Mental Health Week, Writings, and Ramblings
Updated: Oct 8, 2022
It was brought to my attention that this past week was "Mental Health Awareness Week" so I decided that warranted a new blog post. Whoever actually makes up these "awareness weeks" or "awareness months" is a mystery to me, but struggling with mental health is not. Mental health issues are something that I am blatantly aware of because they have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Even still, you may be wondering why I would choose to write a blog post regarding this issue...It really comes down to something that I used to tell my students during writing lessons: "Good writers write about what they know and love." I know about depression. I know about anxiety. And I know a lot about watching people that I love struggle through mental health issues. This is a topic that I am passionate about and I believe needs to be addressed more frequently and with more honesty; hence this post. If reading this helps even one person, then it's worth it to share some of my perspective.
As someone who has suffered with depression and anxiety for the majority of my adult life (perhaps even longer), I have felt the sting of stigma that surrounds this subject in a variety of ways. While it's not something I am "proud" of, I have learned over time that it isn't something I should be made to feel ashamed of either. To have a friend or colleague view me in a negative light due to my depression or anxiety can be painful, but I have learned to accept that not everyone understands mental health and it is not my job to worry about what others think of me. There is, however, one area that I still find disheartening: the overall attitude of the church in regard to mental health issues.
The church should be a sacred space where people feel safe to be honest and vulnerable. Unfortunately, the reality is that churches are full of people; and people, no matter how well-meaning, are sinful. Therefore, I have always found depression to be somewhat of a charged issue among Christians. I'm sorry to say that I have had well-meaning Christians be so bold as to flatly declare my depression and anxiety a sin. Their thought process being that by admitting my struggles with mental health, I am somehow revealing a lack of my faith in God’s promises. If you consider yourself to be a Christian, I implore you to stop implying that depression and anxiety can somehow be "prayed away."
Please hear me loud and clear: I have GREAT faith in God's promises. On my darkest of days, my faith in God is what has sustained me. I am also keenly aware of God’s judgment on sinful behavior. I am nothing if not accountable and will be the first to acknowledge that I am a sinful person in need of God's Grace. What I cannot fathom is how confessing that I suffer from these issues and taking action to control them would somehow make my faith in God questionable. Here is what I do know for sure: If you suffer from anxiety or depression seeking professional or medical help does Not mean that you love God any less and it will Not somehow make God love you any less either.
When I think of people from the Bible suffering through depression I immediately think of the book of Lamentations. This entire book is one, long poetic expression of the grief and suffering that the Hebrew people endured as a result of the destruction of Jerusalem. While Lamentations may be the most obvious example, the Bible shows us time and again that many faithful men of God struggled with sadness, even to the point of depression. David wrote, “Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record?” (Psalm 56:8). David, a “man after [God’s] own heart” (Acts 13:22), did not downplay his sadness, but rather he cried out to to God. Why should I be ashamed to do the same?
Likewise, I am not ashamed to share that I take prescription medication for both anxiety and depression. I am aware that there are some members of the church who may judge me for doing so, but again, I must remind myself that it is not my job to be concerned with the judgements of people; When you put your faith in God, it is only His judgement that matters. While the Bible does not specifically address whether or not to take medication for depression; throughout the life and ministry of Jesus, He made it clear that healing — and seeking healing — is a good thing. He also acknowledged that the sick need a doctor (Matthew 9:12). Our culture accepts and even encourages people to take medication for other illnesses like diabetes or a heart condition; depression should be no different.
Indeed, the more time I spend reading the Bible, the more convinced I am that God doesn't want me to pretend to be something I am not. As my pastor recently stated in a sermon, God knows all of the parts of me and "he is not shocked or offended." Think about what that really means for a moment: every wrong thing I have ever done, all of the things that I have left undone, the choices that I wish I could go back and change, all of my negative thoughts, my selfish actions, and, yes, even the days when depression weighed so heavily upon me that I didn't want to get out of my bed...none of it was ever a shock to God and He loves me anyway! I took so much comfort in those words and I hope that reading them in this post will provide comfort for someone else, too.
If any of this resonates with you, I am excited (and nervous) to share that I have started writing a book. The book will discuss the connection between childhood experiences and mental health issues, as well as the Goodness of God and His ability to turn my feelings of worthlessness into worthiness. I hope to share with people how important it is to work through the adverse experiences of our childhood using counseling and medication, while still and always trusting in God. My heart's desire is that in writing this book I will provide hope and encouragement for others. By humbly providing real life examples, I hope to paint a picture of God's ability to take even the most broken people and use them for good according to His plan. I believe He has a plan for all of us and if I can point others to God by sharing my story, then it will all be worthwhile.