Rick Warren’s son takes his own life after a lifelong battle with mental illness

Rick Warren’s son takes his own life after a lifelong battle with mental illness April 6, 2013

The Christian and secular media are reporting the tragic news that Rick Warren’s son has taken his own life after a lifelong battle with mental illness.

The Warrens will be grieving and in terrible distress right now. Every Christian reading this should please offer a prayer of support on their behalf.

At times like these the love of friends and family will be a great support to them, but will not take away the pain. Rick and Kay need the love of Jesus to be especially real to them at this difficult time. Please pray this for them.

Even with such support in prayer, they will of course still mourn. We do grieve as Christians, but we greive differently to those without hope.

Many of you will not know that I am a psychiatrist by training, and still work in that field (although I no longer have direct patient contact). As such I know the devastation that mental illness can bring in its wake only too well.

We live in a fallen world. Rick’s son reportedly received some of the best interventions medical care can offer. Sometimes that is not enough.

Please, if someone you know and love is suffering in a similar way, don’t let anyone persuade you not to reach out for everything medical science can offer. In many cases it can be literally life saving.

Too many of us don’t understand just how serious these illnesses are. I pray that this shocking news may help thousands realize that although faith may be protective in such situations, medicine is often also needed to help.

I will be posting a series on the questions that this event will inevitably pose in our minds and will list them here:

The Warren’s public statement is deeply moving:

The 27-year-old son of Pastor Rick Warren has taken his own life after a lifelong struggle with mental illness. The internationally known Christian leader at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, made the announcement about his son early Saturday morning in an email sent to his staff.

“No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now. Our youngest son, Matthew, age 27, and a lifelong member of Saddleback, died today,” wrote Warren.

“Over the past 33 years we’ve been together through every kind of crisis. Kay and I’ve been privileged to hold your hands as you faced a crisis or loss, stand with you at gravesides, and prayed for you when ill. Today, we need your prayer for us,” began the staff email from him.

Warren described Matthew as “an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man,” as those who grew up with him would also say.

“He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them,” he continued. “But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.”

Warren said that he and his wife often marveled at Matthew’s 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,” he wrote.


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  • Melody

    Mental illness is painful enough but the cruelty that will come out towards the Warren’s during the worst time of their lives will know no bounds. Praying for a hedge of protection around the family.

    • Melody, maybe I think too positively of people. But I truly hope that there is no cruelty towards this couple at this time! Surely people won’t stoop that low? Certainly we should pray they don’t.

  • I am an Evangelical involved in professional ministry. I have published here at Patheos. Like Rick Warren, I too lost my son to mental illness through bipolar and depression. The results of the loss were tragic, made worse by many in the Evangelical community who argued that if I had just been a better Christian parent or tried harder to live the gospel then such a thing would not have happened. My hope and prayer is that the Warrens have a more informed, supportive, and loving Christian community around them than I did. I hope we can learn more about mental illness to prevent such mistaken judgments.

    • My dear brother. I do hope you now know that those things people said were a total lie. God protect us from Job’s friends.

  • Michael Murray

    I am very surprised by the unqualified endorsements of psychiatry. Psychiatry is a destructive and harmful force in this world. Psychiatric drugs, touted so often here, cause chemical imbalances and far more distress then they ever relieve. The lies of psychiatry probably contributed to the suffering of the Warren’s son. There is no proof at all that psychiatric problems are the results of brain abnormalities. See Peter Breggin’s online videos/ books, and Robert Whitaker’s presentations online/books. It is a shame that the church is so gullible that it needs to be informed by unbelievers like the two cited above. However, God has used them in His common grace to debunk the lies of the drug industry and psychiatrists. The Bible promises “joy unspeakable and full of glory” to every Christian. We need to take responsibility and ownership of our failure to walk in the joy He has provided. Thankfully, God is forgiving and gracious and will give us His joy again and again as we return to Him. These posts promoting psychiatry will share in the responsibility for other tragedies that occur with other Christians who will be horribly failed as well by the destructive false teachings of Psychiatry. Wake up! Stop loving the world and its lies!

    • Wim Mulderij

      I don’t know the facts about Psychiatry, but I long daily for that “joy unspeakable and full of Glory”. But I also don’t know exactly how to experience it all day long. And I find it very very hard for the familly Warren, what happened to them and their son………and sometimes I think it is fully undeserved Grace that to be depressed happens not to me. I only can look to Jesus Himself and ask on my knees to receive help from him. And I wish it to everybody………..sorry for my bad English, I am from the Netherlands. Greetings in Christ

  • Doc Savage

    Dear Rick and Family,
    I am so so sorry to hear of this terrible loss. I can relate 100% to Matthew. I’ve been on Bi-Polar, and severe PTSD and 3 other psychotropic drugs since Aug 1969, when I got out of the Army. Twice I tried to stop taking them and both times the experience was so bad after 2 weeks of no meds I went back on them. As of now a total of 32 pills a day keep me going. I know how awful the side effects are the decades I’ve been on them. But the Good outweighs the Bad. There’s little I can say at this time to help you feel better, but I understand how awful and evil this world is, and many were the time I prayed to God to take me. Here I am 65, a lover of Gods animals both wild and Domestic, and for the longest time I would tell myself that God was perfect in everything of his Creation, except for man. Even though it was Eve that turned him to sin. I told myself his mistake was giving man a brain to think and reason with, making us 1 step above the animal kingdom. But man has never used these 2 capacities. Just look at our Politicians of today. Maybe, except for Rand Paul, there isn’t 1 politician we elected to work for us and our interests. They all live for Greed ,money, and earthly possessions. I don’t blame Our Father for turning his back on America, for as Technology went out of site over the last 100 years, so has man’s greed for power.
    I hope in some way being in the same mindset as Matthew, and feeling so close to him, even though I never met him, that my words may help a bit, for I grieve with you over the terrible loss. My sincerest condolences are with you, and may Christ help to make this burden as lite as possible. Matthew will always be here, inside our hearts, in the flowers that bloom, in the trees that blossom. Matthew was so much more fortunate then me, having a family that truly loved him the 27 years he was with us. He knew that too, deep inside his head.I Pray that Matthew has found that special place he was looking for, for our Lord truly knows him for all the Goodness he shared, and the internal battle with evil he fought.
    N’Christ, Jesus,
    Pastor Marc

  • John Airey

    I’ve only just come to this page and remember this is in the news last April. I am saddened to see how few comments there are in support of Rick and Kay. It’s reminded me to pray for them that they will know God’s comfort and can rejoice at the thought that they will be reunited with their son soon.