Hard Knocks, Week 3: Depression and Mental Distress
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
It’s a powerful, evocative image, or it can be, for some of us. For many folks, it’s just part of the cycle of the day, of nature, and it’s fine. But others struggle mightily with the darkness in this life. We’ve all heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder, where short winter days cause real depression in many people.
We also know that times of loss, grief, sadness, or conflict can make us feel down. That makes sense, and usually these feelings lift after a while. Darkness fades; light returns.
Then there is mental illness, which takes the form of depression in so many people today. In a given year, 6.7% of the U.S. population will suffer from a major depressive episode, with the highest incidence among 18-25 year olds: 10.3%. And there are many other mental illnesses as well - anxiety disorders and personality disorders - which also cause huge suffering. This is darkness out of control, like a cancer.
One person’s mental illness affects the whole family and circle of friends. How do we respond to this? What does our faith in Christ have to say about it? What are the tools our faith community gives us as we walk with someone in their darkness? What does our faith say to those of us who suffer from this malady ourselves?
A few things call out to be said. First, God doesn’t send these illnesses upon us to punish us, or teach us a lesson, or test our strength. Jesus shows us that God despises illness and always seeks to heal us. The irony is that, when we need God most, these conditions can make us feel far from God. This is a time when the Christian community can make a huge difference by reaching out, being present, and helping people get the medical care they need. We can educate ourselves about signs of mental illness. We can learn the value of steady, long-term compassion for our companions who are walking in darkness. Surely that’s what Jesus would have done. JBM