COVID-19, TRAUMA, AND THE MENTAL HEALTH OF YOUR FAMILY
Tim Clinton wrote, tragically, suicide is a real and terrible reality and the church is not immune to its touch. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, the second for Americans age 15 to 34. On the average 121 people commit suicide in America every day. One in three people who die by suicide are unemployed at the time of their deaths. And for every one-point increase in unemployment, the suicide rate tends to increase by .78 points. So, what if, in America, we reach an unemployment rate of 25 to 30%, God forbid.
Dr. Tim Clinton, who is the President of the American Association of Christian Counselors. It’s the largest and most diverse Christian Counseling Association in the world. Dr. Clinton also serves as the Executive Director of the James Dobson Family Institute. He’s a recurring host on Dr. James Dobson Family Talk, third on nearly 1,300 radio outlets every single day. Dr. Clinton is licensed as a professional counselor and as a marriage and family therapist. Tim Clinton is also recognized as a world leader in mental health and relationship issues. He spends much of his time working with Christian leaders, and professional athletes, as well as ministering to the President of the United States. He’s authored nearly 30 books, including The Struggle is Real: How to Care for Mental and Relational Health Needs in the Church.
Here’s our interview with Dr. Tim Clinton.
HOW DO YOU ADDRESS THE SPIKES IN MENTAL HEALTH DURING THE
For years I’ve taught thousands of college students a psychology of relationships class. I would ask them as a part of the class—there would be a moment regarding suicide—how many of you know of someone close to you, who either committed suicide, attempted suicide, or battled significant thoughts of suicide? I’m talking about someone close to you, not someone you heard about. Invariably, their answers are in the 95 plus percent. So, if you don’t think this stuff is real, you’re not living in this old world as they say. It is real. With the extraordinary pressure and stress that you mentioned that we’re going through right now, people are afraid. They’re not just afraid of finances. They’re afraid of a loved one getting Coronavirus. They’re afraid of getting it themselves. They’re dealing with all kinds of extraordinary stress and pressure financially. They’re dealing with, quote, “Looking at each other locked down” and trying to figure out how to relate and they’re petrified over their kids and everything. These are unprecedented, and extraordinarily challenging times.
The very first thing we’ve got to do is acknowledge where we are. People often ask me, “Tim, if you talk about suicide, won’t that drive people to commit suicide?” We’re finding the answer is no. Stepping into that moment and having those conversations can actually help save someone’s life. Because people who are suicidal, don’t hate life. They hate life the way it is, and they don’t believe it’s gonna change. Or there’s like nothing they can do. They’re boxed in. It’s a moment.
ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT COVID-19 AND THE ELEVATED SUICIDE RATES?
I was talking the other day on the Todd Starnes program about kids during these times. I said, listen, think of kids and think of us as big kids as adults going through crisis and trauma in our life. That’s certainly what we’re going through right now. This is very traumatic. When you have trauma, you lose your sense of safety. Now, what’s the antidote to trauma? Relationship. So, we’re locked down, we can’t do relationships a lot. That’s why everyone’s starting to talk about how to do relationships at home with your family, and by the way, at a distance through social media more. We’ve got to get the relationship piece going. What do you do with a kid, for example, struggling? Focus on togetherness. Don’t let them isolate. If you think by not talking about what’s going on to your kids is going to protect them, or you think they’re immune to the problems that you’re afraid of; you’re completely out of touch with your kids. They’re talking to each other, they’re up on social media, they’re overdosing, and it’s consuming them like it’s consuming you. Maybe at a different level, meaning how they perceive the potential outcomes more. But at the same time, there’s a fear piece there. Togetherness is really important.
The second piece is learned proximity—the beauty of touch. Some people, their love language is touch. Think of a baseball coach just for a moment. You got a guy on the mound, he’s out of control, he can’t throw a strike or he’s getting pounded. Walk out to the mound, the coach who has dialed in or a tune to a pitcher puts his hand on his shoulder. Why does he do that? To calm him and look him straight in the eyes and say, “Hey, listen, we’ve been here before.” And what you do is you talk him down, and you get him back in command. It’s the same thing I’m thinking about with our kids and about each and every one of us.
WHAT ARE WAYS WE CAN INSTILL SECURITY IN OUR KIDS WHEN EVERYTHING SEEMS UPSIDE DOWN AND STRIPPED AWAY?
Mom and dads may say, “Well, hey, we spent…” No, not spend time, be attuned to your son or daughter for 20 minutes a day. It’s radical. That’s what I was talking about with spending time together, learn the therapeutic power of touch, then learn to talk. Have communication together. It’s interesting when you begin hanging out with your kids, you know what starts happening? You send a message that they’re important to you. You send another message too, you’re looking for interaction and dialogue as a part of your presence. You start learning how to communicate verbally and non-verbally. You begin to learn what’s important to your son or daughter, what motivates them, you begin to have influence. That’s why all the research about eating dinner together becomes so significant in primary again, in our modern-day world. People are learning that eating dinner together is incredibly significant for developing healthy kids. It’s not the food. And this is what I’m trying to say in this mental health chaos that’s going on right now. The church and the small groups being connected in. It’s so significant spending time in God’s word.
When you can practice the presence and power of God in your everyday life, it becomes what? Life-changing. I’m talking about parenting, and then I’m talking about everyday life. You’ll see the parallels and the connections. I often share that dealing with this life that’s out of control needs to focus on truth. People who are suicidal have lost their sense of hope because they’ve lost what’s happening in their mind. Paul in Philippians 4:8 said, “Whatsoever things are lovely, pure, of good report and more” Learn to what? Think on those things. It’s hard to say “Do thought-stopping” when everything’s coming against you. Often, by the way, it’s in a reality-based world that’s threatening. But I’ve got to replace that. I’ve got to do a thought stop. And then I’ve got to do a “thought-insertion.” I’ve got to step into that moment and bring truth and light to the darkness. If I can’t get it done, I need to bring someone into my life to help me go there. God help us to go there. But it’s hard again, to not be anxious when the bills are going unpaid, when you’ve lost your job. It’s like a tsunami is hitting us. But yes, we’ve got to go there. Elohim is our refuge and our strength. He’s a present help during times of trouble. Therefore, we won’t fear. He’s in the midst of it.
CHURCHES ARE COMMUNICATING THROUGH ZOOM AND OTHER MEDIA, TRYING TO STAY CONNECTED TO THEIR FLOCKS. WHAT ELSE CAN CHURCHES DO?
By the way, it’s like the old quote from Evie Hill. Evie, he used to say this, when God blesses you and when God ministers to you. He rarely has you in mind. He wants to work through you to touch people. Like you said, I’m going to pick up the phone and call my son. I’m going to call my daughter and I’m gonna hang out for 20 minutes. Think about what it would do if we would hang out with the Lord for 20 minutes, and hear from him, receive from him; practice his presence and his power like never before, and ask him to work through, well, work in me and through me, to help you become more like Christ. To help you understand that God has not left you, that God has not abandoned you or us, that he’s in the midst of. The church has got to be that place, meaning the body of Christ. We’re praying to you all that we have a little project we’re working on right now that I just can’t stop talking about. It’s about empowering the body to do the work of the ministry, to step into the mental health insanity that’s going on right now. We’re asking God to raise up churches and we’re actually now designating as mental health coaches—mental health coach first responders in the church. It’s our Dare to Care Program.
WITH THE DARE TO CARE PROGRAM, HOW CAN CHURCHES AND MINISTRY LEADERS GRAB A HOLD OF THIS RESOURCE?
I talked to Jentezen Franklin last night, churches like Free Chapel, Prestonwood Baptist Church out of Dallas, the great church down there. These are our anchor churches who are on board with us. We’re starting training May 1st, and our goal again is to train 7,500 mental health coach first responders. Here’s what happens, when they finish this program, they actually qualify to become a certified mental health coach first responder. This evidence-based, biblically-based program is being led by a friend of mine named Dr. Matt Stanford out of Houston, Texas. He has launched an initiative in the city of Houston. It’s massive. We put it on video to take it around the country, and eventually around the world. But here’s the deal. When people go through this, they become certified and they become that frontline of defense in their local church.
It’s not to replace therapy. It’s to deal with the incredible demand that is surging for mental health services and the lack of providers. So these people in certain states actually qualify to get third party reimbursement for Medicaid, Medicare Services, if you can believe that. God is using this. This is the first ever evidence-based peer counseling mental health coach program in the country. It’s tuition-free. For those first 7,500 students, those first 750 churches–it’s a tuition-free program. Our goal is to get the 750 churches locked in first, and then we’re asking them to shepherd and steward the training of these students in their church community.
HOW CAN A CHURCH SIGN UP FOR THIS?
Go to www.LightUniversity.com, LightUniversity.com/mentalhealthcoach. There’s a form there to fill out and say “Yes, we’d like our congregation to be considered as one of the first 750 charter churches, this tuition-free program to train up mental health coach first responders in our local church community.”
Pray with us that God would use this in a special way. We believe this, that pastors, they know people who have the natural gifts. People often come to them asking for help or prayer and more. They want to step into these moments of helping encourage people. Maybe it’s over a cup of coffee, whatever it is. This is what we want to do. We want to train them in a meaningful evidence-based, biblically-based program. It’s robust and exciting.