What's the best way to support suicidal people in your church?


After Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay lost their son Matthew due to mental illness, the two decided to dedicate their ministry in raising awareness about mental health and how the church and entire Christian community can help those who are suffering from it.

Kay acknowledged the significant role doctors and pastors play in the lives of those with mental illness. But Kay told Christianity Today that there was a tendency to think only they can take on the task of supporting someone with mental illness.  And that it can even be scary.

But she reassured that anyone can do something to support those with mental health issues.  It all starts with simple things, like providing them some safe space, thoughtful love and care, and a shoulder to cry on.

"Sometimes there are people who live with chronic thoughts of suicide and they don't necessarily need to go to the hospital, but they do need extra support and care," she explained. "Thoughts of suicide can be strong, but typically they pass within a short space of time — like a wave that comes in powerfully and then it goes back out again."

Kay said that repeated hospitalization can actually be detrimental for those with mental health issues, since going to the psychiatric ward can be pretty traumatic for them. Sometimes, Kay said that the best thing for people with "emotional storms" is to just be in a safe space with people who genuinely care about them.

"Loving, trained church staff and volunteers could provide that place of safety and TLC. If we weren't so afraid of talking honestly about suicidal thoughts, we could provide the kind of listening ear, warm arm around the shoulder, and tender care that could walk struggling people through a crisis," she said.

Kay added that those living with mental illness or those struggling with suicidal thoughts see their doctors or therapists only once a week or once every couple of weeks. So all the hours in between those sessions are crucial for them to get better. 

"Family and friends can do their best to help and care for the individual, yet they can get burned out if the entirety of care for their family member is on them. A care team fills in those big gaps of care," she explained.

A "care team" is comprised of several church members, according to Kay, and they can visit those with mental illness and make a commitment to help them get their lives back in order. "It starts with a decision to care as Jesus would and then commit to receive training so that we can walk compassionately alongside of these brothers and sisters in pain," she said.

Kay lost Matthew after he committed suicide on April 5, 2013. She wrote on her website that her life was forever changed after that heartbreaking incident, and the pain she experienced is something that she wishes no one else has to endure.

However, she is grateful that her pain made her faith in God stronger, and now she can "minister from a stronger place of hope than I ever have before."