I am saddened and express my heart-felt condolences to the Rick Warren family on the loss of their son this week. While suicide is generally considered an act of the will, for a person with mental illness it can be more of an accidental death; though well-meaning (but misinformed) friends, family, and church-goers may not understand it.

Imagine with me, if you will, a father who knows that his son’s car is acting up. Its acceleration is erratic and unpredictable, and it seems potentially unsafe. All that the son knows is that he needs the car to get to work. His father takes the car to his local mechanic, who can’t find the problem, but says he doesn’t think it’s serious. The car is then taken to the dealer, who says that the problem is familiar, and that certain fuel additives and intentional changes in driving habits can make the problem less noticeable. All the son knows is that he needs the car to get to work. Dad takes responsibility for seeing that the additives are used and reminds his son to drive carefully. Mom doesn’t know anything about cars, but she knows how important working and having money is to her son, and does her best to be supportive as he pursues his career goals. After all, the only way to slow him down would be to lock him in his room, which goes against her love for him and her desire to see him happy. When the car breaks down and the son dies, the blame game starts.

Dad blames himself, sensing that there must have been something more that he could have done to get the car fixed. Mom feels that somehow she should have raised her son differently, as if it’s her fault that he became obsessive about work, regardless of the risks. Friends and acquaintances are shocked, knowing that the car was faulty, but still never expecting it would lead to this outcome.

Depression is a faulty car; the need to drive it is mental illness; the unnecessary death that results is suicide–not necessarily a selfish act of the will, but the sad outcome of the mental illness.
(I understand that people kill themselves for many reasons; but this young man was not trying to make a statement or to strike back at a perceived insult or injury–this situation, as reported, was not in that category.)

Mental illness is real; its potential deadly consequences can become tragically real; and when all is said and done, all we can do is pray for the family and friends. Pray for comfort, and pray for understanding–and pray for the young man or woman that you know is driving that defective car down the rough road of life.

Prayer first is better than sympathy later.