Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Comment About Depression

Re-posted from my FB feed.

I have one more comment about depression, and in particular the tendency for the Christian community to be dismissive of those who struggle with clinical depression.

One of the major problems we have is a lack of clear language in addressing the problem. As I see it, there are really two separate issues that both get lumped into the category of “depression.”
First, there is what I call “the blues.” Life gets you down. You feel sad. Problems seem heavy. You feel tired. You call yourself depressed. Everyone goes through this from time to time. When life gets better, it fades away again. You can choose to trust God. This state is what Matt Walsh is talking about when he said he has been depressed but chose to be joyful regardless. People may even go to the doctor and get medication for this, and that’s fine. We all go through rough patches.

Then, there is actual clinical depression, or MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). It’s a physical chemical imbalance that results in depressed feeling and hopelessness and fatigue, but the difference is, you can’t think it away. Yes, God can heal it, just as He can heal cancer or diabetes, but just like cancer or diabetes, sometimes He doesn’t. Sometimes you have to live with it and manage it. And like cancer or diabetes, just choosing joy isn’t going to help. It sometimes feels like a dark cloud is over you even when doing your favorite activities or when life is going really well. Yes, it can develop as a result of stress or grief, but it doesn’t stay connected to those, because when the stress goes away, the chemical imbalance does not. Medication can help. Therapy can help. Time can help. Healing can help. Like eating a healthy diet helps manage diabetes, thinking in healthy ways helps manage depression, but it doesn’t cure it.

What also doesn’t help is people telling you to buck up and get over it. It’s like telling someone with skin cancer, “yeah, I had a mole, but I just ignored it and it was fine.” Ridiculous, right?

Mental health issues are hard to define, harder to diagnose and harder to communicate about. There is a huge stigma over them. It feels shameful enough to admit that our bodies are broken without having people tell us that it’s our fault. It’s hard enough to feel sick when you’re doing your favorite activities with your family. Having other people say that if you’d just try a little harder, the sickness would simply evaporate makes the burden a little heavier. It puts a heavier burden onto our families who are told that if they just pray better for us, or be good a little more often, we’d be okay. And when we’re not, they think it’s their fault. I grew up with that burden. The teaching can be so subtly destructive. 

I think it’s important to be clear in our definitions. Don’t claim you’re “depressed” if you’re just being a whiny-pants. Leave room for those who really do struggle with the condition of depression to have the respect they need and the support to manage it well and minimize its impact on themselves and their families. Pray for healing, sure, but don’t blame them when God’s answer is “wait.” Realize that perhaps that person is so much better at choosing to be joyful in the midst of trying circumstances than you will ever have to be, because they choose to get up every single morning, and choose to go about their day when that choice alone is more difficult than anything you might ever have to face. Thank God for your health; and then love that other person without criticism and without judgment. They probably don’t need a kick in the butt from you, because they are already ten times stronger than you’ll ever have to know.

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