Jarrid Wilson was a former pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship Church in Southern California, and a mental health advocate. He died by suicide on Sept. 9. He was 30.
There have been a number of articles written about his death. The information provided offers insight into his life and the specific mental health challenges he faced.
Wilson ended his life on the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day, a day intended to draw attention to the enormity of the crisis in the U.S. and around the world.
Wilson had long been public about his struggles with depression and mental illness. In 2016, he and his wife Juli founded Anthem of Hope, a Christian organization dedicated to “amplifying hope for those battling brokenness, depression, anxiety, self-harm, addiction and suicide,” its website states.
Hours before his own death, he officiated a funeral for a woman, who also died by suicide.
After the funeral he reminded his followers on twitter that mental health is not something that can just be cured, no matter how strong your faith.
“Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort.”
Jarrid Wilson is survived by his wife Juli and their two young sons Finch and Denham.
A memorial service was held at the church in Riverside, California, to honour Wilson and to give thanks for his life. Senior Pastor Greg Laurie described him as ‘one of the nicest people I ever met – vibrant and positive; caring and compassionate; always serving and helping others.’
Pastor Laurie’s advice to those in attendance was,
We shouldn’t be spending too much time wondering ‘Why.’ Better than asking ‘Why?’ We should be asking, ‘Who do we turn to at an hour like this?’ The answer is Jesus Christ.Pastor Greg Laurie
I can understand Pastor Laurie encouraging those grieving Jarrid’s sudden death to avoid the ‘Why?’
No one will ever know why Jarrid Wilson chose to end his life because no one will ever be in possession of all the facts. No one knows whether Jarrid had been contemplating suicide for some time. No one knows how the anxiety and depression impacted Jarrid’s view of himself and his place in the world. No one knows what might have triggered Jarrid’s decision to end his life. We can debate these matters all we like but we will be no closer to understanding why.
When my 30-year-old son Adam, took his life, I was desperate to know “Why?’ I was open to any scrap of information that might help make sense of this disturbing reality.
But there are also less honourable elements to the searching. It is the hope that there might be someone or some thing to blame. Apportioning blame seems to be a chosen pathway in processing tragedy. ‘Let’s take some of the focus off the actions of our loved one.’ ‘Let’s find someone to vent our anger at.’ ‘Let’s identify the ‘guilty’ party.’
If the ‘Why’ is problematic then perhaps we should be asking,
‘What can we learn from the death of Jarrid Wilson?’
(1) Pastors or spiritual leaders are not somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people.
There is no immunity to mental illness. Not everyone develops a mental illness during their lives, but anyone could. It is estimated that at least 20% of adults in Australia are affected by mental illness every year. Anxiety disorders are the most common, followed by depression.
(2) Our expectations of people in leadership are often unrealistic.
This is particularly true of the church. We fail to grasp the emotional, psychological, and spiritual struggles our leaders face. We expect them to be successful. We expect them to be insightful. We expect them to have answers to our most pressing problems. But they too can experience failure and disappointment, lose their sense of equilibrium, struggle to see a way forward. They too can feel anxious and become depressed.
Trying to live up to people’s unrealistic expectations is disorientating and confusing, distracting us from our primary purpose. It can become a burden too great to bear.
(3) People with mental illness move between ‘I’m OK’ and ‘I’m not OK’ imperceptibly.
The change might be triggered by a thought or a conversation, an article or an instagram post, a sound or a song.
The timeline for Jarrid Wilson’s last day falls within the parameters of what you might expect someone in his position to be doing. It includes officiating a funeral for a woman who died by suicide; reminding his followers on twitter that mental illness is not something that can just be cured, no matter how strong your faith; and attending his son’s baseball practice. There is nothing to suggest that Jarrid was contemplating ending his life.
However, people who are suicidal often appear bouyant. It is referred to as a ‘suicide cocoon’. It means they have settled on a course of action and are beyond reach of help. Their relaxed demeanor conceals their determination to enact their plan.
Our son Adam was somewhat different in this respect. During the last day we spent with him he appeared agitated and distressed. He wanted our prayers, particularly for a person he cared about.
But, looking back over the final weeks of Adam’s life there is evidence to suggest that the ‘brief’ time spent with family and friends was an occasion to say goodbye although he may not have said as much. His workmates commented how happy he was the last time they saw him. It was as though he wanted to leave a positive impression.
(4) People who talk publicly about their mental health issues need to focus on the strategies that help them survive.
Society is more accepting of people talking about their mental health concerns. This is particularly important in reducing the stigma around mental illness. However, the more important question is ‘How do you live with a mental illness?’
It has been said: “Mental illness is not a character flaw; it’s a disease.”
This is important: ‘Mental illness is a treatable medical condition.’
But there are many people who live with an undiagnosed mental illness. There are others who acknowledge their struggle with anxiety or depression but never seek help. And then there are some people who have a treatment plan but are not fully committed to following it through.
Our son was prescribed medication when he was released from the Acute Mental Health Unit. But he had no intention of taking it. He didn’t like the side effects. They would have made it impossible for him to return to his job as a roofing plumber.
I don’t know how Jarrid Wilson dealt with his anxiety and depression. I don’t know where he turned to for help. I don’t know his attitude to medication.
I do wonder why he was officiating a funeral for a woman who died by suicide. Given his vulnerabilities I would think that any exposure to suicide would need to be carefully monitored. Was anyone looking out for Jarrid? Was anyone asking Jarrid the right questions that would allow him to appraise his thoughts and feelings? Was anyone emphasising the fact that suicide is always a tragedy and its impact can be felt for generations to come.
Judas was one of the twelve followers of Jesus. He is known as the betrayer. He was the person who led the religious leaders to Jesus, identifying him with a kiss. He received thirty pieces of silver for his treachery.
Suicide feels like a betrayal.
When people choose suicide they are betraying their family and friends. They are not thinking about the hurt their actions might cause. They are not dwelling on the disruption their death will create.
When people choose suicide they are turning their back on their responsibilities, on the commitments they have made, on the projects that await completion.
When people choose suicide they are doubting God’s ability to be there for them. They regard their mental illness as debilitating. They can’t see an answer. Their faith wavers. They lose sight of their destiny. They look for permanent solutions. They give up.
Author Matt Haig has written extensively about his struggle with depression. He reminds his readers that no matter how difficult life might seem there is always light at the end of the tunnel. He recently tweeted,
Your lowest point is never eternal. You do not know what is ahead of you…No-one remains the same. Stay around for all the people you will become.Matt Haig