It was a Sunday night, and as a good Southern Baptist, I was in church. I was sitting in a pew towards the front because I was about to play a piano solo. Someone got up at the beginning of the service with a special prayer request. One of the teachers at an area middle school had committed suicide. I was a freshmen in high school at the time, but I had loved Mr. Stout, my eighth grade North Carolina history teacher. He was a little cranky and sarcastic, but in a way that you knew he cared about you. He had great stories but many of them were laced with memories from Vietnam. As the gulf war was ending, living in a military town had triggered his ptsd to a point where he took his life. Unfortunately just a few weeks later, one of our classmates copied Mr. Stout taking his own life in the same way. James hung himself just days after finishing his freshmen year.
Even now as I type this, I cry over these two. How could we have missed the signs? Years later, in my first year as an intern in campus ministry at UNC, September 11 happened and in the wake of that tragedy a rash of suicides and suicidal attempts spread through campus. My mentor, Bob Phillips, said the same thing happened when the vietnam war started. Students not knowing how to deal with the trauma looked for a way out and then many others followed. It was in these days that I found myself visiting one of my students who had committed herself to the hospital. She had tried to commit suicide the year before and could not handle the pressure of the times. I remember walking into the psych ward once they had buzzed me in, her mother grabbing hold of me and holding me so tight. I had come as her minister and in that moment, in the face of the tragedy and grief, I was the presence of God for her mother and she was clinging to me tightly. Being just as overwhelmed as the mother, I remember thinking clearly, “Look, I’ve got nothing for you. I don’t know what to do here.” Luckily that student got the help she needed and is now a healthy young woman, married with a young child.
In life, especially ministry and leadership, we find ourselves faced with the demon of depression all around us. Often we don’t know how to step into this space with those in need. I still don’t have all the answers now but I can still remember the overwhelming sadness I felt as a freshmen and want to help anyone I can on the journey dealing with depression or those helping those dealing with depression. I’ve spent the morning compiling a list of what I hope can be helpful articles. I hope they can be a resource to you if the death of Robin Williams has triggered something for you or to pass along to someone else. I hope that if you are in ministry and/or leadership, you can find helpful information that resources you as a leader.