Sitting in my Church pew, dressed in my Sunday best. I could play the part like an Academy Award-winning actor, with face all aglow. But inside panic and sadness flooded my being to a point of just wanting to run. When I unveiled my mask, the truth came pouring out; DEPRESSION and Anxiety. But how could that be? I’m here sitting in Church. Christians cannot feel what I’m feeling. Aren’t Christians supposed to be happy, joyous, and have perfect peace all the time? But I was broken, the pieces of my mind falling apart. If only someone saw through my facade; the stigma, the shame, the humiliation I would have to endure.
Sitting in the pews of many of our Churches today are people just like that, so never judge a book by its cover. People are searching for hope, acceptance and understanding.
You would think that the one safe place that a person suffering from a mental illness (such as depression) could find support, would be the Church. But sadly to say, that’s not always the case. Just as prejudice, stigma, ignorance, misunderstanding, and lack of knowledge is found in our society today, so it is found in our Churches.
1. Depression Isn’t a Spiritual Flaw or Personal Weakness – It’s an Illness.
It’s true that the scientific community has yet to come to a universal agreement on the nature and causes of depression. The general consensus, however, is that depression is a MEDICAL CONDITION and thus is an ‘illness’.
Therefore the church needs to start looking at this as an illness, not a spiritual battle or a personal flaw or weakness. Our Churches should be a place of refuge and encouragement to all who seek God; none to be secluded or left out.
2. Mental Illness Isn’t a Choice – It’s a Journey of Faith.
But if you’re a Christian shouldn’t your faith just make it go away? If it were that easy, I would have perfect mental health today. But that’s not the way it works. When sin came into the world, so did sickness and that we have no control over. Yes, God can heal; but as with physical illness, the same is for mental illness, God doesn’t choose to heal all illnesses.
While we live in this world we will have sickness, trials, tribulations, and hardships. Just because we’re Christians, doesn’t make us exempt from them. But God does say, “I will never leave you, or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). He is walking this journey with us and will never leave us alone.
I certainly didn’t choose to struggle with this painful, ugly illness; but I have it, and that I must accept. Just like people don’t choose to have diabetes, kidney disease, or heart disease, people don’t choose mental illness. It is, however, a debilitating illness that one must endure in faith.
3. Mental Illness Isn’t ‘Special’ – It’s Simply another Illness.
The Church has the tendency to put unnecessary pressure on mentally ill persons (that persons suffering don’t need) by invoking the idea that we can heal ourselves if we just pray harder and more often, have more faith, think positive, etc..
Let’s STOP right there; God is our healer, it’s His will, when, and if, we are healed. I cannot change my illness by will-power, no more than someone with a physical illness can heal themselves with positive thoughts. It might help, but it will not cure the illness.
So as a Church let’s start looking at mental illness, the way we look at physical illness; the walls of stigma must come down! Mental and physical illnesses are one and the same. Our brain is an organ, just as our heart, liver, and kidneys are. Our culture has placed them in separate categories when in reality, all our organs are a part of the body, and all work together to make up our being.
4. The Church Can’t Ignore Topics Like Suicide.
There are so many misconceptions, primitive beliefs, and ignorance (of not knowing) that the Church is, in my opinion, afraid to even attempt to discuss this issue. But education, being willing to listen, and speaking out, are all ways to diminish the myths, lies, and misconceptions of this issue.
I can try to explain the alarming epidemic of suicide in Canada, and around the world today, but I think the statistics speak for themselves. “In 2009 there were 3,890 suicides in Canada,” and since then that number has skyrocketed, and will only get worse.1
According to the World Health Organization, “Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds.”2 This statistic alone should open our eyes to the urgency of a divine intervention.
5. The Church Must Create Space To Listen, Learn and Support Each Other.
Let’s not be quick to judge, for that’s God’s place, but let’s open our hearts, and lend our ears and hands to help those who are suffering. Let’s seek out those who are suffering in silence. For it is our responsibility to be “our brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:9).
Let us (and I’m speaking to myself) stop playing God and think we have all the answers because we don’t. And let’s be just a little less judgemental when it comes to mental illness. This illness is often so complex and misunderstood that we don’t have the mental capacity to fully understand it. Thus, it’s best left to the omnipotent God; who is all knowing.
It’s time to look at mental illness in a different light; with understanding, compassion, love, and acceptance – to broaden our minds and hearts; to see things from a different perspective; to shine a new light in the darkness.
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References [ + ]
|1.||⇑||Tanya Navaneelan, “Suicide Rates: An Overview,” Statistics Canada Catalogue, no. 82-624-X, accessed January 30, 2018, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624-x/2012001/article/11696-eng.htm.|
|2.||⇑||World Health Organization, “Suicide Data,” who.int, accessed January 30, 2018, http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/.|