There are few topics more difficult to talk about than suicide. It’s complex. It’s confusing. It’s hard to wrap your mind around. And it cuts to the deepest parts of who we are, leaving scars that never fully heal.
But we have to talk about it. It’s real. And it’s a problem. Like I said in my first post of this mental health series, you can’t solve a problem you’re too afraid to talk about. (You can read “It’s Time to Talk About Mental Health” here.) Talking isn’t the answer, but it’s the first step in the right direction.
So let’s talk about suicide, specifically teenage suicide. As a Student Pastor, there was a point in time when the biggest struggles facing students were alcohol, drugs, and sex. Obviously those are still temptations for young people today, but this generation is changing things. iGen, which is anyone born roughly between 1995-2012, is actually less likely to drink alcohol, try drugs, and have premarital sex than previous generations.
But here’s the concerning numbers:
The number of children and adolescents being admitted to children’s hospitals for suicidal thoughts and self-harm has more than doubled in the last decade.
The suicide rate for children and teens between 10 and 17 was up 70% between 2006 and 2016.
The suicide rate for girls ages 15-19 doubled from 2007-2015, reaching its highest point in 40 years.
Teenagers who report having a major depressive episode in the past 12 months is up 37% over the last decade.
The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that every child 11 through 21 years old be screened for depression.
Why are these numbers on the rise? Lots of smart people are studying and seeking to find that answer. Many of them point to smartphones, social media, and daily screen time. I have to say, there are some interesting studies that seem to indicate a correlation between smart phone use and depression in young people.
Maybe that’s it. But I’m not a psychologist, sociologist, or any other kind of -ologist. I just love Jesus and care about students. So I want to speak to this topic from a biblical, gospel-centered viewpoint.
Here are a few thoughts I have:
1. As Christians, we know what the real problem is.
The fact that thousands of kids every year take their own lives is all the proof you need that something is wrong with the world. It’s badly broken, beyond repair. And this brokenness goes deeper than smartphones, social media, bullying, abuse, poverty, etc.
Our world is broken because of a really old problem. Like, Genesis 3 old. The problem is that our world is filled with sin and evil and death, which was caused by sinners like you and me. We are experiencing the consequences of our sin every day. From cancer to abuse to suicide. All of these things are a result of living in an evil world dominated by sin. We also have an enemy who wants to steal, kill, and destroy us. The Bible says Satan is a roaring lion seeking to devour us.
As a result, hopelessness is at an all-time high.
Yet they say that we’ve made so much “progress”. Smartphones were supposed to make our lives easier. Turns out they make us depressed and lonely. School was supposed to help us achieve our dreams so we can be anything we want to be. Now we just have tons of debt. All the promises of hope have been broken. We are left empty, scrolling down for the next big thing.
No one feels the effects of this emptiness and brokenness more than kids and teenagers. All signs point to iGen being the least spiritual generation in American history. The overwhelming majority of them are and will be lost.
Now look, I know that people take their own lives for many different reasons. Those reasons get even more complicated when it’s a teenager. Sometimes it’s as petty as a social media post, and sometimes it’s as serious as sexual abuse. But here’s what it all boils down to: Teenagers that commit suicide have no hope. They believe death is their last and best option.
But here’s the good news. No matter what they are dealing with, we have an opportunity to show them otherwise.
2. The message of Jesus is as relevant and needed today as ever.
There’s an old story. It’s about 2,000 years old. It’s called the gospel. That word “gospel” literally means good news, which is the understatement of all understatements.
This gospel story has power, power to change people. Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”
The gospel holds the answers to life’s big problems, including the biggest problem we have. We are sinners who are separated from God and deserve his judgment. But the gospel says that Jesus paid for our sin on the cross and made a way for us to have a relationship with God. When we trust in Jesus, he saves us, forgives us, and gives us a new life.
Here’s how that message is relevant to teenage suicide:
We have a generation that is starving for hope, and the gospel says we have the greatest hope of all. Jesus is the only real and true hope there is. In Jesus, we have a reason to live. In Jesus, we know there is more to this life than this life. Eternity awaits us, where there will be no more pain and suffering.
We have a generation that is lonelier than ever, and the gospel says we will never be alone. On the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). God forsook his own Son, so that he would never have to forsake us. That’s why Jesus could promise, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). In Jesus, we are never alone. Even if we lose everyone we love, even if the world hates us, even if our friends abandon us, we are not alone. Jesus faced the ultimate loneliness so we wouldn’t have to.
The gospel also unites us with the church. This generation is desperately searching for a community of people where they can be known and loved. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. But they seek this community in social media, which actually ends up isolating them. The church is the community they are longing for. In Jesus, we have a group of people who are there to walk with us through our suffering. No suicidal person should ever have to keep quiet or hide their pain. They should not have to bear that burden alone. They need people to fight with them. The church is that group of people.
We have a generation that is seeking purpose, and the gospel says every detail of our lives matter. In Jesus, we know that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). Even the bad things. Even the painful things. God is in control of our entire lives, and he is forming us into the person he has called us to be.
In Christ, we find a purpose for our pain. The Bible talks about suffering in a strange way, almost like it’s a good thing. James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Romans 5:3-4 says, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”
Suffering is not for nothing. (Yes I know that’s bad English, but I like it.) Suffering is what God uses to grow us. Seasons of suffering are often the times when we learn to love and trust God like never before.
So even someone who is experiencing thoughts of suicide, we can help them see that in Christ, God will bring good out of their situation. They might not be able to see it now, but there will be a day when they will. In the Bible, the people God used the greatest often went through the greatest suffering. Jesus is the best example of that. Suicidal teenagers need to know they have a purpose, and ending their lives is not it.
We have a generation that is hurting, and the gospel says that Jesus is enough. Please understand what I’m not saying in this post. I’m not saying that the gospel will instantly cure every person of depression and other mental illness. I’m also not saying that a Christian can’t experience depression and thoughts of suicide. The Bible clearly teaches otherwise.
But here’s what I am saying. The gospel provides a framework for dealing with intense mental anguish that can sustain the weariest soul. You might always battle depression, but you can find hope in Christ that one day that battle will be over in heaven. You might always feel a profound sadness in your soul, but you can learn to experience true joy in Jesus. You might regularly wrestle with the thought that dying is better than living, but you can discover that Jesus is enough.
In our darkest moments, when there’s nothing left to hang on to, when we can’t think of a single reason left to live, we still have Jesus. When we don’t have the strength to hold onto him, an amazing thing happens: Jesus holds onto us.
This generation is at a moment of crisis. We can either view this moment with panic and fear, or we can view it as an opportunity. This generation is searching for a solution, and we have the Answer. So let’s speak out and say together: No more teenage suicides. There is always hope in Jesus.