I don’t know what it’s like to experience depression.
I don’t mean the “I’m having a bad day/week/year at work” funk. Or the vague sense of malaise that all of us feel now and then. I mean the relentless, merciless, year-on-year assault that is clinical, diagnosable depression.
I don’t have the credentials to treat or diagnose depression, either.
I don’t know what it’s like to seriously contemplate, much less attempt, suicide.
So what on earth would compel me to think I have the right to judge someone who has?
I can’t “stomach the thought of suicide” either (to use the words of a certain, notoriously offensive blogger). But that doesn’t give me the right to dismiss or diminish the experiences of those who can. Just the opposite. The fact that I can’t should be all the reminding I need that I have NO CLUE what it’s like to walk in their shoes.
So maybe I should just shut up and listen instead.
Take a few moments to read some of the tweets that people have shared this week using the #faithinthefog hashtag started by @lukeharms. Listen to their stories.
Read this post by Nish Weiseth in which she shares her own experience with depression and suicide. Or this one by Sarah Moon. Or this one by R.L. Stollar. If you are like me, then the fact that you can’t fully understand or relate to their stories is why you need to hear them.
Remember… depression is not “sin.” It is not a “spiritual issue.” The answer to depression or thoughts of suicide is not simply to “pray more” or “be more spiritual” or just “will yourself out of it.” To quote R.L. Stollar, “Mental health is as real and concrete as physical health and needs to be treated as such.”
Remember… those of us who don’t have direct experience with this kind of depression don’t have any framework for making sense of it. And the ones we construct are almost always misguided or wrong. To quote Nish Weiseth:
Depression is a clinically-diagnosed mental illness… It’s not selfish to struggle with depression. It’s not a lack of understanding about God and his creation. It’s not something to be ashamed of. Those who don’t struggle with depression, who don’t feel the ongoing darkness… they try to understand and make sense of it. Label it as selfish and the easy way out. Call the suicidal “cowards.” But that’s not the mind of a person in the grips of unrelenting darkness. When depression corners you like that, it makes you believe that suicide is joy. Suicide is relief. And in some instances, it makes you think that suicide is a blessing or a gift to others. It can feel like the brave and noble thing to do.
Depression is a terrible thing, like Nish said. But what’s even more terrible is to condemn or dismiss rather than support those who experience it. To chalk it up to a lack of faith on their part or a lack of dependence on God or whatever. To ignore the very real physical and chemical causes of (and treatments for) depression. To say it’s a “spiritual” issue, as if spirit and body are two separate things—as if one matters and the other doesn’t. (Hello, Gnosticism.)
Remember… if we haven’t walked in someone else’s shoes, then the best thing we can do is to follow Micah J. Murray’s advice and simply shut up and listen.
And if we say anything at all, may it be: You are good. You are loved. And we are here with you, no matter what.
Image by Craig Cloutier on Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
One thought on “Depression, suicide, and why the rest of us should just shut up and listen”
I hope this is the approach of humanity in general some day, let alone the church itself at the very least. Sad how we’ve designated mental illness as something different than other illness.