Last week, 48-year-old Steve Smick, a California man who had been living in his pick-up truck, performed what may be interpreted as either the ultimate profession, or perversion, of faith. A little before 10 a.m. he entered the famed Crystal Cathedral sanctuary in Southern California, handed a church greeter a note containing his driver’s license and knelt down before a gold cross at the alter. Mr. Smick then removed a gun from his backpack, put the semiautomatic weapon to his temple and released a single, fatal shot into his head.
As America’s economic crisis deepens, many are beginning to worry about the impact of the recession on suicide rates. Mental health officials have noted the correlation between psychological well-being and personal finances. According to a statement released by the American Association of Suicidology, unemployed individuals are between two and four times more likely to take their own life than those employed. Moreover, home loss has been identified as one of the leading economic calamities associated with suicide. The report reads, “For most Americans, our homes are our primary investment and the locus of our identities and social support systems.”
Thus the combination of record foreclosure and unemployment rates in America creates a toxic environment, which may make occurrences such as last month’s family murder-suicide in Los Angeles, and that of Mr. Smick more common. But despite how asphyxiated some may feel as a result of financial calamity, mental health professionals are encouraging media outlets to spread the word that suicide is never an acceptable option. Over 90 percent of suicide victims have psychiatric illnesses that at the time of their death are either undiagnosed, untreated or both. This is why it is important for friends, families and faith communities to educate themselves about the warning signs and immediate treatment options available for persons struggling with suicidal thoughts and behavior.
The American Association of Suicidology is a great place to start. Mr. Smick’s death proves that persons struggling with depression and despair need more than prayer and praise when entering our sanctuaries. Many need mental health counseling and medical resources.