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Family Matters 05/01/17

13 Reasons Why: What’s Missing in Suicide Prevention

teen suicide

Netflix's 13 Reasons Why has generated a global conversation about a mental health problem that's been on the rise – suicide.

It's a difficult topic to discuss due to the stigma attached to it. The words, "committed suicide", often carry with them a sense of shame. When someone commits suicide, people do not know how to react or what to say.

13 Reasons Why ignited an online debate discussing whether the pros of such a show outweigh the cons. Does the series romanticize suicide to a dangerous degree or is it providing a wake-up call to a national crisis in a way that will cause more change than harm?

My 23-year-old daughter and I have been reviewing comments from BuzzFeed to CBN News, from mental health professionals to teens, all have points important to consider. And maybe that's the point.

This popular Netflix series highlights a need for honest conversation, recognition of mental illness and depression, the impact of bullying, the consequences of unkind behavior and assaultive acts of both word and deed, the inner workings of a tortured mind, and the dark tunnel of desperation. All of these are worthy of dialogue and prompting awareness.

Here's my main concern: While suicide is rooted in mental health issues, is complicated, and often leaves families confused as to what created the final decision for someone to take his or her life, there is also a spiritual root we hesitate to discuss.  

To end your life, you have to be deceived into believing there is no hope, no future, and no other way of escape. This deception finds its place in depression, but is also spiritual in nature.

What voice is telling the person there is no way out but death by his or her own hand? It is not the voice of God. There is a spiritual enemy of our souls that delights in our demise (John 10:10). God values every life. When you are depressed, angry, wounded, traumatized, doubt can easily creep in and cause a despair so great that suicide feels like the only solution.

I'm saddened that our culture does not value faith or the power it carries. Faith is one of the strongest preventions to poor mental health and negative well-being.

Dr. Harry Koenig, a well-respected Duke University physician and researcher, conducted a meta review of the impact of faith on mental health. His research found faith to be a protective factor in mental health.

Still, discussing faith as an important element to keeping hope alive in those who struggle is missing from the national conversation of treatment. Instead, we give lip service to the notion of holistic health – body, mind, and spirit (but ignore the spirit). We are desperate to help those who contemplate suicide, but reluctant to integrate faith into mental health discussions.

While everyone continues to debate the pros and cons of 13 Reasons Why, there are teens triggered by watching it, those who have given up hope and see no future, and those who will be traumatized by what they see with no one to help them process it. And the help most people get will include everything but faith, unless people of faith start reaching out and truly allowing the Church to become a refuge for the suicidal and brokenhearted.

I grieve for families who have lost loved ones to suicide. I grieve for those who don't know they are made in the image of God and were born with a hope and a future. And I grieve for those in the suicidal struggle who will get body and mind help, but no spiritual help.

Yes, we need good mental health treatment. But, we are body, mind and SPIRIT. Only God can fully mend a broken heart and give hope to those who have none.

So let's recognize the warning signs of suicide and get people into treatment, but let's not forget that true and complete healing speaks to all parts of a person – including the spirit.

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