was about 13 until I was nearly 40, suicide was an incessant thought in my mind. I thought about it daily and often throughout the day. Every. Single. Day.
It was very rare I planned to take my own life, but it always seemed a better option than “this life.” (These thoughts absent planning are now identified as “suicidal ideation.”)
Which made no sense, because “this life” was really pretty good. I was raised in a great home, going to great schools, attending a great church and surrounded by a great social circle. I made great grades, was a starter on a 5A state-championship contending football team, president of a nationally award-winning a cappella choir, and alternate second bass in the Texas Allstate Choir.
I had great jobs that put me through college, graduated from Baylor University with honors and started pastoring a growing church. But the thoughts persisted. I took a larger church outside Louisville, Kentucky, that grew to nearly 2,000 in regular attendance. The thoughts continued.
Right before my 40th birthday, I found myself driving down I-64 and wondering how fast I would have to drive into the concrete pillar to ensure I died and felt as little pain as possible. I had gradually slipped from ideation to the frightening phase of planning.
Before I share my personal “emergence from crisis” journey, let me offer my non-clinical observation on suicidal thoughts, informed by nearly 40 years as a pastoral counselor. Generally, I think depression has three primary roots:
◼ Personality. I think some personalities are just given to deep emotional processing. I have a moody personality that “feels deeply” about everything. I over-process, think excessively about issues, and hate simple answers to complex problems. Abraham Lincoln was like this. I heard one psychologist say, “If Abraham Lincoln had been alive today, he would have been medicated out of his genius.”
I have found that deep, open relationships, effective journaling, and safe people with whom I can discuss and process my thinking are major tools against suicidal ideation.
◼ Circumstances. Sometimes life can send such deeply painful experiences, or a series of stressful experiences, or an extended experience that wears us down mentally and emotionally. Over time, we just don’t have anything left to withstand.
This is a bit more difficult because what leads to this type of depression is so multifaceted. Very often, an effective, biblically based counselor, sometimes accompanied by medication temporarily, are necessary and effective. Again, a strong relational support system is very important.
◼ Chemical. Some people are endemically short of chemicals like serotonin and require medication in order to correct this. You can grit your teeth and just bear through life, but why do that when God has provided medication just like He does with aspirin?
This will require meeting with a psychiatrist to determine what medication would be most effective. There are a number of prescription drugs proven helpful.
Driving down that freeway nearly 20 years ago, feeling engulfed in darkness, wondering how over 20 years of passionately following Jesus seemed futile, I was desperate. Pounding my steering wheel, tears streaming down my face, I cried out, “God, I don’t know where to find You. Would You please come find me!”
I thought I had understood grace before then, but that day I let go of all the religious rules and expectations that I had accrued over years of trying to please God with my best efforts. I just accepted that He loved me … just because He did.
There are many tools to facilitate mental health. But there is one truth that transcends all of it: God demonstrated His love toward YOU by sending His Son to purchase YOU so He could hang out with YOU forever. You can’t earn that love … and you can’t lose it!
If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, please don’t struggle alone. Find someone you can trust to tell: a friend, a family member, a pastor or a counselor. THERE IS HELP.