In the wake of the shocking suicide of Robin Williams, many of us have been contemplating the horrors of depression, bipolar disorder (someone who experiences extreme emotional highs, called mania, then lows) and suicide.
Robin Williams admitted struggling with depression and substance abuse, but never said whether he was ever diagnosed with bipolar disorder, although many suspect he suffered from it.
The sad truth is, on the day Robin Williams killed himself, about 99 other Americans did, too. Tragically, an average of 100 people commit suicide every day in America. That number is exploding.
In fact, the number of people who kill themselves is now greater than the number of people who die in car crashes. Baby-Boomers, like Robin Williams, are at particular risk. Their rate of suicide has risen by one-third in just the last decade!
Could it be cultural? As Baby-Boomers approach old age, those with misplaced values, like the ones our culture promotes, are at risk of falling into hopelessness. This happens one of two ways: either their dreams of fame or fortune were never realized, or their dreams of fame and fortune WERE realized and didn’t satisfy.
Real Meaning in Life
We read in the Old Testament about King Solomon, the wisest man in the world…and the most privileged. He had everything the culture back then, and our culture today, says will bring us satisfaction and meaning: money, power, sex, adoration.
But what did he discover? First, that all those things were meaningless and empty. Then secondly, that the purpose of life is to fear God and keep His commandments.
It seems like many people today come to Solomon’s first conclusion, which invokes hopelessness. Yet sadly, they never come to his second conclusion, which invokes hope.
The Bible tells us that Satan is “the father of lies.” He lies to us by telling us that external things will bring us joy and peace. If we believe that lie, as many people do, there will come a time when we’re, at the very least, disappointed, or at worst, suicidal, regardless of whether we attain our worldly goals.
If we don’t attain them, we feel like that failure is the source of our misery. If we do attain them, we feel that there is something wrong with US that they don’t satisfy. Either way, the end result is despair.
The Emptiness Within
Unrealistic expectations set us up for disappointment. We must never expect to find meaning and satisfaction from the world. Meaning, satisfaction, joy, and completeness come ultimately from God. As the old saying goes, “Each of us has a hole in our heart in the shape of God.”
Each and every one of us is created to have a relationship with God through Jesus. Without it, we are incomplete and unfulfilled. Many people recognize the void in their heart, but tragically, believe it can be filled with something other than a relationship with Jesus…things like money, career success, drugs, food, ambling, sex, material possessions, the admiration of people, alcohol, pleasure-seeking, and so on.
When they discover none of these things fills the emptiness and longing deep within, they fall into depression.
This is not to suggest that Christians do not get depressed, suffer from bipolar disorder, or become suicidal. They do.
How to Climb Out of the Pit
However the first step to climbing out of an emotional pit is to believe in the Lord Jesus and surrender your life to Him in every way, “casting your cares upon him because he cares for you.”
Remember that through the forgiveness of our sins based on the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we have fellowship with the creator of the universe, who loves us, and we have the promise of eternity in heaven with Him. So no matter how bad it gets while we’re here on earth, we have the hope of a brighter future! As the Bible says, "Fix your mind on things above."
We know that depression, bipolar, and suicidal thoughts often coincide with drug or alcohol abuse. In fact, a full 60 percent of people with bipolar disorder also abuse drugs or alcohol.
Untreated substance abuse can make it impossible to manage the mood swings of bipolar, even tough to diagnose it, because alcohol and cocaine, for example, can make people appear manic when they are not.
The good news is, God can, and does, rescue people from these, and all forms of enslavement. And while our faith in the living savior is foundational, often, we additionally need the help from others, through support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and therapy from a psychologist or psychiatrist.
The latter is hard to find. Avoid a psychiatrist who simply is interested in prescribing medication only. There are a lot of those doctors out there. Keep in mind that therapy, talking through your issues, especially with a Christian therapist, is often the key to overcoming emotional problems.
When it comes to medication, I’ve spoken to experts on both sides of the issue. Some think the drugs are life-saving, others think they make the problem worse.
Sometimes we are unsure about how to gauge the seriousness of our own feelings or the behavior of others. Here are the SUICIDE WARNING SIGNS in the form of the of a mnemonic: IS PATH WARM?
- I - Ideation (formation of the concept)
- S - Substance Abuse
- P - Purposelessness
- A - Anxiety
- T - Trapped
- H - Hopelessness
- W - Withdrawal
- A - Anger
- R - Recklessness
- M - Mood Changes
Even more serious are ACUTE WARNING SIGNS, which include threatening or talking about suicide (take this very seriously) and acquiring the implements (drugs, firearms) to carry it out.
If you see these in yourself or someone else, call this or another suicide hotline 1-800-273-TALK .