Editor’s note: This interview first ran in 2015.
Almost 10 years ago, Jamie Tworkowski launched To Write Love on Her Arms to offer hope to those struggling with addiction, depression, self injury and suicidal thoughts.
Since then, the culture at-large appears more open to talking about depression and suicide. But suicide is still a big problem—in fact, it’s the second leading cause of death among college students. And sadly, many people struggling with thoughts of self harm are still hesitant to seek help.
In an effort to combat this trend, countries around the world observe World Suicide Prevention Day every September.
We talked to Tworkowski about Christian perspectives on depression, the importance of talking about our pain and how to help a friend who’s struggling.
What does the Bible say about suicide and depression?
I’m not an expert on the Bible, but “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” is a verse that encourages me. (Psalm 34:18)
Jesus was full of compassion and talked a ton about love. I believe we are loved by a God who cares deeply about our pain, and invites us to care deeply about the pain around us.
And you hear a lot of talk about “freedom” found in Christ. I think freedom means we’re allowed to be honest. We don’t have to fake it, not with God and not with each other.
It seems like we’ve seen the conversation about depression become much more prominent in recent years in wider culture. Have you seen progress in that area within the Church too?
I agree there’s a lot of evidence of positive change. My focus is on that wider culture you mentioned, but I think there’s good happening in the Church, as well. Rick and Kay Warren certainly come to mind. They lost their son Matthew to suicide two years ago and I think they’ve done an incredible job leading the conversation about mental health and suicide as it relates to the Church.
There’s certainly more work to be done everywhere, but I heard someone say today that the stigma is man-made, and so if people made the wall, then people can also tear it down.
What do you think Christians in particularly need to know about depression and suicide?
That on this planet we share, every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide. Untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide. So it’s all about encouraging people who struggle to know that it’s OK to ask for help—and by help, I mean professional help: a licensed mental health counselor. If your car isn’t working, you take it to a mechanic. If you break your arm, you go to the hospital. Mental health shouldn’t be any different—if you need help, it’s OK to ask for help.
One additional thought: Christians are known for really liking their answers. We’re known for telling people how to live and think and vote. What if Christians were known for meeting people in their questions, for being willing to meet people in their pain, willing to show up and sit in silence, willing to cry with someone?
What would you say to someone who’s in that dark place and may be thinking about suicide?
I’m sorry for your pain. You’re not alone. You’re not meant to be alone. You were created to love people and know people, and to be loved and known by other people.
Maybe there’s still some time for things to change. Maybe there’s still some time to be surprised. Please know that it’s OK to be honest.
Please talk to someone. Please know that it’s OK to ask for help, and that great help exists. 800-273-TALK is a 24 hour hotline where every call is answered by a trained counselor. We offer some additional resources on the TWLOHA site.
Part of our “We’ll See You Tomorrow” campaign is asking people to finish the sentence “You’ll see me tomorrow because…” My friend Anis Mojgani wrote something today and I want to share it as an example of beauty born from pain, and someone struggling but choosing to keep going.
What advice would you give someone who suspects a friend may be struggling with suicidal thoughts?
Talk to them. If you don’t know what to say, start by saying that. Be honest. Be compassionate. If you’re concerned because someone seems to be struggling, I think it’s important to express that. “How are you?” or “Are you doing OK?” can be a game-changer. And then be willing to listen. It’s not about you making the perfect speech. It’s mostly about you letting the other person know they’re not alone, and encouraging them to get help.
We can’t control the response we’re met with, but we control the way we show up to love people. And I think loving people means being willing to ask the hard question, to talk about the elephant in the room. I also think it’s important to learn. It’s hard to care for someone when the situation is completely foreign to us. QPR Institute is a great resource when it comes to caring for a person who might be considering suicide.