Pastors Unite To Address Stigma Against Mental Illness & Suicide In Church; Resources Demanded For Emotional Struggles

By Noah Delagracia, Crossmap On May 7, 2013

Rev. Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Nashville-based executive committee is taking a stand against the church taboos commonly associated with mental illness and suicide. 

Rev. Frank Page, whose daughter took her own life after a phone conversation with her father, will be meeting with Baptist leaders in Dallas to address the growing issue. 

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"I do not want you to imagine what that is like," Page said about the death of his 32 year-old daughter, Melissa Page Strange. 

The family had a friendly exchange saying "I love you" over the phone, then following the conversation, Melissa was gone. 

Similar occurrences such as the suicide of Matthew Warren, 27, son of megachurch pastor, Rick Warren and also the shooting massacre that took place last year in Newtown, Conn., has prompted the need to address mental illness in society and the church. 

Rev. Page will be sharing his daughter's story in an upcoming book called "Melissa." He hopes that through the book, other families in similar situations may be comforted and that the stigma surrounding mental illness can be taken alleviated. 

"There is a sense that everything you have tried has failed," he said.

Rev. BIll Ritter, author of "Take the Dimness of My Soul Away: Healing After a Loved One's Suicide," said that people with mental illness often feel ashamed or too overwhelmed to enter the church.

"For as much as we talk about the church as the place you turn when life is falling apart - the reality is that people often stay away from church when life is falling apart," he said. 

Rev. Ritter also lost his 27 year-old son to suicide. 

"Too often in churches there is this belief that you have to be perfect - that you have to keep a smile on your face when your world is falling apart," David McKnight, leader of the Celebrate Recovery support group at Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn. 

David Thomas of Daystar Counseling Ministries in Nashville hopes that issues in mental health can also be discussed during church service and not only in support groups. While there are many resources for other common issues families face, there should also be topics in mental illness. 

"We have very defined resources for families that are struggling financially," he said. "We don't have defined resources for families who are struggling emotionally - and we need them."