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”

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I Called the Suicide Lifeline

A couple weeks ago, I called the National Suicide Lifeline.

I was in a really bad place. I was ready to go, permanently. After two rings, I hung up the phone. I was too scared to talk with someone. I had heard sometimes they call the police on you, and really, I was afraid of what my neighbors would think if I was carted away by red and blue lights. But the very act of calling got me off the floor. It was enough to get my feet moving.

I know I’m not supposed to talk about this. I’m the guy who helps people. How can anyone trust me again? Will I be fired? What will they really say about me? What sort of hate mail will I get?

I worked at a church once where I told the lead pastor that I was suicidal; I was laughed off. Maybe everyone is tired of hearing the word “stigma,” but it still exists. Everyone says they care, but anyone can act like they care online. Up close, mental illness is an ugly thing that is hard for everyone involved.

Here’s how it happened: Someone had said something to me in anger, and of course, the person apologized. I felt in some ways I had deserved it. I was fine for a few days. And maybe for somebody who is “normal,” or maybe on any other day, it should’ve all been fine. But the words caught fire in my brain, got louder, loomed over me, and dug hooks in my stomach. I took ten Advil. I wanted to take the rest of the bottle. So I called the lifeline.

I have to make clear that none of this is the other person’s fault. I would never put that on someone. That’s too much responsibility for words said in a heated moment. I am, in the end, responsible for how I choose to react. I cannot rely on good or bad words to determine my health. And I realize my mental health has been a lifelong issue and will continue to plague me. No one should feel obligated to walk on thin ice around me. I have learned, not always willingly, to be resilient in a cruel world.

At the same time, words are powerful. They have the power to heal and destroy. Words are meaningful to me. They should not be used lightly. And I’m not impervious. I’m not some tough guy who gets tougher with every punch. There’s always that one exhausted, fragile morning when I can fall apart fast. I can’t be alone in that.

Whenever I think my battle with depression is getting easier, I’m reminded that progress doesn’t go on an upward track. It’s a real one-step-forward and two-steps-back situation. More like a thousand steps down. My progress on a graph would look like a fiscal nightmare. I’m not sure it’s healthy to look at progress on a graph this way. I can only see the one step in front of me. That’s about all I can stand to take right now.

I kindly and graciously ask that you pray for me. I know the world around us is blowing up. There is a lot to pray about. My problems are small. I am lucky to be alive. I am lucky to laugh and cry and eat today. May you still send a two second prayer? And I hope you may be kind to someone today. The only words that are worse than the harsh ones are the kind ones left unspoken.
— J.S.

I Could’ve Saved Him, But I Didn’t Know.

I have to tell you about Roland.

I met Roland in my third and final year of seminary. For my final year, I went to North Carolina to the main campus for a month-long crash course. At the seminary gym, Roland introduced himself to me.

He was tall, a bit desperate, with shifty eye contact, the sort of good-looking guy who probably wasn’t so handsome in grade school.

He followed me around the gym, offering to spot me, copying some of my exercises. We exchanged shallow pleasantries between sets, and at the end, he said, “Maybe we can, uh, like have coffee this week.”

“Sure,” I said, unsure if I wanted to offer my number. I take longer to make friends. Trust issues, I suppose. “I’ll see you at the gym tomorrow?” I said. “Then we’ll make plans?”

Roland grinned, a really sheepish, aw-shucks sort of grin. “Yeah, yeah!” he said, practically clapping. “Okay!”

I didn’t see Roland the rest of the week, and the crash course ended. I went back home to Florida and forgot I had ever met him.

A few months later, one of the professors on the Florida satellite campus made an announcement at the start of class:

“A student named Roland committed suicide this week.”

Roland’s girlfriend had broken up with him. The break-up had happened months ago and he was too lonely to go on. He had swallowed a bottle of pills and went into a coma. His parents decided to withdraw life support.

I remembered Roland’s puppy-dog shout: “Yeah, yeah, okay!”

I understood why he had tailed me at the gym. Why he was so quick to find a friend. Why he wanted to meet for coffee.

After class, I ran to a restroom and threw up everything inside of me.

I could’ve … I should’ve … I didn’t.

I let someone die.

For years, I felt responsible for Roland’s death. I’ve blamed myself over and over, seconds before my head would hit the pillow, remembering his dark-encircled eyes, replaying his voice on mental vinyl, losing sleep and softer dreams.

Could I have done something?

Should I have done something?

Continue reading “I Could’ve Saved Him, But I Didn’t Know.”

Angry About Anger


An honest confession:

I struggle a lot with anger.

I’ve also been told that anger is wrong, so I tend to stuff it down. Eventually there’s a breaking point where it flies out like twice a year. I look pretty laidback and congenial until I have my semi-annual blow-up. It’s ugly. Embarrassing. Enough to make people leave forever.

Anger, of course, can be scary. I have thrown things. I have punched a wall. I have yelled uncontrollably. There’s no excuse for that sort of behavior and I deserve every consequence. People have a right to leave.

But I never knew there was a healthy kind of anger. That anger is pointing to something true, real, and valid. That it means something is very wrong around us or inside us, and it needs healing. At the very least, it needs to be heard.

No, we should never use anger as an excuse to hurt someone. It’s never okay to say, “I only did that because I was angry.” Nothing justifies abuse. Ever. We must be held accountable regardless of how we felt at the time.

I just wonder how we can talk about this in an honest way without totally writing off the angry person.

I’ve found that underneath rage is usually pain. Grief. A kind of hurt that has left us powerless.

The hard part is venting our anger in a way that’s constructive instead of explosive. The even harder part is to talk about it without people judging.

The common response is always condemning: “I knew he was terrible. His life is so good, he has no reason to be mad.” And maybe that’s true. But how can we correct this unless we talk about it? Aren’t there sometimes real reasons a person is mad? There must be a safe venue for an angry person to say, “I’m bitter, I’m resentful, I can’t forgive, and I don’t know what to do with this.”

My fear is that no one will make room for it. You can usually tell someone you’re insecure, sad, or lonely, and they’ll hear you. Tell someone you’re angry and they assume you’re a “bad person.” Sometimes angry people are also “bad people,” sure. But I wish we could find help for our rage without immediately being crushed and cast out. I wish we could talk through the stigma.

I think, in the end, that anger must have a place. You can be angry for instead of against. It can be motivated by justice. There are legitimate reasons to be righteously mad. A call for reparations. A proper outrage when someone is oppressed, exploited, abused. I wish I had known this sooner. I want to be angry for you, not at you. I hope there’s grace enough to learn how.

— J.S.