I’ve lived most of my life in denial when it comes to the issue of mental illness in my family. Not that I’ve denied its existence, but I’ve definitely kept it swept under the rug. Not exactly a conversation piece around the dinner table or at a party.
Besides, you don’t really get the same type of sympathy as those who have cancer or other serious health issues that run in their family. Bring up the family members who have dealt with heart-related problems and you’re sure to get a sympathetic ear, perhaps even some great advice or encouraging words. But talk about your grandma who was institutionalized because of schizophrenia or the several family members taking medication for some form of mental illness and there’s likely to be an uncomfortable silence or a quick changing of the subject.
Why is the level of comfort so different? Not only is there is a stigma in the church when it comes to this delicate subject matter, but there seems to be no sympathy for those who suffer. While others rally around you when facing a physical illness, it gets pretty lonely when you suffer with depression or anxiety.
I believe one of the reasons for the lack of sympathy is that some people see depression as nothing more than being sad. When we turn it into an emotion, there’s a belief that we can do something about it. That we have some degree of control over our emotions. Depression is not sadness. Yes, circumstances can contribute to depression but most people suffering from it, recognize there’s no real reason to feel the way they do. They can’t choose to not be depressed. Just like someone can’t choose to not vomit when hit by the stomach flu.
Another reason for the lack of sympathy, which is particular to the church, is that we should all be walking around with a smile plastered on our face and a worship song coming from our lips. If you have the joy of the Lord, then surely you shouldn’t be suffering from depression. The reality is that believers aren’t excluded from struggles. Just because one person’s thorn is different from someone else’s doesn’t make it any less valid.
Perhaps a little more understanding (and sympathy) would eliminate that lonely feeling. Those suffering from depression might be more willing to admit it’s a struggle and ask for help. What better place to get it than the church? Yet so often it’s the last place a believer goes to for help when it comes to depression. Instead, they paste on their smiles and give a holy high-five to others in passing, while inside they’re hurting.
No one should suffer alone…especially someone who belongs to the body of Christ.