When Your Child Is Struggling With Suicidal Thoughts, Simply ‘More Faith’ Isn’t the Answer by S. Lynn
Kelly Rosati has four adopted children. Three of them have a serious mental illness. And one thing she doesn’t like to hear is that her problems would be solved if her faith was stronger.
“This idea that as Christians, if we were just spiritual enough, that somehow Christianity teaches we wouldn’t experience these things — I’ve seen so many people suffer and have their faith crumble because of those lies,” Rosati said in an interview with Saddleback Church co-founder Kay Warren this week.
After Rosati and her husband, John, were unable to have their own children, the couple began the adoption journey through the foster care system.
Several of her children were born addicted to drugs or exposed to alcohol in utero, she said. Among her four children, three have dealt with suicidality. One has bipolar disorder and another has schizophrenia.
Her children have been in and out of emergency rooms and residential psychiatric care facilities. One, the youngest, is currently at a residential facility.
….“How hellish it is to have a child that you love with your entire heart and that you have done everything that you know to do, have sought all the mental health help, all the medication help, all the therapy help, all the prayers that you’ve prayed, all the Bible verse believing you’ve done, all the on the face crying in the night for your child, and still know they are facing an illness that will eat them alive if something doesn’t happen,” Warren said.
“I call that living on the edge of hell.”
Warren’s son, Matthew, was around 12 when she realized that he was having suicidal thoughts. He had already been diagnosed with depression at age 7.
“I tucked him into bed and in the quiet … as I’m getting ready to walk out … he asked me if I would kill him and put him out of his misery,” Warren recalled, completely heartbroken to hear those words coming out of her child’s mouth.
Matthew ended up dying by suicide at age 27 in 2013.
Warren said she had lived in denial for a long time, thinking her son would eventually outgrow his depression and become “normal.” But it never happened.
Both Warren and Rosati recognized that many Christians are suspicious of or hesitant to seek help through therapy or a psychiatric clinic. They’re also afraid of being judged as a bad parent if they try to get mental health help for their children.
…The journey is lonely. Though Rosati would like to have a group of people supporting her through all of this, there is a lot of misunderstanding. Some friends or relatives would tell her that her children just needed a spanking or more discipline or that she needed to pray more.
…She commended Warren for her work in making more people aware of mental illness, debunking myths and saying it’s not a sin to be sick and that it’s OK to seek help.
“I shudder to think if you weren’t doing what you’re doing so faithfully in the midst of your tragedy, how alone so many people like us would feel because there was no one that people would listen to saying ‘no, don’t tell people it’s not because they don’t have enough faith,’” Rosati said.
The Colorado mom was able to let go of her dream of a “perfect” family. “I can’t attach my well-being to the outcome. That’s tough when you’re a mom,” she noted.
….Rosati offered the following advice for parents whose children are struggling with mental illness or suicidal thoughts:
- Do not minimize your child’s problems. Validate their feelings and be empathetic (as opposed to comparing their “small” problems to your own)
- If your child expresses suicidal intentions, do not diminish it and take it very seriously. Do not let the child out of your sight.
- “Uber nurture” or go full throttle nurture — “When your kids express any kind of emotional anguish, when they have taken the risk to share with you that they are suffering,” do not shame, blame, judge or lecture them. Let “every ounce of the love of Christ that is in you flow through you to them.”
- ...Phone numbers:
211 (if you’re searching for mental health care as well as physical care)
1-800-273-8255 (Suicide Prevention Lifeline)
310-855-HOPE (Teen line)