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North Alabama pastor discusses the coexistence of mental illness, suicide and spirituality

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - "Where is God when I’m depressed?" Some Christians would say you don’t question God ever. However, a local pastor would argue that it doesn’t have to be that way. That question was the title his recent sermon. The Bible is filled with examples of people who struggled through periods of darkness and despair.

The prophet Elijah cried out to God saying, "I have had enough, Lord, take my life!” - I Kings 19:4

Job said, “I loathe my very life!” - Job 10:1

King David asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me?” - Psalm 22:1

Do you know the feeling? Loving God and not loving yourself. Being filled with the Holy Spirit and thoughts of suicide. If you’re enduring that internal tug of war, it’s isolating, exhausting and defeating.

“When you go through something like this, you really feel like God is distant,” says Steve Lacy, a teaching pastor at the Madison campus of Willowbrook Baptist Church. "You feel like he’s either not there or doesn’t care. Depression is always a tough thing. Many people equate that with if you’re depressed, you can’t be connected to God.”

Pastor Steve Lacy shares his experience with depression and overcoming the loss of his first wife, Felicia, to suicide.

Lacy has experience with depression, mental illness and suicide, professionally and personally.

"I have a son who has Down syndrome and I went through one of the lowest lows of my life when he was born and I saw that he had Down syndrome," explains Lacy.

Another low was the loss of his wife Felicia.

"I remember it was April 1st," describes Lacy. "She was just having a very, very low day. Felicia was diagnosed with depression and borderline personality disorder. At church that day in 2006, she struggled. In between the worship time and my time to speak, I went to check on her and the person in the nursery said she was really having a terrible time. She was just crying so she went on home. I thought she’s really going through a low point again."

After finishing up the service, Lacy left too.

"When I came to the house, it was dark," recalls Lacy. "I called for her and didn’t see her. I thought, 'I ought to check in the garage and see if the car is there or not.' Maybe she’s taken a walk. I opened the garage door and she had taken her life."

Felicia was under psychiatric care at the time of her death. That didn’t eliminate his guilt, but eased it some.

"I can look back and say I didn’t try to handle it on my own," says Lacy. "I realized it was beyond me."

Lacy advises others to do the same.

“The biggest danger that you fall into is thinking you’re a mental health professional,” says Lacy.

Lacy says don’t underestimate mental illness.

"Understand this is so much more pervasive than you realize," says Lacy. "There are kids, maybe your kids, who have actually thought about it. In their mind, they have imagined what it would be like. For a moment, they thought, 'I'd be better dead.' You don’t need to minimize that."

Lacy says don’t underestimate the power of professional help.

"Unfortunately, I’ve heard pastors say that if you really love and trust God you wouldn’t need medication and to me that’s so untrue.”

Lacy also emphasizes that you definitely shouldn’t underestimate God.

"God is good life isn’t, don’t confuse the two," says Lacy. "At one point, I hit a key point where I realized, I could have all God’s grace and all God’s peace without all God’s answers. I think that is the point in which you can say, 'I’ll never be able to make sense out of this and I'll never totally understand this.' That doesn’t mean God can’t give me hope and peace and grace. Because sometimes what you become is a hope to somebody else.”

Pastor Lacy encourages believers and everyone to be the hope and light that could guide someone out of a dark place and from making a tragic and permanent mistake.

Resources to Call:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Crisis Services of North Alabama
256-716-1000

Crisis Text Line
Text 'home' to 741741

Crisis Support in Spanish
1-888-628-9454

Download the SPEAK App:

WHNT News 19 is Taking Action to bring the topics of mental health and suicide awareness to the forefront. We're partnering with the Huntsville Hospital Foundation for the SPEAK initiative. As part of that, we want you to know about resources readily available to you, like the SPEAK Suicide Prevention App. You can download it for free. It's for anyone who is contemplating suicide or anyone who wants to help someone at risk in a responsible way. It outlines warning signs, who to call and guides you on what to say and what not to say to a suicidal person.