Before he started preaching about “Those Who Hunger,” the Rev. Tim McConnell, lead pastor of First Presbyterian Church in downtown Colorado Springs, spoke on Sunday from the pulpit about something that was weighing heavily on his heart.
A 13-year-old eighth-grade student at Thomas MacLaren School, a state-sponsored K-12 charter school on North Murray Boulevard, died by suicide last week.
The boy was a friend to many kids whose families attend the church, said McConnell, as he called on congregants to pray for the school, the boy’s family, the city and all the children in the community.
“As a church, we want to weep with those who are weeping, mourn with those who are mourning, and we want to be praying,” he said. “I want you to remember this is where we come when we’re hurting, when we’re needful, when we’re confused. This is where we come.”
The spiritual response to the tragedy underscores the important relationship churches and other faith-based organizations have with people dealing with mental health issues, which an upcoming story in The Gazette will examine in-depth with another installment of a yearlong series of articles on mental health.
While some churches provide counseling, programs and resources for members, other faith leaders have no idea what to do for a mom experiencing post-partum depression, a person having a psychotic breakdown or a potentially suicidal teenager.
More mental health training programs for pastors and other faith leaders are being offered in the Pikes Peak region, as the article outlines.
The boy who took his life last week was the youngest suicide this year, said El Paso County Coroner Leon Kelly.
It was not the youngest ever. In 2016, a 12-year-old died by suicide, Kelly said. A 13-year-old from the community also died by suicide last year.
The most recent death — of which Kelly said “all indications are that it was self-inflicted” — brought the 2019 year-to-date total to six suicides for children under 17, said Kelly, who’s also the chief medical examiner.
El Paso County had seven suicides involving children ages 17 and under in 2018.
Last week’s incident occurred just one week after classes started at Thomas MacLaren for the fall semester.
The school’s executive director, Mary Faith Hall, said the family did not wish to discuss the issue, and so she declined to comment as well, citing fear of suicide contagion or copycat incidents.
The school canceled all afternoon and evening activities last Thursday, according to social media.
Completed teen suicides have decreased countywide in the past few years, after more than doubling from seven in 2014 to 15 in 2016.
Kelly said fall is a rough time for students — of last year’s seven adolescent suicides, five occurred in October.
“Tragically, nearly every year we see the start of the academic year come with it the preventable loss of life,” Kelly said.
“So as the fall semester begins and we return to the rigors of school and the stresses of adolescence, students, parents and faculty must make mental wellness a daily focus and priority in our young people’s lives, in the same way we do reading, writing, math and sports.”
That doesn’t mean making life easy for students, Kelly said.
“But rather, ensuring that we provide them the tools, resources and support to be successful in the inevitable struggles and ups and downs of the coming school year and beyond.”
The state’s mental health crisis line is 1-844-493-8255.
Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.