calm ethnic man sitting with akita inu
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021.

Today we are going to focus on mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety and discuss the disturbing rise in thoughts about suicide and suicide attempts and completed suicides. To that end, if you are feeling depressed, or anxious and are thinking about the possibility of self-harm, call the suicide hotline at 800-273-8255, or by chat. There is help. People do care. Do the same if you are concerned about someone else as well.

There are all types of trends that indicate we need to give thought to our mental (and spiritual) health, especially for adolescents and adults. Why? Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for those aged 10-35. (It is the second leading cause of death in the various age bands in those groups.)

Think about this for a minute. At a time when children and young adults used to be filled with optimism and hope about their futures (and lived it in their present), we are seeing increasing numbers of members of this age group feel the opposite. In fact, the rate of suicide in this country has increased by 35% since 1999. Almost one in five high school students have thought about suicide, and more than one in ten young adults (age 18 to 25) have thought about suicide. Almost five percent of all adults have thought about suicide. All these numbers reflect increases over the years.

There are other mental health indicators that should cause us concern. Consider these findings from The Physician’s Weekly, about a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

“In fact, the increase in mental health issues among teens and young adults is nothing short of staggering. From 2009 to 2017, major depression among 20- to 21-year-olds more than doubled, rising from 7% to 15%. Depression surged 69% among 16- to 17-year-olds. Serious psychological distress, which includes feelings of anxiety and hopelessness, jumped 71% among 18- to 25-year-olds from 2008 to 2017. Twice as many 22- to 23-year-olds attempted suicide in 2017 compared with cohorts in 2008, and 55% more had suicidal thoughts. The increases were more pronounced among girls and young women. By 2017, one out of five 12- to 17-year-old girls had experienced major depression in the previous year.”

COVID may have increased these feelings, but the trends were well ingrained before the pandemic. If there is a need for anything, it is community and hope. And at its best, religion can offer that hope. There is good news on this front. These numbers get better when there is a strong, supportive community. These numbers get better when there is a sense of purpose and mission that provides meaning. And that is why it is important to use the best of faith practice.

Joe Ehrmann, a lineman who played in the NFL from 1973 to 1982, had a life changing experience in 1978 watching is then 19-year-old brother die from cancer. Determined to reexamine his priorities, he set out spending his life in a new way. In a TED talk entitled “Be a Man”, he identifies both the problems of men and the solution to these problems. He suggests two things: real, authentic relationships are a source of help, and commitment to a cause.

Lent can be just the time to examine both. In faith, the starting point for an authentic relationship is the awareness that we, as humans, are made for authentic relationships. We are made in God’s image and likeness and God is relationship. What keeps you from authentic relationships? Certainly COVID has complicated our ability to connect with those we love. But at the same time, perhaps it has heightened the awareness of just how significant authentic relationships are to our health and well-being.

Perhaps Lent can be a time to make room for an authentic relationship. What if you prepared simply by asking Jesus to come into your life more fully? What if you asked Jesus to increase your trust in him? What if you asked Jesus to place people in your life that are also made for authentic relationships with you? There is nothing more Jesus wants for each of us than for us to be fulfilled. Jesus wants for us true happiness. Lent is a perfect time to focus on how to have such a relationship.

Jesus wants us to grow in holiness. Jesus wants us to know we are loved beyond all measure. Jesus wants us to have real life experiences of authentic relationships. The bible tells us that friendship is a treasure. Saint Paul tells us that we are the body of Christ, and each one of us is a member of it. Perhaps the way you can seek out these authentic relationships is by committing to praying each day for others. They can be either people we love and care about, or people we struggle to get along with, or even people whose friendship we wish we had. But whatever you do, know that a relationship with Jesus brings you into relationship with others. Tomorrow we will explore committing to a cause.

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