The new #changementalhealth Campaign to Change Direction is starting off with a graphic bang and big commitments by big organizations to make the “five signs” of diagnosible mental health conditions known to everyone.
Three of the five — withdrawal, failure to care for oneself, and a sense of hopelessness — are depression symptoms that can also match suicide precursors. Adding a sense of agitation to the mix makes suicide attempts more likely.
Suicide prevention is properly a major public health concern today, with more people in the U.S. dying from suicide than from auto accidents, HIV/AIDS, or homicides. Having such a huge public awareness campaign may help to reduce our staggeringly high rate of suicide death (39,000 annually) and attempts (about 130,000).
Handle 5 Signs With Care
At the same time, I hope people will be reasonable when they look at their friends and apply these 5 signs. Every introvert looks withdrawn to every extravert. Every person from New Jersey looks agitated to every person from Minnesota.
I also hope that, as people of God, we will wrap our arms around brothers and sisters who are withdrawn because of extreme suffering, agitated under the stresses of life, feeling hopeless in the face of seemingly overwhelming challenges.
Last week, three women I’d never met before literally wrapped their arms around me and pressed close in what some people might call a “group hug” as they prayed for me. I had never felt more completely surrounded by and protected by God’s people and God’s love. It didn’t matter that they’d never talked to me before that moment. My sisters in Christ joined me in seeking God’s guidance at a time of momentous personal change.
Do God’s Work, Don’t Just Sort People
The risk we face when looking for five signs is that we’ll recognize a sign and push a person away. “They need professional help,” we could say. “I’ll refer them to someone who is competent to assist.”
I don’t want to suggest for an instant that professionals and medication may not have their places. I use both as appropriate.
But moving forward from any of the 5 signs also requires finding meaning, community, and certainty that your life has value, that you are a person, not just a burden to those around you. Speedy outplacements can increase the sense that you are a burden and outsider … unless they are matched by an equally speedy inplacement with a Stephen minister or in another care ministry.
And to get theological for just one moment. We believe that
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)
” … my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19)
Isn’t it likely that God’s wisdom, along with God’s provision for all of our needs, would allow us — alongside the professionals — to create a warm, welcoming place for people who show some of the five signs?
You may feel withdrawn, but when people drop by with casseroles or communion or flowers from the Sunday altar you are functionally reintegrated. You may feel hopeless, but when someone finds a few hours a week of work for you, life looks a little better. And you have to shower and get dressed before you go.
Let’s remember we are all God’s people, even when we show one or two of the 5 signs. We can #changementalhealth by loving one another, just as God has always charged us to do.