I’m sitting here in Wegmans Cafe with my iPad cracked open to do some writing. I don’t know where to start today. I have such a pit in my stomach and sadness over news my husband and I just received. A freshman at my son’s college committed suicide last week. He was in class with our son, Jake. His obituary describes a smart and well-rounded young man with parents and family that loved him deeply. He had a large future ahead of him. It all disappeared in an instant. One decision. One moment of crisis.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.Jeremiah 29:11
As a parent, the death of a child is one of my biggest fears. The circumstances surrounding this tragedy really hits home since I have children that are all currently teenagers. I can’t let this go today. My heart aches for these parents.
I’ve had first-hand experience with mental illness for many years. Mental illness runs in my childhood family. I’ve also witnessed a suicide attempt by a close friend. And, I’ve battled mental illness myself. Yep, I said it. I haven’t been immune from it either.
Shortly after the birth of my fourth child, I fell into a clinical depression. I had four kids under the age of eight, and I can still to this day remember sitting outside in the driveway watching them play and ride bikes with sunglasses to cover my tears. For no explainable reason, whatever made me happy inside, was simply gone. I had no desire to see anyone beyond the walls of my home and husband. It lambasted every area of my life for almost 8 months. And, no amount of willpower could pull me out of this dark place.
I now know that I had clinically suppressed levels of Serotonin that only a prescription level pharmaceutical could correctly fix. Ok. Moment of truth here. I have to confess that prior to having gone through clinical depression, I was that person…..the one who said depression was not clinical. It was simply someone who was down on their luck and needed to pull up their bootstraps and move along. In fact, depression was a sign of weakness to me. And then…….I went through it. I’m embarrassed to admit that I ever held that position. Not only does it exist, but clinical depression cannot be fixed simply through willpower. The American Psychiatric Association defines depression as “a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease your ability to function at work and at home.”
It was only after I was properly treated with a correct antidepressant that I began to see the sun shine again in my life. To this day, depression remains the darkest and scariest place I’ve ever been in my life. I felt alone and isolated when battling depression. As so, as Christians, how are we to handle mental illness within our communities?
Well, I can first tell you how not to respond. I’ll never forget being at a Sunday church service with a visiting preacher delivering the message. His words that day cut me to the core. He argued that, if you are struggling with depression, then you need to evaluate areas of your life that you may be in sin. In other words, sin was the root cause of depression. Needless to say, we never went back. I’m here to tell you that he was wrong. Dead wrong. Furthermore, I do not believe this is the message God would have for those that struggle with mental health. Sin may contribute to depression, but so do biological and environmental factors that are often beyond our control.
Mental illness is not a sign of weak faith. Throughout the Bible, we can find people of faith that struggled with periods of depression. David, Jeremiah, Job, and others struggled with intervals of being “downcast, desperate and troubled.” Even Jesus was deeply anguished at times. Like the diabetic or cancer patient, mental illness requires wholistic treatment – spiritual, emotional and biological. It is time to get rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness. Lives are depending on it. We have to do better.
I have a strong desire to bring awareness to mental illness. According to the CDC, suicide is the number two cause of death for people ages 15-24. We have a mental health crisis in the US among teenagers and young adults. Rather than condemning or turning a blind eye, we are called to pray for and come alongside those who are battling mental illness.
What can you do to prevent, support or bring awareness to this crisis? Maybe it’s offering compassion and comfort to someone you know that is struggling with their mental health. I can guarantee that you rub shoulders everyday with people that are hurting and lonely. Or, maybe it’s finally getting the clinical help needed to free yourself from your own mental illness. As Jeremiah so eloquently proclaims, God desires to give us hope and a future. Let us do our part in affirming that for ourselves and those around us!