Working Through Depression As a Team: What to Do and Not to Do with Your Friend’s Mental Health

@cindahh asked a question:

Hi J.S. Park! I hope you and your wife doing well! I just wanted to thank you again for your book. It has given me a better understanding of depression. So I read it because my good friend battles it, and as someone who is helping him battle it, what are some of the things your wife helped you with; how does she support you? How does she snap you out of it? How does she help you be hopeful? What techniques does she use? What does she say? Are there any “don’t do’s?” What’s the most helpful? I would like to get a better understanding on how I can be there for my friend. I really appreciate it.

Hey dear friend, thank you for this question. It’s a super difficult one.

I have to say upfront: Even the most loving person in the world cannot fully help someone who wrestles with mental illness. Clinical depression will often do whatever it wants, regardless of medicine or therapy or a strong community (all which I strongly recommend, by the way).

While we’re called to love others as much as we can stand it, we cannot be responsible for someone’s actions. That’s too much weight to carry. We cannot save everyone, including ourselves sometimes.

I’ve come across two opposing views on supporting someone through depression.

One essentially says, “Do everything you can. Have empathy for their trauma and pain. Love despite it all. Love will eventually win. Research ways to help. Intervene. Always be there for them. People who leave are cruel and cowards.”

The other says, “Practice boundaries and self-care. Refer them to an expert. Admit when you can’t handle it. Keep a safe distance. You can’t pour out what you don’t have.”

My wife has embraced both of these, in different seasons, depending on her needs and mine.

No one can be everything for everyone. But no one should instantly run away either (excluding cases of abuse). We need a safe middle ground that covers both people involved.

To love someone through their mental illness requires a specific patience that many people don’t have. It’s not because they’re bad or anything. Some just can’t stick around because they themselves have too much going on. I can’t be mad at that, or them.

At the same time, some sneak out the second it gets too hard. I think that’s unfair. At the very least, we should go a little beyond what’s asked of us, whether that means going with someone to one of their counseling sessions, bringing them food, or watching a movie with them that they pick (even if it’s something you’d never watch). These things sound simple, but an accumulation of these things mean the world.

For me, I lean towards the view that people should stick around and help. I know there are situations they absolutely shouldn’t. But I hear stories all day long (at the hospital and with the homeless) where no one ever stayed. Maybe it was because the person left behind made too many poor choices, or they were abusive, or they were not willing to be helped. I can almost understand why they were left behind. But in so many cases, it seems like friends, family, and spouses walked away too early. In the end, it’s a strong community which we need for life, and it’s one of the points of living.

To answer you specifically about how my wife helps me:

Continue reading “Working Through Depression As a Team: What to Do and Not to Do with Your Friend’s Mental Health”

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The Voice That Overcomes.


I took a speech class in college because of my stage fright. The professor, Mr. Johns, was about the most encouraging guy on the face of the earth.

There was a girl in the class who was just like me. She was the class because she wanted to overcome her fear. In her first speech, she burst into tears and couldn’t stop shaking. I thought I had it bad, but this girl came undone at the seams. I was worried that we’d have to call an ambulance for her. She wanted to stop but the professor got up right next to her, nudging her to finish. Some of the others stood with her and we cheered her on, rooting for her, clapping and fist-pumping and even saying “amen” the whole way. She finished the speech.

By her final one, she could do it up front by herself. She knew we were still with her up there.

— J.S.

To Love Is to Fight.


I’m all for love and patience and understanding and compassion —

But there’s also a time to say enough is enough. There’s a time to vent, weep, scream, shake a fist, and to simply be mad. There’s a space when things aren’t okay and the injustice is still a fresh wound and no one is supposed to tell you how to feel. We need to grieve before jumping to commentary and those extra little points of debate and platforms and policy. We need to grasp the magnitude of what happened without rushing to a better place, so we can do the hard work of healing deeply, and to ensure that justice is not forfeited for the sake of politeness. Sometimes love has to be outraged, because it won’t sit down and take anymore of this. Sometimes love has to get up and fight.

— J.S.

I Think I Hurt Someone: How Do I Clear the Air?

purposedinthecosmos asked a question:

Sometimes we do good things that people may perceive as bad especially if they don’t know the heart behind our actions. Is it necessary to clear that up? Also how can you not be hurt by the way people (think) you treated them or who they (think) you are?

Hey dear friend. I would validate what the other person says with as much reverence as you can.

If someone thinks you have harmed them, even if you have tried to help them, I would consider taking them seriously and being open to hearing them out.

If a person says, “You hurt me,” they are saying it for a reason. It might not always be the best reason, but that’s why a discussion needs to be had.

It’ll be messy and sloppy and full of embarrassing cringe, especially if this is between friends, but that’s how friendship goes. Friendship isn’t all fun and games, but requires the weird work of meeting in the middle between two different wills.

On one hand, what someone feels might not be the best reflection of what is truly happening. On the other hand, I would never want to outright dismiss a person’s pain, regardless of what I might think about it.

Continue reading “I Think I Hurt Someone: How Do I Clear the Air?”

Grief Over the Death of a Loved One: To Move On or Hold On?

Anonymous asked:

How do I deal with the death of a loved one?

Dear friend: I’m so sorry. A close death is one of the most difficult things you will ever experience. There’s almost no getting over it. Grief is less like a cold and more like a shadow, always lingering even in the brightest light. It gets easier, but it stays with you in all kinds of ways.

As a hospital chaplain, I have seen hundreds of people die now, and there’s no formula or plan or mantra to get you through. All the hard things you’re feeling, whether it’s numbness or waves of pain or a deep soul itchiness or a tight chest or an empty stomach or rivers of tears, are all a part of grief. You’re not crazy. You might see a random thing that will remind you of your loved one, and it will hit you in the gut. You might visit a street or see someone’s smile or hear a movie quote that reminds you of everything, and it will hit you all over again. That happens. You’re not crazy. 

Continue reading “Grief Over the Death of a Loved One: To Move On or Hold On?”

Everyone Has a Vision for Your Life


Everyone has a vision for your life. Everyone knows who you ought to be. Everyone has advice, the right answer, the easy fix.

But no one can bear the burden of those expectations. You can’t be enough all the time, not even for yourself.

You will disappoint people. You will disappoint you. It happens. It hurts. And that’s how it goes. The eventualities of life have a way of creeping in, regardless of best efforts and right motives.

You will get crushed by the weight of others’ plans. But you’re not obligated to respond to everyone’s criticism all the time. There’s no pleasing everyone. Some will have already made up their mind about you, no matter how much you sing and dance. Your side of the story won’t always be heard. Your intentions will be negatively filtered and your words shot down at first glance. That’s okay. Criticism is important, but you can’t speak on what you didn’t say. You can only mean what you did say, and mean it well.

Be encouraged, friends. You are doing a good thing. A new thing. By the grace of God we do our best and get up again.
— J.S.

I Was Interviewed by That Christian Vlogger


Hey friends, I was interviewed by the very gracious and thoughtful Justin Khoe of That Christian Vlogger.

We went through some really tough questions and I took a harder line than usual on some current issues. We talk about leaving church, political disagreements, and having a skeptical faith. Whether we agree or not, my hope is for dialogue. I’m open to being wrong and re-informed.

— J.S.

Faith That Burns Slow.


I imagine that when Moses split the Red Sea, there were two groups of people.
The first group was composed of victorious triumphant warriors saying, “In your face, Egyptians! This is our God!” They were pumping their fists and thrusting their spears.

The second group was composed of doubtful, panicking screamers running full speed through whales and plankton.

I’m a Screamer. I’m a cynic. I’m a critic.

I’m a Peter, who can make a good start off the boat, but falls in the water when my eyes wander.

I’m not endorsing a halfway lukewarm faith. I believe God wants us to have a robust, vibrant, thriving relationship with Him. But as for me, I’ll be limping to the finish-line.

I’m more of a Thomas than a Paul. I’m more Martha than Mary. I’m more David than Daniel.

Yet the Warriors and Screamers all made it through.

It’s not easy to have faith the size of a mustard seed. But Jesus promised that this would be enough to move mountains, and I’m learning to be okay with that.

— J.S.

I’m Sorry, My Misogyny.


One of the sad things I recognize more and more is that my view of women has been poisoned from my own traditions and from culture at large. It took me a while to see how distorted my ideas of women were. I’ve had to unlearn so much gross misogyny.

For example: I was rewatching a romantic comedy from a decade ago, and the male lead stops the woman from leaving, grabbing her arm and totally blocking her. The male lead “wins the girl” who has no life or mind of her own, and all he has to do is be mopey and constantly pine after her. He also violently terrorizes his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend. The movie should have been called “I Swear I’m a Nice Guy: Black Mirror Edition.”

It’s all supposed to be cute and heroic. It’s nauseating. And I wonder how much I’ve taken my cue from these “romantic” gestures that are only aggressive, territorial, and bullying.

The Christian world hasn’t been kind to women, either. The church is called to be the most loving place on the face of the earth. It isn’t. Not even close.

I can’t blame all these external things. I know it’s on us. It’s on me. I don’t have an adequate apology. I’m not attempting false humility. I can only say I’m sorry a million times for how I’ve viewed women. I’m thankful for my wife who is gracious. I’m thankful for people who speak up at a cost. I ask for forgiveness.

J.S.


Image from Unsplash

We Wear Casts.


God, forgive me for when I lack empathy,
when I jump to making talking points out of tragedy,
when I forget the pain of community and family,
when my voice is louder than theirs.
— J.S.

Here’s the Truth: Hear the Truth.


If you want any hope of change, freedom, progress, recovery, and growth: you’ll need to confront yourself, too.

The quickest way to not grow is to surround yourself with yes-men, run from rebuke, only read self-affirming bias, and unfollow all disagreement.

I don’t mean we listen to every opinion. Especially not online. I don’t mean we call each other out over the smallest infraction. I mean getting with the one friend who has tears in their eyes, voice shaking, who knows that friendship isn’t all giggles and games, who can say, “You’re better than this.” I still run from it all the time. Hearing the hard stuff is excruciating. But as hard as it is, to admit “I was wrong, I’m sorry, I’m learning, please forgive me and show me” is not the end of the world. It hurts, but not more than the pain of staying ignorant in our ego.

I hope too that we can make space for those who admit they’re wrong and apologize and ask to be further schooled. I hope we can start and finish with grace. Trust and honesty and confession only happens in spaces where we won’t be met with cringing, but embrace.

— J.S.

Strength to Fight.


“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

“May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

“May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.

“And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

“Amen.”

— A Franciscan blessing

Love Doesn’t Enable, But Empowers.


I fell for the romanticized, destructive idea in both church culture and pop culture that we must constantly “love and forgive and give away,” a sort of martyr-hero syndrome that guilts us into perpetual generosity.

I spent too many years consumed by the “sacrificial radical love” model of Christianity, which required that I pour out more than I had—but it only scooped out my guts and left me bitter and resentful and exhausted.

To love must include truth, wisdom, and boundaries. Sometimes it means distance. It means knowing when to rest and recharge and to embrace our limits. It always means to have grace for yourself, too.

And to love is not enabling, pampering, coddling, or letting someone off the hook—or it wouldn’t really be love at all. There’s a way to help others that really hurts them because it only feeds into their harmful patterns.

For those who have been abused or traumatized: Forgiveness doesn’t mean friendship. No one should ever be rushed into forgiveness, not for the sake of “getting right with God.” Not for trying to look like the “bigger person” or “because it’s the right thing to do.” We need to recognize patterns of unrepentant abuse and gaslighting and manipulative language that will only guilt-trip back into a vicious cycle. We can never mindlessly open the door again on an abusive relationship. You have the right to say “no.”

God does redeem the evil, yes, but God is for the victims, for the abused, for the survivors, too. God is for the exile, the foreigner, the despised, the despondent who crossed the Red Sea. God is for you.

— J.S.

Squishy Small Brain.


Note to future self:
When you don’t get it right —
Apologize quickly and let go.
Don’t beat yourself up or defend yourself too long.
Humans are squishy with small brains. We don’t get it right every time. And that’s okay. Being wrong is not the end of the world.
— J.S.

No, You’re Not Persecuted.


There is a particular Christianese language that demonizes “the enemy” and “the infidel,” in which “God is on my side” and “They’re holding me back.”

This triumphalistic self-affirming theology, wrapped up in warfare terms and royalty cliches, cannot stand criticism.

It assumes all disagreement is trolling.

It attempts to say “I have the truth” as if truth must be weaponized to hold over someone’s head.

It breeds yes-men and an insider’s club.

It moralizes its own values based on “who we are not.”

It is an anti-theology that covers deep insecurity with little fleeting boosts of ego.

It attacks the most minor offenses in “secular worldly” culture in order to play victim—when sadly, Christians and truly persecuted groups are killed daily overseas.

I’m guilty of abusing the persecution complex, too. It’s incredibly easy to fall into a dichotomous division between in-groups and out-groups, between my church and your church, my dogma versus yours, to feel important, as if by lots of motion I am really moving. It’s easy for me to write a post like this and presume that I’m above all of it somehow, as if by mere awareness I have it figured out. It’s easier to look certain in our convictions rather than say, “I don’t know, I’m still figuring it out,” or, “Can you help me understand?”

In the end, Jesus told us to love our enemies. Yes, them. To them, it’s us. Every person in this discussion needs grace and a generous space. The people who “don’t get it yet” are also you and me. The people who cry “I’m persecuted” need as much grace as you and I do. I pray for me. I pray for you.

— J.S.

Mental Illness Vs. Religion: 4 Thoughts About the Church Against Depression

Anonymous asked a question:

What are your thoughts on mental illness and religion? I’ve seen some Christians state that you can pray mental illness away and once you’re saved you won’t be depressed or have suicidal thoughts anymore. As someone in the mental health field, it kind of annoys me to hear people say this. Mental illness is so complex and multifactorial but obviously there is a biological component to it. These people need medications and counseling to get better, not JUST God.

Hey dear friend, I once did an interview about this subject here:

– An Interview About Mental Health, Minority Stigma, and the Church Vs. Depression

I agree with you 100%. The way the church has approached mental illness has been misinformed at best and atrocious at worst. It’s the same with the westernized brand of bright-sided “positivism” and attempting to tell someone, “Cheer up, snap out of it, don’t cry, it’ll be okay, you have to be strong.”

Here are some thoughts to consider about the church and mental illness:

Continue reading “Mental Illness Vs. Religion: 4 Thoughts About the Church Against Depression”

Stay Passionate.


Don’t settle for less.

Don’t sell yourself short.

Don’t be rushed into a feeling, a decision, an opinion.

Don’t let anyone talk you down.

Drop the mic often.

Prioritize, for our time on earth is short.

Think for yourself.

Find your vision. Listen.

Do not hide tears; they’re yours.

Trust God. Take heart. Keep passion.

Fight the good fight, fellow traveler.

Fight.

— J.S.

They Say “Don’t Cry” — But So We Must.



It’s a crazy incredible thing to be in a place where people slow down and listen, where they hear your whole story and let you paint your full heart in the air.

I was telling one of my fellow hospital chaplains about life lately, about my health problems and secret panics and suddenly about a billion other things, every humiliating and painful and neurotic moment that had been twitching over for the longest time, and I didn’t realize how much I had bottled up in my neatly wrapped fortress. My chaplain friend never judged, only nodded, never flinched, stayed engaged. She then prayed for me, a really beautiful prayer, like cool water for bruised purple hands. And I wept. A lot. Quietly, but inside, loudly. It was a little embarrassing. But something shifted and settled and became still for a moment, like the leaves of a tree coming together after a strong wind, a momentary painting. I left lighter.

Later I visited a patient who had nearly died from a brain bleed, and when I offered prayer, the nurse grabbed me and said, “Me, too.” I took her to the side, and she whispered, “Cancer. I might have breast cancer, and I’m afraid, chaplain. I’m so damn afraid.” She clenched her teeth and tried not to weep, but I put a quick hand on her shoulder and she wept anyway. She talked. I listened. There was nothing for me to say but to be there. And maybe nothing had changed—except we were made light somehow, and together drew something bigger than us. We drew colors into the gray.

There are still places, I believe, even in a busy and unhearing time, where we can draw free. I hope to meet you there, where we are not okay, but less gray than yesterday. I hope to pray for you, that we become bigger.

— J.S.


We Say Goodbye, One More Time

When they wheeled him in, the doctors said it was already too late. They put him on an iron lung, and the only thing left to do was let his mother decide on his organs.

He was young, good-looking, tall and strapping, face beat up from meth. His mother had given him countless chances and a free bed, but he had relapsed every time, back to the muse and to back alley corners and then crawling home again. His mom finally kicked him out. Shortly after, he found one of those hideouts to do his meth in peace. He fell down a flight of stairs. Traumatic brain injury. A brawl, possibly. Someone had called an ambulance and left him there.

The only thing the hospital could do was stuff him full of tubes to keep him breathing. There was no brain activity. His head was held by a neck brace the size of an oven and his bed was a mess of angry plastic tentacles, sprouting and twisting in veiny stubborn circles. I could still tell that underneath all the life support, he was a handsome kid.

In the waiting room, his mom kept blaming herself.

Continue reading “We Say Goodbye, One More Time”