When your child is struggling with suicidal thoughts, simply 'more faith' isn't the answer

by Sheryl Lynn , Christian Post Contributor |

Kelly Rosati has four adopted children. Three of them have a serious mental illness. And one thing she doesn't like to hear is that her problems would be solved if her faith was stronger.

"This idea that as Christians, if we were just spiritual enough, that somehow Christianity teaches we wouldn't experience these things — I've seen so many people suffer and have their faith crumble because of those lies," Rosati said in an interview with Saddleback Church co-founder Kay Warren this week.

After Rosati and her husband, John, were unable to have their own children, the couple began the adoption journey through the foster care system.

Several of her children were born addicted to drugs or exposed to alcohol in utero, she said. Among her four children, three have dealt with suicidality. One has bipolar disorder and another has schizophrenia.

Her children have been in and out of emergency rooms and residential psychiatric care facilities. One, the youngest, is currently at a residential facility.

It's not exactly what she and her husband pictured when they first decided to grow their family through adoption.

"We wanted to create this family for these kids who didn't have one. We were going to watch 'VeggieTales' and do all the Christian things," said Rosati, who is vice president of community outreach at Focus on the Family. "Instead, our lives have been full of hospitals, psychiatric wards, and the police and a lot of bad cuss words.

"There's a grieving that comes from losing what you imagine."

The first time signs of mental illness emerged was when one of her children was in middle school. The child was violent, had extreme mood swings and almost complete debilitation.

"We were completely undone. We had no idea what was happening, what to do," Rosati recalled. "We were going day to day in complete survival mode."

That child had very serious bipolar disorder and sometimes expressed the desire to commit suicide.

"When our child would weep in my arms and express thoughts of not wanting to be alive, what I felt was pure terror. On my inside, it was a terror like I had never known and a despairing and a franticness," the mother described.

Rosati described life as hell.

And Kay Warren, wife of Pastor Rick Warren, agreed, having had one of her own children struggle with mental illness and eventually take his own life.

"How hellish it is to have a child that you love with your entire heart and that you have done everything that you know to do, have sought all the mental health help, all the medication help, all the therapy help, all the prayers that you've prayed, all the Bible verse believing you've done, all the on the face crying in the night for your child, and still know they are facing an illness that will eat them alive if something doesn't happen," Warren said.

"I call that living on the edge of hell."

Warren's son, Matthew, was around 12 when she realized that he was having suicidal thoughts. He had already been diagnosed with depression at age 7.

"I tucked him into bed and in the quiet ... as I'm getting ready to walk out ... he asked me if I would kill him and put him out of his misery," Warren recalled, completely heartbroken to hear those words coming out of her child's mouth.

Matthew ended up dying by suicide at age 27 in 2013.

Warren said she had lived in denial for a long time, thinking her son would eventually outgrow his depression and become "normal." But it never happened.

Both Warren and Rosati recognized that many Christians are suspicious of or hesitant to seek help through therapy or a psychiatric clinic. They're also afraid of being judged as a bad parent if they try to get mental health help for their children.

"I want to say: none of that matters," Rosati stressed as she encouraged parents to get the help they need.

The first time she and her husband decided to get residential treatment for one of their children some six years ago, Rosati felt like "the world was coming to an end" and she was scared about making the wrong decision.

But after four straight years of daily violence from their child, including holes in the wall and blood drawn, they decided they could not continue that way. They had other children they needed to take care of as well.

The day she dropped her child off at the residential treatment, she sobbed and even had to drive to the mountains of Colorado to be alone in a hotel room because of how "undone" she felt by everything.

"I felt almost incapable of functioning," Rosati said.

But she wants parents to know that resources such as residential treatment are "incredible blessings that exist in the community to help the kids who are really sick and who need more help than we can get them at home."

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