On Virginia Tech
From: Bill Harkins
Sent: Wednesday, April 18, 2007
To: Seminary Community
Subject: The victims of Virginia Tech
As the narrative of Mr. Cho Seung-Hui begins to emerge, one understands that this young man was likely suffering from depression. Mental illnesses such as depression transcend ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, and other categories. Depressive disorders affect approximately 19 million American adults, or roughly 10 percent of the American population, and these statistics are limited to diagnosed and reported cases. Moreover, this case represents the limitations each of us face when a student, loved one, or friend suffering from mental illness elects not to seek help, even when it is strongly recommended....Forced treatment, especially in-patient, and the related “duty to warn” are delicate and complex matters, and ultimately we cannot force anyone to get help if they are unwilling to do so.
Each of us in our respective ministries will be faced with issues of depression and other mental illnesses, and the decisions emerging from our professional, pastoral relationships with those who suffer from it. While we do not have ultimate control over events such as unfolded in Blacksburg, we do have the ability to enter into relationship with those whom we serve, and it is in the context of relationship that we can pay attention, and address issues of isolation, anger, loneliness, and troubled behavior. Pastors are often on the “front lines” of mental health care in this country, and our relationships with those who suffer from mental illness can make a difference....
I hope that [attacks that have occurred at other schools] and the one in Blacksburg increase our awareness of the profound effect depression and other mental illnesses have on our society. I hope that each of us, in our own way, will seek to engage in acts of healing, sustaining, reconciling, and compassion in response to the suffering and concomitant stigma of mental illness.
We are called by Christ to resist at every turn the temptation to relegate anyone to the status of “other.” This is true regardless of any of the countless ways we are tempted to alienate one another. Mental illness is often a difficult and complex challenge, and often one more opportunity to exclude our brothers and sisters from the table. I pray that each of us, as we are able, will work to reduce the isolation and stigma of mental illness, regardless of the cultural context in which it occurs.
Bill Harkins is assistant professor of pastoral theology and counseling.
“Death has come trundling into our life, a sudden and savage entity laying waste to our hearts and making desolate our minds . . . We need now the consolation only [God] can give.”
From a prayer by Susan W. Verbrugge ’01, associate pastor, Blacksburg Presbyterian Church, during a service there on the evening of the shootings at Virginia Tech. Quoted on MSNBC.com.