It is Mental Health Awareness month, with a slew of Social Media posts sharing Suicide Prevention Hotline numbers, reminders to let people know you care, etc. Then in a week’s time two celebrities died from suicide, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Coupled with the loss of Robin Williams last year, we have learned that depression and suicide reach over the barriers of influence, wealth, success, and the appearance of having it all. Depression, mental illness, mental health issues, addiction, and suicide do not discriminate. They do not care about the amount of money in your bank account, your resume, the color of your skin, your history, your religion, your gender, your sexuality, or your age.
Just two weeks ago, I took my youngest daughter in for her middle school physical. It’s been 4 years since our last appointment. This time, not only was I handed a clipboard to verify all of our information was still accurate and note any changes since her last visit… but I was given a clipboard for her. It was a survey to assess depression in my 11 year old. Questioning if she ever felt like the world was better off with out her, if she ever felt alone despite having friends, if she slept too much, if she didn’t feel like playing or participating in activities, if she had ever thought about hurting herself or others, or if she had ever tried to harm or kill herself ever (and a follow up question asking if that was within the last year). I was taken back by the addition of this survey.
We entered into the exam room, and as part of the physical we discussed the survey. That was when I was hit with a bombshell. Our pediatrician said:
“Suicide is the number two cause of death among children.”
I’ll wait while you let that sink in a moment, or google it to verify for yourself. I know I was stunned to hear it.
We are a family marked by depression and suicide. Depression runs on my husband’s side of our family. He lost a sister when she was just a teenager. I lost a friend in high school. Another when I was in college. I wish I could say that was the end of our experience with it, but it has not been the case. When you are the surviving friends and family of suicide, you see things differently and become more keenly aware. I watch my children constantly looking for signs and clues in order to have early intervention. This is part of our life. We don’t allow our kids to make any sort of joke, off hand comment, or recite a quote/cliche phrase related to suicide. It’s too real for us to ever take it lightly.
Despite our own experiences with it, I was still stunned to hear those words from the doctor. NUMBER TWO for children ages 10+.
- Unintentional injury
- Malignant Neoplasm (cancerous tumors)
- Congenital Disease
It is absolutely beyond my comprehension that more children die by their own choice and volition than those who have been taken at the hands of others. I can’t wrap my head around it. It breaks my heart every time I hear about it on the news and yet I still didn’t grasp the scope of it.
It is #2 for children ages 10-14.
It is #2 for ages 15 – 23.
It is #2 for ages 24-34.
With that ranking, how can we even begin to think that suicide isn’t lurking around the corner hunting someone we love. We can’t discount the reach of depression and mental illness. Which is why we must be proactive about our mental health. This means paying attention to our loved ones, so that we are not only aware that depression or anxiety is happening… but also to encourage the person to seek out help. We must never create an environment where others do not feel that they must suffer alone vs. reaching out for help. We must drop any stigma we hold or express about treating mental health. Whether it is a judgement over people who are prioritizing “self care” or disparaging talk related to medication as a form of treatment, it needs to stop.
Especially for those of us who are among the community of faith believers.
I do believe in the power of prayer. I have known people that have been miraculously cured of conditions that Doctors can’t explain. I’ve known people miraculously delivered from addictions. I’ve known people who have been delivered from depression, anger, anxiety, past traumas, etc. Miraculous stories full of hope and wonder.
I also know people of faith who have earnestly prayed for healing, and it has not come. I know people who despite their prayers have continued a constant struggle with sobriety. I watched a faithful church pray every Sunday for the miraculous healing of a severely handicapped girl, that 20 years later still has not happened. I’ve heard people share how they were told that their prayers were not answered because they were not faithful enough. My friend Jay, shared this on her Facebook page a few days ago…
“Stop telling people that they don’t know God if they’re having suicidal thoughts. Sometimes God is the ONLY thing they are holding on to.” – Jay Sharpe
This is the harsh truth. It is absolutely irresponsible of us to question or condemn someone’s faith because they struggle with mental health issues, mental illness, or contemplate suicide. Irresponsible.
God has given us plants that have created medicines to combat these issues. He has given scientists the education, tools, and resources to develop synthetic medications. He as given doctors and counselors the wisdom to detect for early intervention, the ability to help someone get through the storms when they are in the midst of it, and the skills to teach them how to create coping mechanisms when they are in a stable state of mind. These are GIFTS and CALLINGS that God has put on their lives to be tangible help in a world that seems so dark.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul describes how three times he cried out for the Lord to remove the thorn from his flesh, but the Lord did not. Paul was a faithful believer, persecuted on behalf of his faith. If the Lord sought not to remove that thorn from Paul’s flesh, even with his earnest prayers… it is entirely possible for ANYONE to have a solid faith and yet the Lord will choose to let their thorn remain. We may not understand His reason for doing so, but we know in the end He will be glorified through it.
It was eight years ago when I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. In the beginning I was told that the medication I was prescribed would help me to feel better. It didn’t. I tried diet changes, supplements, hired a nutritionist, worked with a personal trainer, read all the books I could get my hands on. I cried out for the Lord to heal me on more occasions than I could count. He chose not to. I kept feeling worse. This illness was stealing away my life and my joy. I remember sitting on my floor one night contemplating how I could continue to exist like this. Was it fair to me? Was it fair to my husband and children? What good would I be? It was only a few years ago, that the Lord provided a pathway for my healing. Was I instantly cured? No. However each day I grow stronger, each day I am healthier, and I owe that the people and treatments God continually puts in my path.
I know people who have my condition where depression is one of their symptoms, for others the physical symptoms become so unbearable that they couldn’t take it anymore, men and women who suffered in silence because no one could understand the private hell they were suffering through because they “look ok” to the rest of the world. I read posts in the support groups where many people shared they wished they had cancer because at least then people would believe them. I can understand the desperation for the person battling mental illness, a storm raging inside that no one else can see, feeling alone, and desperate to make it stop.
Yes, there are those who suffer from depression and you can see it all over their lives. They sleep all day, they struggle with every day life expectations, they are open and share about how down they feel… how lost… and how hopeless. Many more suffer in silence. They fear condemnation, judgement, and shaming… especially for those who appear to have it all. The perfect body. Perfect home. Perfect marriage. Stacked bank account. Trips all over the world. Celebrity status.
Do you know how hard it is to confess to the world that you feel like nothing when they think you have everything?
What do you have to be depressed about? As if depression is defined by circumstance. Or anxiety is something we can simply choose to turn on and off. The thought that mental illness is something we can just get over or “walk it off”. If climbing out of the pit was as easy as deciding to, don’t you think people would?
It is as if the person has been blindfolded and placed in a pit with a ladder. Everyone around watching sees the ladder, they know how easy it would be to just get out of that pit. However, the blind fold of depression or mental illness makes it hard to see the ladder. It clouds judgement. It can change perception so that the pit feels like a canyon. The voices from outside are shouting directions and encouragement, but the voices are muddled and indistinguishable, and it may feel they add to the chaos. They need someone who is willing to walk into the pit with them and guide them out through counseling, medication to remove that blindfold.
And that is OK, and we need to stop telling the world that it’s not.
No more posting about how ADD and ADHD medication are just for lazy parents, unethical doctors, or big pharm trying to drug our children in to compliance. Until you walk the shoes of an ADD/ADHD/OCD/ODD/et’al parent and child… you have no idea how these disorders impact our child and our family, or how often anxiety and depression accompany them.
No more chastising about how people use a diagnosis as an excuse for their weight gain, lack of motivation, fatigue, or other physical/mental/emotional ailments. Until you walk in the shoes of a person with a chronic illness… you have no idea how they are struggling to stay afloat in a disease that is trying to pull them down. Every day becomes a battle, and mentally it is exhausting and can lead to depression and anxiety.
No more assumptions that just because someone is blessed with wealth, physical health, or opportunity that they do not suffer in silence. Just because a person doesn’t share their struggle publicly doesn’t mean that their life is easy and carefree… you have no idea the demons they battle every single day.
No more can we thrust our will or our opinions on how someone else needs to deal or cope with life. We can not expect people to heal the way we heal, or cope the way we cope. Instead, we become champions for their health. Encouraging them to seek help, supporting them through diagnosis processes, medication dosing, and understanding that the more they try to push you away… the more they need you to stay (even if you are just lingering in their peripheral vision).
If you know someone who needs help, talk with them. If it is a child or teen, talk with their parents. Give them phone numbers to resources where they can get help, and let them know they are not alone in this. Be there. Be understanding. Be helpful. Be supportive. Be encouraging. Be present. Do what you can. And, recognize that you are not called to be their Savior.
The writing is on the wall when it comes to mental health in the US. We can’t ignore it. We have to fight it, for ourselves and the ones we love. We need to stand in the gap and stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.
Check on your friends. The strong ones. The single ones. The parents. The military vets. The creative types. The loners. The wealthy ones. The extroverts. The happy ones. The struggling ones. Those with illnesses. Those who seem to have it all.
If you’d like to read more about being Christian and suffering from depression and anxiety, Brant Hansen and Carlos Whitaker have both written about their own struggles. Just google search their name with the word depression added to the search, you will find plenty to read.
Local churches may have a list of Christian Counselors and Crisis Resource numbers that can help you get immediate help.
Or reach out to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline that has a # you can call or people available to chat with you online. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/