Saddleback Church co-founder Kay Warren, who in 2013 lost her 27-year-old son to suicide, has said that the mental health system in America is broken, and encouraged Christians to embrace the millions of people suffering from various mental illnesses.
"The sad fact is the mental health system is broken in the United States. I can't say that strongly enough. It is not that people aren't trying and not that there aren't some really wonderful, compassionate people in the field of mental health, but the problem is complicated, and most of the attempts to help don't always help," Warren wrote in an article for The Huffington Post on Thursday.
"The Church's central commitment is to be the hands and feet of Jesus. This should include intentionally coming alongside people living with mental illness and supporting their families. If the Church lives out its calling in this area, its compassionate voice will rise within the community, the nation and the world — extending an unwavering message of hope and acceptance for those affected by mental illness," she said, previewing Saddleback Church's Gathering on Mental Health and The Church, scheduled for Oct. 7-9.
Matthew Warren, the son of Pastor Rick and Kay Warren, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on April 5, 2013, following years of struggle with mental illness. Since then, his parents have hosted several gatherings and spoken out on the importance of reaching out to people affected by mental illness.
In an October 2014 interview with The Christian Post, Kay Warren said there are misunderstandings in the Christian community that mental illness is entirely a spiritual issue.
"You know, if they would pray more, that it's a discipleship issue, that if they confessed sin, that if they changed this attitude, or if they memorized more scripture, or if they just forgave whoever it was that hurt them — that somehow it's just a spiritual issue," she told CP.
"That misunderstanding of mental illness perpetuates stigma. I think also that when we hear the words 'mental illness' many people conjure up a mass murderer, someone has got a weapon and they're killing people, or they're catatonic, completely detached from reality, or for the homeless person, stumbling down the street talking to himself."
In her latest Huffington Post article, Warren points out that as much as 23 percent of Saddleback's Pastoral Care Team ministry is engaged with people and families affected by mental illness.
She shared statistics suggesting that 60 million Americas, or one in five adults, will struggle with mental illness in the coming year, and half of all adults will struggle with it in their lifetime.
Warren also reflected on the loss of her son, and said that Matthew was an "incredibly kind, funny and compassionate young man whose sweet spirit was an encouragement and comfort to many."
She said that her family is scarred from the violent way in which he took his own life.
"We were left with — not gentle grief — but traumatic grief. Guilt. Regret. Unanswered questions. Horror," Warren added.
As for October's gathering on mental health at Saddleback Church, Warren said it will be three days of practical advice and hope for people, their loved ones, church leaders, and mental health professionals.
"It's time for the Church to offer a place of refuge, love, and compassion for those who need it most. It's a time to acknowledge the facts and embrace the millions of people suffering everyday from mental illness," she concluded.