Leadership And Suicide: When Ending It Seems Like the Only Way Out

It’s so hard to write a post like this.

Hard because it’s something that has impacted so many people and it’s so close to so many of our hearts.

As many of you have likely heard, last week Andrew Stoecklein, the pastor of Inland Hills Church, took his own life at age 30 after a battle with anxiety and depression. That’s a picture of Andrew, his wife Kayla, and their boys, above.

I never met Andrew or his family nor have I visited his church, but, like so many of you, I’m devastated for everyone involved. His wife Kayla wrote a moving tribute on her blog, and Andrew’s death made national and international news.

That’s difficult enough, and all of us need to pray for Kayla, their boys, family and church. (And please consider giving to this GoFundMe campaign to help support Kayla and the boys.)

The other reason it’s hard to write this post is because I don’t even like to admit I was there too a number of years ago myself.

My story isn’t a long battle with anxiety and depression per se. The way I got to suicidal thoughts was through burnout. And the worst part of my burnout in the summer of 2006 was a season when I thought that ending it was the most logical and least painful way out.

You know how hard it is to talk about this stuff? I’ll tell you how hard. In my new book, I have an entire section on burnout and how to overcome it, but I only gave five paragraphs to my battle with suicidal thoughts. Honestly, I was just too terrified/embarrassed/ashamed to write more.

But today, in light of the widespread dialogue that’s emerged over around Andrew’s passing, I’m going to give it a few more paragraphs, because like many of you, I was so saddened to learn about the suicide of a leader who by every appearance had so much going well: a wife who loved him, three sons, a great church and a future.

Let me say it again before we dive into more words: maybe you’ve thought the only way through your pain is to end your pain. It’s not.

My Story

This may come as a surprise to many people who follow me online, and likely to a lot of my friends and people who know me personally.

But not only did I move into full-fledged burnout in the summer of 2006, it got worse. I tell the whole burnout story in the book (it’s just so easy to get burned out these days), but here’s an excerpt from Didn’t See It Coming on my suicidal thoughts.

My situation grew even darker than all that. Over a decade later, I still can’t believe I’m going to write this next section. Part of me doesn’t even want to admit this portion of the story is true. But it is, and I know this is an aspect of the experience far too many people can identify with.

By late summer, I began to think the best way to get through this burnout was to not go through it. Because hope had died for me in those months, I began to wonder whether that should be my preferred option as well. For the first time in my life, I began to seriously think that suicide was the best option. If I had lost hope, was no good to anyone, couldn’t perform what I was expected to do, and was causing all kinds of pain to others (a conclusion that wasn’t coming from a place of objectivity), then perhaps the best solution was to be no more.

By God’s grace, I’ve never owned any weapons. If I did, I shudder to think about what I might have done to myself in a weak moment. I’m not terribly coordinated or technically skilled, so I figured a kitchen knife would probably result in me doing things horribly wrong. In my mind, my preferred path was to take my speeding car into a concrete bridge support and end things that way.

I don’t know how close I came to doing it. I’m far from an expert at determining how serious a threat like that is. Although I never undid my seat belt and never sped up far past the limit as a bridge approached, I do know the thought of ending it that way became a false friend to me, a strange and perverse source of comfort. And, in a twisted way, maybe a way of getting back at a God and a life I felt were letting me down.

As I look back now, over a decade later, on how I felt at that time, it seems like it was someone else who struggled with those thoughts. It’s amazing how an episode like this can play with your mind, but that’s exactly what burnout does: it messes with your thinking.

Its arena is your thought life, and burnout can be a merciless, savage beast. I’m so grateful I didn’t listen to those voices, but I share this in case you might be hearing something similar.

Do the people you love a favor: Don’t listen. Don’t give in. Don’t give up. The negative voices are lying. That’s not who you are, and that is definitely not the solution, even though some days it can feel like it is.

Looking back on that now, I can’t tell you how grateful I am I didn’t listen. The story in my life is so much different than I thought it would be in 2006. It’s so much better and richer and more fulfilled.

But I couldn’t see that back then.

So let me take you there and share 5 things that I realize now that I didn’t know then.

I hope they feel like hope and help to you.

1. It’s Difficult to Communicate How Dark It Gets

If you talk to most people who know me well and know me personally—even the people closest to me in 2006—and asked them Does Carey struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts? their answer would be Are you kidding me? Of course not. No. 

But back in ’06, I did. Big time.

Whatever your battle, you know this is true: leaders, the way you appear on the outside is different than you feel on inside.

Even the people who knew me best in ’06 have asked me, Was it really that dark? 

The answer is, actually, yes.

But even though I’ve been a writer and speaker for decades, I didn’t have the right words to articulate how bad it really was, even though I’ve had hundreds of gut-honest conversations with counsellors and the people who love me most.

In her letter/post to her late husband, Andrew, Kayla wrote:

You were right all along, I truly didn’t understand the depths of your depression and anxiety. I didn’t understand how real and how relentless the spiritual attacks were. The pain, the fear, and the turmoil you must have been dealing with every single day is unimaginable. 

Her words hit me deeply.

I know for me, the reason people couldn’t have understood how I felt is because I couldn’t properly articulate how I felt. It’s not their fault they couldn’t understand. And it’s not really the depressed person’s fault they couldn’t articulate it.

For me, the darkness came as a surprise, as an unwelcome guest, then a resident. And on certain days it felt like it owned me. I felt like I was in that bad dream so many of us have that we’re being carried away and you try to scream and nothing comes out. It gets like that sometimes.

The words come easier in the rearview mirror than they do in the moment.

I just pray you hold on long enough so there’s a rearview mirror to see

2. It’s spiritual

Kayla also wrote:

The enemy knew what an amazing man you were. The enemy knew God had huge plans for your life. The enemy saw how God was using your gifts, abilities, and unique teaching style to reach thousands of lives for Him. The enemy hated it and he pursued you incessantly. Taunting you and torturing you in ways that you were unable to express to anyone.

I don’t know what you think about spiritual warfare. I used to think it was something that happened 2000 years ago. Then I got into ministry.

Not everything is an attack by the enemy. Sometimes you just need to take responsibility and clean up your act.

But just because everything isn’t an attack by the Enemy doesn’t mean nothing is. Sometimes you do everything you can do and battle rages. (By the way, if you’re a spiritual skeptic—welcome. And if you this is crazy talk (which you might), just study 20th-century history and ask yourself why well-intentioned humans behave the way we behave.)

This stuff is real and Kayla has articulated it well. She’s right.

There is an Enemy, and he hates love, he hates hope and (as hard as this is to hear) he hates you.

My wife Toni and I were under some intense attacks when I was at my lowest. It was a battle somedays just to stay married and to stay in ministry and to stay alive.

Without being trivial (because this is hard to see when you’re depressed), it’s important to remember that we know how this story ends. Hope wins. Jesus wins. The enemy is defeated, and death loses.

Satan can’t steal our salvation. But he can steal our joy. And he delights in doing it.

Just know that when it gets really dark, the only way back to hope is through the Light.

3. Your emotions lie

We live in an emotional age. You and I get encouraged to listen to our feelings and to follow our emotions.

There’s one problem with that. Your emotions lie. Especially when you’re depressed, burned out and discouraged.

You do you is some of the worst life advice you can give. There have been huge swaths of my life when I stunk.

You know what’s better than your emotions? Your obedience.

For all the reasons mentioned in this post, I am NOT slamming people who gave into the darkness and ended their lives. This post is for the living, not the dead.

What I am saying is the best thing you can do when you’re depressed and suicidal is to do the thing you know to be true even if you don’t feel like doing it.

Burned-out, depressed people don’t think straight. I didn’t. Mental illness attacks your mind. It attacked mine.

As a result,

You are loved even when you don’t feel loved.

There is hope, even when you can’t feel hope.

You have a future, even when you can’t see your future.

I know this all personally because I felt exactly that way.

Want some good news? For many (perhaps not for all, but for many), your emotions eventually catch up to your obedience. Mine did.

So keep clinging to what you know to be true, even when you don’t feel like it.

4. You’re Most Tempted to Quit Moments Before Your Critical Breakthrough

You know what’s hard about a low season in your life?

You have no idea what’s ahead.

I didn’t. When you’re burned out, you can’t see a better future because all you feel is the present pain.

When I was most tempted to unclick my seatbelt and drive into that wall of concrete I had no idea our marriage would grow to be as a rich as it’s grown. I had no idea that (as hard as parenting can be), I would get to have so many incredible moments with my sons. Finally, I had no idea I would finally come to some kind of peace with myself, peace with others and peace with God (it’s growing…and every day isn’t perfect, but still…)

And when I was at my lowest, I would have no idea that the next decade would include speaking around the world, writing books, blogging and podcasting for millions of leaders and reaching all the people we’ve reached here at home.

I am convinced of this: you’re most tempted to quit moments before your critical breakthrough, whatever that breakthrough looks like in your life (including something as simple as sitting on the back porch holding hands with someone you love).

You’re most tempted to quit moments before your critical breakthrough. So don’t quit.

5. The Best Thing You Can Do With The Darkness is Bring It Into the Light

So what do you do with the darkness you feel inside you?

Bring it into the light, that’s what.

Light dissolves darkness like love dissolves fear.

How do you bring the darkness into light? Well, for sure, pray about it. Bring it to Jesus, who is light.

But too many people stop there.

Here’s what you can (and should) do:

Tell someone 

This was hard for me. It is for most leaders, especially guys. My guess is you will resist because of pride. And pride may be something that led you to burn out in the first place. Swallow your pride and tell someone safe that you have a problem.

Whatever you do, don’t keep your suspicions of burnout or suicide to yourself. Nothing good happens when you’re isolated. The way through burnout is through community.

It’s tough, but telling someone is the first step toward wellness. When you admit your problem to others, you also finally end up admitting it to yourself.

If you’re married, tell your spouse,  but don’t just tell your spouse. Your pain may be too heavy a burden for your marriage alone to bear.

Reach out. Please tell a friend. Tell your doctor. Tell your counsellor.

Leaders, please break the silence, before the silence breaks you.

Get Help

Don’t just tell a friend, tell your doctor. Go to a good, Christian counsellor.

If you’re hurting emotionally call The Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Jarrid and Juli Wilson have been very public about Jarrid’s struggle with depression and founded Anthem of Hope. They have a live chat you can access, too.

Jarrid and I talk about his struggle with suicide and depression on Episode 162 of my Leadership Podcast.

A Deeper Conversation

Just know I’m praying for you and for every leader who’s struggling with depression and even thought for a moment about ending things.

12 years on the other side of my dark night of the soul, the suicidal thoughts are gone (hopefully forever) and hope again burns bright. I’ve never felt more alive, more grateful and more hope than I do now. Is every day awesome? Of course not. And any regular readers of this blog know that journey…I try to write as honestly and truthfully as I know how.

In addition to the paragraphs on my suicidal moments in Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences I do cover the subject of burnout in depth, along with 6 other issues people never really see coming: cynicism, pride, compromise, disconnection, irrelevance and emptiness.

It’s a gut-honest account of how those soft issues take out and take down way too many people, how to recognize them in yourself, and I outline practical steps on how to thrive moving forward.

If you’re interested, you can learn more about my book here.

What About You?

I hope this feels like hope and help to you.

I think this problem is far deeper than we admit, and we have to talk about it. While I was working on this post this morning, I got a random text from a friend (who didn’t know I was writing this post) telling me that two years ago, he felt like killing himself. Crushed me. I love the guy.

So please break the silence before the silence breaks you.

I’d love to hear more from you. What’s your struggle been like?

What’s helping you?

Scroll down and leave a comment. (By the way…leaving a comment is great…but please, talk to someone who knows you and get professional help!)

63 Comments

  1. Phillip Cohen on September 5, 2018 at 7:15 am

    Thank you Carey.

    I am still recovering from my recent burnout. I’m so ashamed that I break down so easily. Or maybe it’s not so easily. Maybe the load I’m under is really heavy.

    Andrew Stoecklein’s tragic suicide has been ministering to me. He preached two messages on depression, and still saw no other way out.

    I’m so thankful for leaders who are stepping up and disclosing their own dark struggles. Carey, I read your essay this morning: LEADERSHIP AND SUICIDE: WHEN ENDING IT SEEMS LIKE THE ONLY WAY OUT

    I need to read what people like you are sharing. You’re putting into words the pain I’m not able to express.
    I’m spending extra time in the Word, playing guitar and worshiping each morning, asking God to teach me to worship as David did. Although it’s hard, I’m opening myself to my wife and a few trusted people.

    When I step back, it all makes sense to me. The family I came from…
    • My grandfather murdered his six-month old son, the uncle I never had. It was a family secret that came out from my grandmother’s tormented soul as she lay on her deathbed.
    • My father was repeatedly unfaithful to my mother. Once, he confided in me that he had sex with his own mother.
    • My father mercilessly cursed and beat me and my siblings.
    • My mother attempted suicide several times, four times while I watched.
    • My father committed suicide.
    • Scotty, my childhood best friend, was playing Dare Me, and blew his head off when he was eighteen.
    • My other best friend, Wally, was murdered on a robbery when he was twenty-seven.
    • I grew up surrounded by Jews whose entire families had been wiped out in concentration camps.
    • I grew up Jewish, in a nation that hated Jews—they blamed us for what Hitler did.

    Looking at it that way, I shouldn’t be surprised at the attacks I’m under. The buck must stop here. It cannot, it must not, ever get to my nine children and thirteen grandchildren, They may never know all that I have gone through and am going through.

    So many men turn aside right before the end of their lives. They started well, but didn’t finish well. Satan knows. Satan hates me.

    I will finish well.

    • Grant Barber on September 5, 2018 at 7:25 am

      God’s mercy, peace and strength be with you. God’s love is eternal, strong, unconditional: those who have been flawed, touched by evil realities, are also loved by the same God.

  2. Grant Barber on September 3, 2018 at 8:06 pm

    Oh yeah. Age 33 (I’m now 61 and just retired). First ministry I was in charge of…and I just knew I’d fail it. Anxiety fed on self-fulfilling prophecy. I was a failure, a fraud. I was even spiritually so weak that I let myself get in this quagmire. Or so said the voice inside me. Wife, seeing therapist, yelling at God that God put me in this job so DO SOMETHING (anger actually can rechannel the inward depression and anxiety). I also started an antidepressant, and I found a therapist who was comfortable with religious vocations. Medication is not wrong, or evil, or giving into weakness. There have been so articles out there recently suggesting otherwise. Biological imbalance that needs to be addressed so you can marshall your other resources…same as antibiotics and your own immune system. After a terrible time of it, prayer became deeper, centering, confidence restored, trust in others and God, in Jesus, made even more real.

  3. Kirsten on September 3, 2018 at 7:46 pm

    I’m 6 months into burnout recovery, and your previous posts about burnout have been huge for me. Most days, in the beginning, felt like a lot of hard work with no change in sight. I would just remind myself it took you six months to begin to see the light. Can I say it’s true? Big changes, hard work, a new normal and a whole lot of Jesus and I’m going to make it. But the temptation to give up is very, very real and I’m so thankful for your courageous honesty on a topic noone wants to talk about.

  4. Val McNeish on September 3, 2018 at 11:40 am

    As I write this, I am in tears after reading of so many who struggle with suicidal thoughts and depression. Why? Because I can relate. I am a Ministry Leader of a Recovery Group and I feel burned out. I have talked to my husband, but I know he does not understand. Not sure what my next step is.
    Val

    • Terry B Lee on September 3, 2018 at 7:54 pm

      Val… please reach out. Do not do this on your own. A Christian counsellor and a medical doctor are a great start. Talking to those around you who have the power to lighten your load is likely another necessary step – your boss, your ministry leader, etc.
      “Lord, make a way for my sister. Clear the path before her, that she might receive Your ministry, and know Your comfort and encouragement!” Amen

      • Val on September 5, 2018 at 9:18 pm

        I had some councilling today and this will continue. Spoke with pastor. and I keep talking. Thank you for your concern.

        • Terry B Lee on September 5, 2018 at 9:40 pm

          Wonderful! PTL! May the Lord continue to meet and lead you!

  5. Ron on September 2, 2018 at 9:37 pm

    Thank you for your bravery and transparency. This article will help many by giving them hope and letting them know they are not alone. This is far more common than people realize. When we bring these things out in the light, God uses them for us to help others. I remember going through my period of burnout and depression, and sharing my struggle with just a few people and getting a “Me too” response.

    Thank you again for using your leadership and influence to speak encouragement and hope to many.

    Blessings!

  6. Amy Montemayor on September 2, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    On item 3 – Your emotions lie, perhaps it would be better to say that we have to keep in touch with our emotions and acknowledge what we really feel and not suppress them. It is when we suppress our emotions that they become lies thus we can not depend on them. It is correct that obedience is better than emotions and perhaps it is aligning our emotions with God’s emotions would also help. The book of Chris Tiegreen “Feeling Like God” is a good reference when dealing with our emotions. Let us not forget that we as human beings are made of 5 aspects: cognitive, emotions, physical, social and spiritual, and we need to take care of each aspect.

  7. Matthew Hicks on September 2, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    30 years ago July 1988 I tried suicide. My wife came home to find me on the floor after taking a bottle of pills. I pray and thank god that he directed my wife to come home early from work and how Jesus saved my life. While the demons never leave, I have learned to ask for help from Jesus and others. I have been truly blessed since that dark day with three daughters, a son-in-law and wonderful friends, family and collogues. I do not talk about the dark days much but learned to control the fears that encased me and propelled to take the pills. Life is truly a struggle so I have learned to take time for myself to talk with Jesus. Thank you for your message and blog.

  8. Denise on September 2, 2018 at 3:57 pm

    So powerful…the testimony from you Carey and Kayla and then others above in the comments. I am a pastor who struggles with mental illness. I am 53 and have been medicated for most of my adult life. I have found ALL of the above messages and ideas of “what works” to be good at one point or another. YES reach out! YES your congregation CAN survive without you for a time. YES God WILL use you and your depression for His glory! YES your life is worth it! In the last three years as pastor of our current church, i have done my best to live authentically. I have told my congregation from the pulpit (via sermon) that I do struggle with depression and I have found a great solace in Jesus through His word and His people. Many of my people had already talked with me about their own struggles and after my honest upfront “this is part of who I am and Jesus is transforming me along this journey” many more confided in me. SURE there are critics who say “she shouldn’t be in ministry with that issue” but the “thank you for being real” and “help me” voices are louder when you can make the journey with people. I’m SO thankful that there are many from my congregation who have prayed fervently for me each day. My husband, a pastor, has his own story about what it’s been like to live with me as I’ve struggled. My now adult children, grew up with a Mom who has always been in and out of counseling.l ALL three of these precious people are CHAMPIONS! They are my biggest supporters no matter what lies ahead but the road has not been easy. YES! It is REALLY OKAY to not be OKAY!! May each of you find peace and courage along the journey and may God send you people like my people who know, pray and walk with me when the road is dark. The spiritual battle is REAL folks. I’m doing well today and I’m grateful, tomorrow? God is already there! All praise to Him!

  9. Lynn on September 1, 2018 at 10:27 pm

    Agreed!
    We are all human with human frailties.
    Let’s keep the conversation going!
    It is not shameful nor is it uncommon.
    Carey – you are so wonderful to open up your own inner turmoil and struggle for all to see and to learn from.
    Lynn

  10. Krystal on September 1, 2018 at 7:39 pm

    Getting professionally trained help should be number 1 – not number 5 AND the help does not have to be Christian. In my experience the non Christian help was far better. I am so tired of Christians labelling everything that is not from our tribe as automatically not good to access….very narrow thinking

    • Meghan on September 22, 2018 at 1:59 pm

      100% agree

  11. Dennis Dillman on September 1, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    I wanted to kill myself last year after the session of the congregation I served voted 5 to 1 to dissolve this call to ministry but the congregation voted me back in. Four of the elders and their families left the congregation and some of the remaining covenant partners blamed me for the loss in members/covenant partners. Before the congregational vote I told God that I would take the congregational vote as His will being done so I stayed when other pastors on our denomination’s Ministry Partnership Team counseled me to leave. (They are still counseling me to leave.) But I have stayed and made it through a very trying time after the vote. I never thought it would be worse after the vote than it was before. I went through a time when satan was telling me all the time everything was my fault because I was a pathetic leader. By the grace of God and a constant prayer life I heard from God that all of this was a lie…I was doing His will and He loves me even if I wasn’t.

    The darkest night..One night last December I could not fall asleep, so at 3am I got up out of bed in a fit of anger at this flood of negative thoughts. Jodi my wife heard me and asked me what I was doing. I said, “I am wanting to kill myself”. She did not believe me and rolled over to go back to sleep. I went down stairs and did not know who to call so I got my Bible out and read the Word of God and prayed. God used His Spirit in me and John 2 to stop me that night and save me, this was it, verses 23-25 that read: “Now while He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in His name. But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all [people]. He did not need [a person’s] testimony about [another person], for He knew what was in [every person].” (NIV, John 2:23-25) Immediately Jesus told me how much He loved me and assured me that all that had been done in this place was His will being done.” I realized then that I could not accept either the glory of the shame for anything that happened here. I had been giving all the glory to God, but the shame had been sticking to me. I just sat and cried and cried and just clung to Him. I still have moments when evil spirits tell me “you are worthless, you are a terrible leader, no one will ever listen to you” and I just mention Jesus’ name and they vanish. He is so very powerful that they run at the mention of His name. I am nothing except what He made, makes, and will keep on making me to be for His glory, not mine. Thank You God/Jesus/Holy Spirit for saving me every day…You are my Lord and Savior everyday. In Your name Jesus we pray, amen.

    • Phillip Cohen on September 6, 2018 at 4:56 am

      Thank you, Dennis.

      I am in that place right now.

      I grew up in the 1950’s, in Chicago, inside a world of violence, immorality, and drugs. My grandfather murdered his own son. My father was in and out of mental hospitals, was abusive to my mother and us children, immoral, and addicted to drugs and gambling. He finally took his own life. After following his path for a few years, I met Jesus in 1974, who has helped me turn my life around.
      I’ve given my life to building and nurturing a Christ-centered company I started 36 years ago to provide something better for the nine children my wife and brought into the world. Now that our children are grown, some of them still work for me, and our company provides healing, hope, and careers for many people no one else will hire, such as felons and ex-drug addicts.
      Today our company is successful in every way. But some attitudes in a couple family members family are threatening to blow up the company. On Friday through Sunday we’re meeting to make some major decisions.
      Satan has been constantly whispering to me,
      “All the good in the company is God’s and all the shame and failure is yours.”
      The fall of Bill Hybels has made me feel even more hopeless. God used him to teach me to spend daily time with God, and to live and lead in a Biblically relevant way, and lean into and admit my brokenness.
      Unlike Bill, my life is clean. I’m a painfully transparent person and many people hold me accountable. Nevertheless, Satan has whispered, “If I can take Bill Hybels down, taking you down will be child’s play.”
      I’ve seen no other way out, except to take my life, or at least will myself dead. The prayers and support from my wife and a few friends have kept me alive. And having the courage to express what’s going on inside me, even when people I’m talking with don’t understand.
      Yesterday, I read and listened to the first part of Carey’s new book. I’m going to stay curious. I’m going to ask open-ended questions. I’m going to believe the sun will rise, although right now the night is getting darker and colder and feels so much like death.
      Phillip

      • Dennis on September 6, 2018 at 3:41 pm

        Brother Philip…I love you and I am so sorry for all that has happened in your life. There is a great counselor Dominic Herbst the founder of restoringrelationships.org. His son Joseph is now the President of the company and he is a great counselor. He walked me through the Restoring Relationships Journal that helped God remove the bitter root in my heart from my childhood. Please reach out to them and get the journal…and I just asked God to never let you again listen to the demons. You are doing God’s will and the proof of that is that the evil spirits are after you. Please read Your Bible every time you start hearing the negative thoughts…this puts God’s voice of love in the midst of them. Please do not listen to them…you are doing God’s will and He loves you! In Christ we seek, serve, love, and give and it costs us as the cross we bear out of gratitude for the one He bears for us, your brother in Christ Dennis….maybe some day God willing… I will work with you! 🙂

  12. John Johnson on September 1, 2018 at 1:29 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story sir !

  13. Sr. Dorcee Clarey on September 1, 2018 at 10:12 am

    Thank you this, Carey. I lost a brother to suicide. It’s so important to be honest and open about our struggles. There is such a stigma still in our society–and especially in our churches–on those who struggle. We need to all learn to walk alongside each other, to love and meet folks where they are, and not merely have an attitude of “preaching” and “trying to fix.” Love goes a much longer way.

  14. Don Hardy on September 1, 2018 at 7:34 am

    God has led me to work on building community. Along this journey I ran into the problems of loneliness and despair. Living in a vacation spot we came here to finish out sunset years. Everyone around us, mostly vacationers seem to be having the time of their lives, only to loose a family member to the darkest moments. Our home-bound members are allowed to drift away, like discarded plastic bottles on the ocean.

    I have no idea on where I am being led. I just yearn to see what is on the next stretch of road. Your openness comes at a very special time for me as I work on building community. I have been led that this is the way out.

  15. Monica Dixon on September 1, 2018 at 1:29 am

    Thank you for sharing this. Although I am not in a leadership role of any sort; I have experienced a form of burnout from other sources and as a result of and as well as, I have struggled with mental illness… including suicidal thoughts and attempts on my life. Nearly four years ago I found that I couldn’t find anyone to talk to about the issues. Professionals were one thing… but regular people…. no way. Suicide in general was and still is that topic that nobody is really comfortable with. Hearing about another suicide breaks my heart, especially when I start to see the singular comments saying yeah, I’ve been there too. The whispers that someone else has struggled with suicidal thoughts or attempts… the surprise when it is finally revealed. A person’s suicidal thoughts are possibly one of the hardest things to reveal to another person.
    But revealing those thoughts is most likely the best thing that anybody can do… both in the moment, and as healing occurs following those thoughts.
    The thing that helped me the most during my darkest times? Putting professional help into place to ensure my safety was the priority. But beyond that, it was the ability to talk about it and open it up into a full on conversation so that people could message me back. It opened up a world of dialogue and brought support and healing in an incredible way. Countless times I have been blown away by a message from a friend or visitor to my blog where I tell my story, saying ‘Wow’ or ‘I thought I was the only one!’
    Sharing your story, your thoughts, or your journey about suicide openly, and being available to hear someone else’s story without judgement is the only way to make it easier to talk about it.
    Prayers go out to the Stoecklein family, as well as any family dealing with the effects of suicidal ideation, attempts, or loss.

  16. Jim Dickinson on September 1, 2018 at 12:24 am

    I was in a very deep, very dark hole when I made several suicide attempts in ’05-06. I was a pastor in a small, remote town (130 miles from anything), dealing with some church people who didn’t agree with me or my denomination’s positions on some key issues. They were spreading lies about me, and I was curled up in a ball, not able to function. My doctor advised me to retire (I was just 55), and recommended a suicide recovery facility, where I stayed for six weeks. I’m still seeing a therapist because depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicidal thoughts continue to plague me. I think that burnout was a piece of my puzzle, but there was more to it than that. Mental illness is a silent killer, especially for those of us who are in the ministry. Where I lived, the nearest counselor was a 3 hour drive away. The congregation didn’t understand what I was going through, and my wife, though she never stopped loving and supporting me, didn’t understand either. Today, after living with the depressed me for 15 years, it’s still hard for her to cope, and I deal with a fair amount of guilt for bringing our lives to a very different place than we’d planned. Depression is viewed as a weakness or a lack of faith or such things as not enough prayer. Suicide is unforgivable, no one wants to talk about it, it’s a forbidden subject, even some therapists are uncomfortable talking about it. I’ve been able to find ways to say no to the thoughts, some days are better than others. I told the therapist on Tuesday that I stay alive because of my wife and adult son and daughter.

    Time, counseling, medication and an understanding pastor have kept me going. Thank you for sharing your insight. I hope it will help destigmatize mental illness in the minds of some of the people who read your words. This journey has certainly taught me many lessons.

  17. Deborah Wood on August 31, 2018 at 9:56 pm

    This is a bit long, so if you need to take it down Admin, I understand.

    All to well I know the whispering voice of the enemy (Lucifer, called out for who he really is) and his nasty minions. For many years they reeked havoc in my life. Post natal depression and clinical depression. It was seemingly a family thing. I was a non christian, but was searching. I remember clearly the day I laid on the lounge thinking that this was the day, I was going to be found dead that day. It was obviously the best thing because I was useless to my husband, small children, family, friends. You know the drill if you’ve heard the voices. They’ve been such a part of your life, you almost don’t know any different. But that day, somehow, I felt the presence of someone else in the room that helped me get off that lounge. I could not have done it myself. Without knowing how, I knew God was in the room and helped me live that day. It didn’t make sense, but I clung to it for years. Through the voices that still continued to tell me to drive into trees, or just take some pills. Even through the time I felt Lucifer’s arms wrap around during an Alpha course (still searching) and whisper in my ear “Don’t listen to them, they’re lying to you. Stay here with me”. I knew full well by now who it was talking, but he’d been there for so long that I took this option and was thrown off my searching path.

    But God is faithful and He continued his relentless pursuit of me, placing all manner of things in my way to continue to show He was there, fighting for me. Hindsight is a beautiful thing. The day He finally broke through to me I was voicing out loud how I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do or say and a new voice dropped in. “You don’t need to do anything, you already did it 10 years ago”, “What do you mean 10 years ago” I questioned out loud. “At the church in Salisbury”. And just liked that, the veil that have blanketed me for 10 years was lifted and I remembered giving my life to Jesus during a healing meeting. I had no clue back then what it meant, but Lucifer did and he set about trying to destroy God’s plans one way or another. That 10 years had been the greatest struggle of my life, not that the previous 30 had been a walk in the park, but when I had started pursuing God, Lucifer upped the ante.

    Having come from a family history dappling in the occult, I’m well aware of the spiritual warfare that goes on. I had tried medication, but they were not for me. I have seen it work well for others and certainly recommend it as an option. But I never rule out Lucifer and his schemes. The last 10 years have certainly been easier, but Lucifer is tenacious if nothing else and he tries hard to undermine in whatever way he can. I’m just much more attuned to him now. It doesn’t take long for him to slip up and expose himself and his plans.

    I’m currently doing a time of discerning whether I am moving into ministry as a preacher/pastor. I’ve started doing your “Art of Better Preaching” course Carey and am loving it, but have been struggling with whether this is the right path for me to take, although everything has been pointing to this for years, even before I was a Christian. Reading your blog today has once again shown the tricks that can be played. Reading Kayla’s words in #2 has opened my eyes. I stopped and prayed. Those words that she wrote about her beautiful husband apply to me. I’ve had those words spoken over me, even before I was saved. I know in my heart of hearts that there is something big waiting for me, but I just keep getting distracted, almost to the point of suicide a few times. If Lucifer can’t keep you distracted, disinterested or disheartened, then he will take you out, by whatever means he has to.

    We all have a God given purpose, so I don’t say the above as egotistical, thinking that I am more important than anyone else. It just highlighted to me today that this is why I keep myself small, distracted, flighty. It’s because Lucifer has been doing it for a long time and I think it’s normal and a fault in me. On my good days I’m running on fire for all things God given, but allow a small amount of room, like not enough sleep, not enough healthy food, overworking, allowing others to dictate my time, not enough self care, and the Creep comes in and starts his work.

    I know the end to the whole story, yep, WE WIN! Praise Jesus! I don’t know the road I travel, but I know I travel it with a God who pursued me relentlessly for 40 years, and still does. He’s my safe place, my rock, my love. If I stay close to Him, listen closely, take care of the temple that He’s given me to live in on this earth, then I will be able to run my race strong, helping others to do the same. What that looks like, I don’t know. But I know that it involves loving and helping others. Sharing my dark times and my good times. Being vulnerable. Caring, supporting.

    Thank you Carey for your blog, you words were poignant and timely. Thank you for being vulnerable and brave. May your words go out and reach the flock, encouraging and filling them with hope. When we remember that we are doing this together, and that we are stronger together, that’s when we prevail and Lucifer is done like a bad dinner. Many, many blessing to you Carey.

  18. Dawna Luzadder on August 31, 2018 at 7:37 pm

    Carey you will never know how much this article meant to me. over the course of this last year it has been a downward spiral for me and i didn’t even know it. i was in the hospital several times and my 30 year old son was diagnosed with ALS only given a few years. along with financial issues and some other loses in my life. I was hurting and desperate i started begging for help and all i heard was “I will pray for you” i let my emotions take over. one day last week something pushed me to go see a friend i hadn’t seen or talked to in 15 years. I simply wanted to tell him about my son. I don’t know what he saw but just started talking to me and when i left i felt a calm i haven’t felt in a while. about a week later i see your article and realized how close i was to a total burnout. Thank you

  19. Jeff on August 31, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    Thank you for being so honest and real! It helps a lot!

  20. Elaine on August 31, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    Powerful! Thank you for sharing so openly from your own experience and for urging those who are feeling desperate to get help before it’s too late.

    My heart grieves for Kayla Stoecklein, her children, the rest of Andrew’s family and everyone affected by his loss. I don’t mean to be critical or ungracious, but I do wonder about the wisdom of making a man of 30 lead pastor of a megachurch. What an incredible load for any man of that age to try to carry, let alone one who struggled with depression. So very sad.

  21. Angela on August 31, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    Thank you for this post – you have always been refreshingly honest AND super respectful of the very real struggles leaders go through. You did a masterful job of handling this topic and I am incredibly grateful for the rich ways you’ve been able to spend these last 12 years. Thank you for tackling the tough stuff, making sure none of us feels alone and doing it in a way just bathed in respect for humanity.

  22. Lauren on August 31, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    Thank you for writing this important and brave post. “when it gets really dark, the only way back to hope is through the Light.” So good. Joining you in prayer for all leaders, especially, struggling with this. Lifting up Kayla, the boys, family, and church family. Jesus come close.

  23. Biata on August 31, 2018 at 3:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing this Carey.

    Sometimes it seems like there is no support for leaders going through burnout, depression and anxiety. It may take some searching but there is definitely support. Telling someone close to you could potentially help in getting the ball rolling for seeking weekly help.

    Also, I think it’s really important that depression and anxiety is equally physical as it is spiritual. Yes, burnout in ministry can easily cause depression and anxiety. But so can being low on vitamin D, B12, or Omega 3s. Even high levels of heavy metals in our systems or a food intolerance can bring on mental health. And some people have neurological issues where they struggle their entire lives.

    The most hurtful things Christians have said regarding mental health to us is that depression is caused by an issue with your relationship with God. The best thing that anyone has ever said to us was “have you seen your doctor yet?”. Take care of the body first. That’s the easiest place to start. Spiritually things may fall into place afterwards. And maybe not … maybe you’ll need to continue in counselling for a while, and that’s okay. But if your body isn’t taken care for, neither will your mind be.

  24. Terry B Lee on August 31, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    Thanks, Carey. I was in burn out too, and have discovered that it’s easier to go back there a second time. It requires my being utterly attentive to my soul, and make changes when those old warning signs appear.
    This week, our little fellowship had 2 attempted suicides. Your post. Kay Warren’s article in CT Today …the Holy Spirit is warning the church. “Lord, help us hear and respond!”

  25. Sylvia Huttges on August 31, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    What a beautiful, honest read. Thank you.

  26. Mike Duke on August 31, 2018 at 12:57 pm

    Carey, though we differ theologically, I have to express a new respect I’ve gained giving such a dangerous, honest and transparent look at yourself. You are very brave my friend. I sincerely applaud you. BRAVO!!!! Such a tragically misunderstood and maligned topic. Thank you for some clarity.

  27. Kevin on August 31, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    Good word!

  28. Jeff Fuson on August 31, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    I have been stunned and overwhelmed and have a heavy heart over the loss of this fine young minister with so much promise. And of course to watch the news about other big names [ people who I still honor and am grateful for ] who have gone down in flames lately only adds to the sorrow.

    WOW! Carey, thanks for the transparency in this blog post in your new book, Didn’t See it Coming. No question that being the point leader in a church, or any other organization I’d suppose, takes it’s toll. I look across the names of once prominent pastors on the spines of many of the books in my library and it’s not lost on me how many of us do not finish like I know that they must have wanted to.

    I mean absolutely no harm nor harshness to those battling depression, struggling with suicidal ideations or just with making it through another week leading in church-land. I feel your pain and struggle and honor it and I GRIEVE TO THE CORE my friends who have hit upon hard times for whatever reason. Only time will tell how it goes for me and I certainly am not arrogant enough to believe it could never be me. Only the grace and mercy of God have carried me this far and I’m certain that is all that will get me home someday. So, no judgment here.

    With that said, I do wonder what it takes for us to lead well from a ‘full heart’ gushing over like Jesus promised we could/would? I think honest looks at mental illness and so many other stressors that lead pastors face is a great start.

    I’m vitally interested in how to boost the hearts of point leaders so we all finish strong! I suspect that’s on my ‘next steps’ radar of things on the horizon as my ministry advances. And, I suppose, buried in that next mission is not so much saving others as it is saving myself. [ No I don’t mean that I can save myself as in I don’t need Jesus, just in that I’m vitally interested in how to let the power of the Holy Spirit have it’s full measure of impact in my life until I am called home. However, I suspect that was an ambition of nearly everyone of my friends who have hit upon hard times. ]

    So, I leave you all with a question. What is the key to a strong finish for point leaders? [ Yes, in this reference to ‘Point Leaders’ I do suspect that we suffer some unique wounds by nature of our position. ]

    Thanks again Carey for hitting this nail squarely on its’ head!

    • Jesse Bingaman on September 1, 2018 at 8:24 am

      I’ve been there too. Sometimes we just feel so hopeless that we can’t see an alternative. It’s hard to believe that I was actually at that point myself. I’m grateful that Carey opened the conversation on this topic.

  29. Jo on August 31, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    What an honest article. Thank you for sharing something so personal and meaningful and important for other to read and share. You are a light of the world Carey. Keep letting it shine!

  30. Jeff Fuson on August 31, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    I have been stunned and overwhelmed and have a heavy heart over the loss of this fine young minister with so much promise. And of course to watch the news about other big names [ people who I still honor and am grateful for ] who have gone down in flames lately only adds to the sorrow.

    WOW! Carey, thanks for the transparency in this blog post in your new book, Didn’t See it Coming. No question that being the point leader in a church, or any other organization I’d suppose, takes it’s toll. I look across the names of once prominent pastors on the spines of many of the books in my library and it’s not lost on me how many of us do not finish well.

    I mean absolutely no harm nor harshness to those battling depression, struggling with suicidal ideations or just with making it through another week leading in church-land. I feel your pain and struggle and honor it and I GRIEVE TO THE CORE my friends who have hit upon hard times for whatever reason. Only time will tell how it goes for me and I certainly am not arrogant enough to believe it could never be me. Only the grace and mercy of God have carried me this far and I’m certain that is all that will get me home someday. So, no judgment here.

    With that said, I do wonder what it takes for us to lead well from a ‘full heart’ gushing over like Jesus promised we could/would? I think honest looks at mental illness and so many other stressors that lead pastors face is a great start.

    I’m vitally interested in how to boost the hearts of point leaders so we all finish strong! I suspect that’s on my ‘next steps’ radar of things on the horizon as my ministry advances. And, I suppose, buried in that next mission is not so much saving others as it is saving myself. [ No I don’t mean that I can save myself as in I don’t need Jesus, just in that I’m vitally interested in how to let the power of the Holy Spirit have it’s full measure of impact in my life until I am called home. However, I suspect that was an ambition of nearly everyone of my friends who have hit upon hard times. ]

    So, I leave you all with a question. What is the key to a strong finish for point leaders? [ Yes, in this reference to ‘Point Leaders’ I do suspect that we suffer some unique wounds by nature of our position. ]

    Thanks again Carey for hitting this nail squarely on its’ head!

  31. Sheryl on August 31, 2018 at 12:25 pm

    Full disclosure: I’m technically not a church leader, unless being a deacon & a Stephen Minister count, but I’ve been following you ever since I read your wise & compassionate post years ago about Rick Warren’s son’s death.

    But I too have struggled with depression, and found that anti-depressants have been a Godsend. When I first started taking them & feeling my darkness lift I told close friends that I realized I had probably needed them all my life. I still take them & may for the rest of my life, as they seem to correct a chemical imbalance in my brain.

    When my stepfather, an ordained minister & wonderful Godly man, needed to move into assisted living, he became depressed. A perceptive friend got him to a doctor who prescribed an anti-depressant, and fairly quickly his anger & hopelessness dissipated.

    I know that many Christians think that Biblical wisdom & faith alone should be enough—that taking antidepressants is an admission of spiritual inadequacy or weakness, but I have found the opposite to be true.

  32. Ed on August 31, 2018 at 12:20 pm

    Wow! This is timely and relevant for me. Thank you Carey! The piece concerning quitting just before a major breakthrough really spoke to me. I keep holding on for that moment because I believe that God has me where I am to complete a work. Hard to keep waiting through the burnout, depression and spiritual battles. My greatest struggle is if walking away from pastoral ministry is the answer or just running away from a problem that will follow you. How will God view you if you walk away? This post helps a lot. Thanks for your transparency.

  33. […] Leadership and Suicide: When Ending It Seems Like The Only Way Out by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  34. Brian Vaughan on August 31, 2018 at 11:18 am

    Well said, Carey. Thank you for your transparency. We all really appreciate your insights. Bless you, brother.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 31, 2018 at 11:38 am

      Thanks Brian!

  35. Ray on August 31, 2018 at 10:44 am

    Carey, thank you for your article. I have battled depression for many years, even before I entered the ministry. Tragically, it is a misunderstood disease. But, I have learned some things over the years that help me in the battle:

    1. God is present and working for my good. He has seen me through many difficult times and will continue to do so.
    2. My worst fears seldom materialize.
    3. I do not have to be perfect. God loves me as I am. He has a habit of using imperfect people.
    4. Talking about what depresses me, with someone who cares, allows me to feel better. Holding it all inside makes things worse.
    5. My difficult seasons of life usually are like clouds with a silver lining. I can grow from them.
    6. Nobody escapes pain in life.
    7. God knows what He’s doing, even if I don’t. He works through our failures as well as our successes.
    8. We, as pastors, are prime targets for the enemy, as you mentioned. Depression is an occupational hazard for us. Therefore, we ought to watch out for our colleagues in particular.
    9. Depression is often not taken seriously. Few people realize how deadly it can be and how quickly it can strike.
    10. Antidepressants are helpful in beating depression. They can be part of the solution. When I’m depressed, it affects my brain chemistry.

    These thoughts work for me. What works for you?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 31, 2018 at 11:39 am

      Ray I’m so thankful you shared this. I’d love to hear what helps others.

  36. Geoff Surratt on August 31, 2018 at 10:41 am

    Thanks so much for sharing this Carey. I know how hard it is to admit how deep it goes. I know your honesty gives others hope

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 31, 2018 at 11:39 am

      Thanks Geoff. This was so hard to write…I appreciate you and Sherry so much!

  37. Suzanne Yemen on August 31, 2018 at 10:41 am

    Thank you Carey for your honesty and openness! As a person who has suffered from depression for 20 some years I can’t stress how strongly I feel about talking about all mental health issues. As long as the stigma remains it will continue to be much more difficult than it needs to be. I appreciate your point about being at your lowest just before a critical breakthrough. We have had two good friends commit suicide when things seemed to be getting a little bit better. My physician husband explained it to me like this: when you are at your lowest you don’t have the energy for suicide but when you start feeling slightly better you do. I have never been suicidal but I do struggle with being in that dark place where your life feels totally useless. The last time I was there and all the voices were telling me how unloveable I was and I was questioning that I no longer knew who I was, another voice in my head drowned out all the others and said “ You are a child of God. You are exactly who He wants you to be”. I am far from being cured of depression and could not deal with life without my medication. But that message clings to my soul and there is now light where there was only darkness before!. And I continue to prayer for all the Andrew’s out there and the families left behind.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 31, 2018 at 11:40 am

      Suzanne…thanks for this and I’m so glad you’re fighting it. Your husband has a great point. I never thought of that. Thanks for helping others Suzanne. Sometimes that helps us move past our own pain too, as I’m sure you know.

  38. i-AKIN on August 31, 2018 at 10:38 am

    Thanks

  39. Jon Doe on August 31, 2018 at 10:33 am

    I have been here and in suddenly find myself back here. I cried as I read about Andrew, for him, his family, and myself and mine. I often feel trapped…would not go through as I love my children and wife too deeply but at the same time I feel so inadequate as a provider, father, husband and even pastor…so hard.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 31, 2018 at 11:41 am

      Hey Jon…thanks for telling me. We’re on your side. I pray today you’ll talk to someone in person. We’re on your side.

    • Phillip Cohen on September 7, 2018 at 6:07 am

      Jon,
      Me too.

  40. Chuck on August 31, 2018 at 10:14 am

    Noble. Brave. And necessary. I once had a significant other with this issue so I can personally vouch for how important this information and counsel is. Tell someone. Get help. Don’t listen to the emotional lies. Amen.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 31, 2018 at 11:41 am

      Thanks Chuck!

  41. Mike on August 31, 2018 at 10:13 am

    Feelings are like a 7 year old. You can’t lock them in the trunk of your car, but you can’t let them drive either. – from the movie “thanks for sharing”
    You have to let your emotions be a passenger in your car. But the Holy Spirit has to be the driver.
    Thanks for writing this. There are some great David Foster Wallace quotes about suicide on azquotes.com that help me to better understand what the victims were thinking.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 31, 2018 at 11:42 am

      So true about feelings, and thanks for the reference!

  42. Dianne Ramster on August 31, 2018 at 9:58 am

    For wives: Take his comments seriously and expect that you are just seeing the tip of the iceberg – his desire to be strong, capable and “manly” will likely overrule any inclination to admit the challenges he is experiencing. You will never understand unless you have had similar experiences, just accept it. Get medical help and make sure your doctor is aware of the extent of the problem and refers him to an appropriate specialist – medication can help relieve the symptoms as counselling deals with the issue. It is sometimes cyclical with down times alternating with up times – don’t be fooled. Use the up times to agree on a safe way to let your partner know he is starting a downhill slide – sometimes this awareness is enough to get him back on track before it goes too deep. My husband and I had a code word – if I sensed he was starting down I would ask him if he was “pouting” – usually he would think about it and say yes and do what he needed to do to stop the slide. You, as wife, will benefit from counselling too to learn how to live with this burden. Finally – it is not your job to save him – it is out of your hands but you are on the team that eases the burden as he struggles to heal – it is a long road.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 31, 2018 at 11:42 am

      Thank you Dianne. So helpful.

  43. Roger Patterson on August 31, 2018 at 9:55 am

    Carey,
    Thanks for your candor and your passion to pour into others through your story! Isn’t it great, that when we keep walking, God redeems our stories? God bless you brother!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 31, 2018 at 11:42 am

      He does Roger. He does.

  44. Billy on August 31, 2018 at 9:49 am

    Thanks for sharing this.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 31, 2018 at 11:43 am

      Thanks Billy!

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