New Stats on Suicide Underscore Need for Biblical Counseling

Suicide rates in Florida and in Tampa Bay are rising.

This is the conclusion of a newly published report by the Florida Department of Health. According to the report, outcomes for men and women increased in the 2003-2013 decade, the last year for which statistics are now available. White men age 45-65 are at the highest statistical risk overall, but in the Pasco-Pinellas district, there was a dramatic increase in suicides among women and girls. 

In 2005, there were 46 reported suicides involving females in Pasco-Pinellas. By 2013, that figure had risen by nearly 60% to 77. Statistics for male suicide victims remain shockingly high. In 2013, 187 males took their own lives in the district--down from over 200 annually between 2009 and 2011.

Nationally, suicide rates have increased, with more deaths per year by suicide than by vehicle crashes. The Department of Health report cites multiple factors as influencing those who choose to end their own lives, to include economic hardship, the desire for instant gratification, a loss of hope, and a lack of available funding for mental health treatment. In fact, the state of Florida rates among the worst in the nation for per capita mental health funding.

Losing Our Religion and the Care of Souls

Long ago, in generations past, the church was the seat of every community, and the pastor was the counselor of the people, pointing people not to self-help and self-esteem, but to the Christ and His Gospel. That all began to change by the late 1800s and certainly by the early 1900s, with the advent of the secular psychologies. 

As modernism took root, doubts about the authority and sufficiency of Scripture for the mental and emotional troubles of life crept in. Slowly but surely, the church acquiesced to the academy, convinced that it had little to offer those who struggled with their behavior and emotions. The Gospel was still seen as the individual's hope for eternity, but only modern psychology and its medical model of care offered hope for the mind today.

When Sigmund Freud, the so-called "Godfather" of modern psychology was busy developing his theory of psychodynamic therapy, devoid of all things theological, he recognized that the coming age of the psychotherapist would provide culture with what he called a "secular priest." He recognized that modern psychology would supplant the role of pastor as counselor, while appropriating for itself the nature of the work men and women of God were called to accomplish in Scripture. 

History shows that Freud's dream has largely come true. Across denominations, the church has rejected its biblical mandate to counsel the wisdom of God to those struggling with life dominating sin and suffering issues. It has replaced the difficult spade work of ongoing counseling with motivational speeches and religious platitudes. The church, it seems, has lost its stomach for the reality of life-long discipling through besetting sin, choosing instead to be satisfied with programming designed to fill the Sunday pew.

Sadly, this is part of the legacy of cultural Christianity in America.

A Mandate and a Golden Opportunity for the Gospel

Ironically, the Department of Health report cited earlier lists "instant gratification" as a factor for those who commit suicide. I would submit that the church has engaged in its own brand of pursuing instant gratification where discipleship is concerned by throwing off counseling in favor of ministries that give the appearance that "all is well."

In so doing, it has been risking its own spiritual life all the while. After all, if the church is not fully invested in the care of souls, if it is not serving as a spiritual hospital for the emotionally sick with ministry offerings that truly "bear one another's burdens," if it is unwilling to go the distance with people who hurt with precision and intentionality, for how long should it expect to retain possession of its lampstand (Gal. 6:2; Rev. 2:5)?

Until now, this discussion has been very broad and theoretical. I have cited the Department of Health report to underscore the severity of the spiritual crisis that exists in our culture (what it calls the "mental health crisis"). 

But, consider these truths: 1) Suicide is but one example of the crisis that is before us (depression, anxiety, divorce, sexual sin, etc. abound), 2) The numbers in the report have names and faces behind them--some connected to our churches, and 3) For all those who successfully take their own lives, there are many others who make attempts, and many more who on any given day are struggling with the thought.

These issues cannot and must not be addressed by rock concerts and referrals to counselors who find the seat of their care in the wisdom of man--even if they adorn their counsel with a Bible verse or two and in so doing call it "Christian."

Do Not Turn to the Right or the Left

Mental health counseling is often long, arduous work. Counselors can spend hours working with the hurting with seemingly little return on investment. But, do we need reminding that we walk (and minister) by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7)? Have we forgotten that our ministries must be marked by the fruits of the Spirit, which include "long-suffering" (Gal. 5:22)? Do we believe God when He says that His word does not "return void" but always accomplishes His good and perfect will (Is. 55:11)? When we say that God's word is inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient, do we need to be honest by adding a disclaimer that excludes mental-emotional-spirtual health issues?

To be sure, a decision by the church today to re-engage the task of counseling does not mean fully operational counseling ministries tomorrow. There are, in fact, very real clinical issues that must be accounted for in any legitimate attempt to provide a "next level, professional" counseling ministry. This means training and oversight must be provided and liability issues must be addressed. None of what is contained in this post is intended to neglect these realities.

But, these realities are no excuse for inaction. The situation in our culture is worsening, while the church holds the keys to the only true model for the care of souls. It must no longer evade this responsibility by turning to the right or the left. This is biblical malfeasance. 

Do we not believe that we will give an account of what we did with what He gave?

Join the Discussion

I would love to hear back from you. Please email me with your thoughts, especially those who live in and around the Tampa Bay region. Baylight Counseling is a biblical counseling ministry that exists to serve the church and community at large with professional quality, clinically informed, biblical soul care.

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