The D Word

Ok, let’s just put it out there, let’s examine it…those thoughts, that dark cloud, that madness, the black hole of which we Christians seldom speak.  For if one does dare to speak out about the ravaging darkness within, she or he is too often met with pitying platitudes or band aids of Scripture verses, which results in the sufferer crawling back to isolation instead of taking a step toward healing.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 16.1 million adults in the U.S. have experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year.  In 2015, approximately 3 million U.S. adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 experienced at least one major episode of major depression.  Depression increases a teen’s risk for attempting suicide by 12 times.  While most people who die by suicide have a mental or emotional disorder, the most common disorder is depression.  According to Mental Health America, 30% to 70% of suicide victims suffer from major depression or bipolar disorder.

The D word – depression– it is common, too common really, and not to be ignored or denied, (a favorite of friends and family), or minimized, (often a favorite of religious folks).  Depression causes severe symptoms that affect feelings, thinking, and how you handle daily activities, such as eating, working, sleeping, (National Institute of Mental Health).

It can be paralyzing; it can be deadly…especially for teens and college students who live in the moment and feel the constant pressure to be together and happy online and among their peers, (The Happiness Effect, by Donna Freitas).  Depressed teens often would rather self-harm than let their inward pain be known (“Cutting and Self Harm: Warning Signs and Treatment”, by Jeanie Lerche Davis).

Where is our responsibility in this area? Initially, I want to acknowledge that we aren’t all therapists, so we should not attempt it! 😉 However, we can be open to listening with a non-judgmental presence if someone who is experiencing depression seeks us out to speak about their struggle.  “Everyone knows the pain of not being listened to or heard.  We shut down, withdraw and distance ourselves because not to be heard feels too much like we do not exist (Listening for The Soul, Jean Stairs). Perhaps we can “hear them into speech,” as Stairs wrote, if we will take the time to listen.

It’s big step, but, we can be vulnerable with this person by being willing to share our own story about the darkness. Granted, it is much easier and more comfortable to be the ‘giver of wisdom’ and ‘facilitator of truth’, but as a wise former professor used to say, quoting Wayne Oates, we are all pilgrims on the same journey.

We can surely walk with someone in the crisis, but we must also lead them to the help that is needed.  Is it spiritual darkness? The Psalms are full of David’s cries of woe and mental wilderness wandering.  I don’t understand why we have allowed the enemy to shroud depression with such shame when we have examples of Biblical characters and spiritual leaders in our history who wrestled with seasons of ‘dark nights’ (i.e.Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, St. John of the Cross, Henri Nouwen)!

If it has lasted longer than two weeks, your friend probably needs to see a mental health professional.  Yes, there are plenty of Christian counselors available, if that is important to you…it would be to me due to the faith factor and worldview.

But please, church, Christians, I beg you, no more platitudes or patronizing!  No more silence or shame! Depression is real and it is stalking our halls, our sanctuaries, and our youth groups while we plaster smiles on our faces. Address it openly; be brave.

Life is at stake…



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