I had this post scheduled long before another famous person died as a result of his battle with mental illness. My heart goes out to all the family and friends, and I pray they each find peace and hope eventually.
Neither the fashion world nor Hollywood are my spheres of influence or relationship. I can’t speak to their particular issues. However, I’m intimately familiar with another group where mental illness, especially depression, carries such a stigma that people suffer in silence for years. That group is church folks. ( I’m aware some local churches have wonderful approaches and services for mental health care. God bless ’em.)
A few weeks ago, I saw a meme from a church-goer that said researchers have proven exercise is as effective as medication in treating depression. I. Wanted. To. Scream. Of course exercise helps. We know exercise helps. It releases the same brain chemicals that medication replaces. Even a few minutes a day can make a huge difference. Here is the problem: We. Can’t. Do. It!
When my depression was at its worst, I curled up on the sofa in the break room at work and closed my eyes. And, I never got back up. I could hear everything going on around me. I knew when they called my husband to come carry me to the car. But, I simply could not respond. I became completely detached from every one and every thing.
Telling me to go take a walk right then would have been stupid. Even when I improved, I could not find the gumption to do the things I knew would help me. I couldn’t exercise. I couldn’t eat right. I couldn’t go about my daily tasks like washing the dishes.
I couldn’t write.
Years later, though, I wrote about depression in one of my novels, Rose Hill Cottage. The librarian, Flora, says depression doesn’t always come with grief. Sometimes it just comes with a Thursday. She describes depression as “a dark thing. It slithers into the room at night when you are sleeping. And it crawls up under your bed and coils itself around your bones. When you wake up the next morning, its poison has clouded your mind in this dismal, grey, nothing-in-this-world-matters-anymore scrim.”
The struggle has an added dimension for us church folks. We know God loves us. We know we are doing our best to love Him. But we can’t kick the darkness.
So, what do depressed people need? Well, I needed God. Church folks are right about that. I needed the power of the Holy Spirit alive and active in my life. For me, that did happen by Divine intervention, and I am forever grateful for a prayer meeting in somebody’s basement. The next morning, I laced up my shoes, put on my coat, and was halfway around the block before I realized I was walking!
But God doesn’t always heal mental illness by supernatural means any more than He always heals diabetes.
Instead, He gives men and women supernatural wisdom to invent medications. And, when our brains won’t produce the right amount of dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, or endorphins, we sometimes need to replace them through medicine. We would never tell a diabetic church member that her pancreas would start working if she would just get up in the mornings, take a walk, and then pray for an hour.
But, that is what we tell depressed people, at least with our attitudes.
So, what should we do?
- Be honest. If you are struggling, find someone who will listen. If they tell you to just take a walk. Find someone else.
- Pray. Medication didn’t work well for me. I’m so glad that prayer did. Yet, I know several praying saints who are still plagued by this disease. If you know someone in trouble, pray with them in their suffering.
- See a doctor. My husband is a physician. He says that sometimes a patient needs help with their brain chemistry through medication before they can even think straight enough to seek God. I get that.
- Take a walk. (I know). If you suspect a friend or family member is struggling with depression, ask them to walk around the block with you. Maybe your encouragement will be enough to start the process for them to get help. (Don’t despair if they make excuses. See step #2)
- Be transparent. If you are willing to share with your church circle that you take medication for your thyroid, you can also tell them you are low on serotonin, and you take meds to replace it. If they preach platitudes at you, forgive them. Maybe the quiet, depressed person sitting in the corner heard your message.
Scientists are working on a blood test that will tell us exactly what chemical is lacking in the brain of a depressed person. That should go a long way toward diagnosis, treatment, and the lifting of embarrassment and shame. Until then, let’s be kind to one another. Let’s look out for one another. Let’s help one another remember that Jesus walks beside us through the valley of the shadow of death known as depression.
And through every other battle.
Epilogue: My depression has been mostly conquered for more than thirty-five years. I still feel it slither occasionally. When that happens, I call on the power of the Holy Spirit to help me do the things that drive it away. I pray. I sing. I walk. I love folks. (Especially my husband.)
And, I stay forever grateful for the mercy that set me free.