Pastor Rick Warren's Son Commits Suicide After Lifelong Struggle With Mental Illness

crossIn tragic news, word comes this weekend that the son of popular Evangelical Christian pastor, Rick Warren, has died at just 27 years of age. Warren confirmed the cause of his death yesterday: Matthew committed suicide.

In a letter to the congregation of his California-based Saddleback Church, Warren, the author of "The Purpose Driven Life" asked for prayers. He said that Mathew, the youngest of his three sons, struggled since birth with mental illness. They tried the best doctors, medications, and prayers for healing but nothing worked. Then: "Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life."

And just like that, the boy they had raised, loved, worried over, and just laughed with, was gone. As a parent, it's one of the greatest heartaches I can imagine. To see your child struggling just to live the life you gave them. But that's what mental illness can do. No matter how much its victims fight, no matter how "strong" they are, it can be stronger.

Warren wrote:

Kay and I often marveled at his courage to keep moving in spite of relentless pain. I'll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said, "Dad, I know I'm going to heaven. Why can't I just die and end this pain?" but he kept going for another decade.

It's such tragic example of the power of mental illness, and how it can strike anyone, even those who appear to be surrounded by the most loving and caring families. It also highlights just how much of a cloud often covers its victims and families from the rest of the world. I applaud Warren for speaking out right away as to the cause of his son's death and not trying to cover it up as something shameful. Because it's not; it's a disease.

It's not a disease in which people send get well cards and bring over casseroles while treatment occurs, as happens when a relative is fighting cancer or another disease. It's not one in which people post updates about the ups and downs on Facebook. I don't believe one is easier than the other, but I do suspect that parenting a child with mental illness has got to be extremely lonely and fraught with more misgivings and misunderstanding. 

Hopefully Warren's strong faith will be a great comfort to him and his family. At times like this, I'm not sure what else possibly could be.

Do any of your children struggle with mental illness?


Image via andyarthur/Flickr


death, religion


To add a comment, please log in with

Use Your CafeMom Profile

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Comment As a Guest

Guest comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.

nonmember avatar CourtneyHammett

Honestly, his family seems loving, but it's conditional. Conservative families, pastors' families...they're almost never as supportive as they seem. It hurts to know they'd love you if you weren't atheist or gay. Now, I don't believe the rumors that he was gay and forced to go to straight camp. But who knows? Perhaps belonging to the family of the most popular self-help book author and pastor of all time put some pressure on him to be quiet about his illness? There's always stigma, just perhaps more in this special case. Of course, I'm very sorry to the family, and very glad Matthew was able to live that long and seek help, which wasn't able to prevent this but clearly prolonged his life. I've suffered from depression my whole life, and I think more stigma exists in religious fundamentalist communities, which breed conservatism and a strange trend of mental stigma unseen in other places. I also find it interesting that Warren seems to believe his son went to heaven. I know it's a coping mechanism for religious people, but it contradicts the doctrine of forgivable sin.

bills... billsfan1104

I feel so sad for his family. I am also thankful that you wrote a nice piece on this and hopefully people are going to start treating mental illness as a disease and not something that should be swept under the rug!!

nonmember avatar Val

I've been to his church many times and have even met pastor rick myself and this is terribly sad. All my prayer goes to his family. I know they loved him and did all they could but sometimes its not enough.

kelti... kelticmom

My heart broke when I heard this. Mental illness is the dark secret in the closet that no one wants to talk about, yet it's just as deadly and damaging as cancer. Courtney, there is not ONE verse in the Bible that says suicide is unforgivable, or that it sends you to hell. The only "unforgivable sin" is rejecting Christ. He obviously loved the Lord, and was confident in his salvation. He died from his disease. When you are that mentally ill, you are not in.control of your body, your actions - your disease is. And my God shows grace in that kind of situation.

TheTr... TheTruthTeller

Having stuggled with depression, this breaks my heart. It's good that they are talking so candidly about it. Maybe it will help others. 

Courtney don't lump all pastors families together. It sounds like Rick and his wife did everything they could for their son.

bills... billsfan1104

Ty Keltic, you said it better than I could. My grandfather understood this and said this to me once, when I was really depressed!!

nonmember avatar guest

so far, no, but they get i from both sides of the family. i have 4 mental illnesses, and i wish i'd never been born. they have utterly ruined my life, i hate waking up every morning, and i isolate myself in my room half the time. it is hell on earth, and if we can euthanize our pets, why not humans? let me have a little f'in dignity.

there... theresaphilly

Who the heck is Rick Warren, people are talking about him like he is GOD?

Samfan97 Samfan97

My heart breaks for the Warren family. I think there are few things in life that are harder than having to bury a child, especially when that child has taken their own life. The judgements from some people saddens me too. How do you know what their home was like? Not all Christian homes are fundamentalist. I didn't grow up in their home so I can't say that it wasn't either. I'm just saying to lay off of the judgement and let this poor family grieve.

nonmember avatar anonymous

This is very sad. I wonder, though, if the "mental illness" that Rick Warren speaks of is really homosexuality. I have no insider information - I'm just speculating here - but they are the type of fundamental Christians that view gays as mentally ill. If this man was gay, he would have never been able to be himself around his family. I hope that's not the case.

1-10 of 15 comments 12 Last