Category Archives: Depression

The Suicidal Shepherd

A couple of weeks ago, my social media feed was in an uproar about the tragic suicide of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein, the Pastor of Inland Hills Church in Chino, CA. The 30-year old megachurch pastor had recently taken over after the death of his father, the founder of the church. He had just come back to the pulpit after an involuntary sabbatical due to severe mental and physical health concerns. In fact, the last sermon he preached was about Elijah; his feelings of hopelessness and suicidality. He shared about the symptoms he had experienced, and the difficulty he had managing the symptoms. He spoke about the visibility of mental health concerns in the bible and the need for the church to respond appropriately to mental illness. It seems, at least, that his church did! They offered support, encouraged him to take time away, and then welcomed him back when he appeared to be well. It is clear that this community loved their pastor, and that he loved them. So what happened?

I won’t pretend to know this church or the Stoecklein family, and so I won’t speculate about what did or didn’t happen. What I can say is that the more I hear about Pastor Stoecklein and his journey, the more I am reminded of just how insurmountable a task pastoring seems to have become. In my immediate response to the news, these words came: Pastors bear a heavy burden that most of us as parishioners cannot even imagine. They are charged with executing an unconditional love that they know from the start will be unrequited. They are held to an unreasonable standard and many are simultaneously compensated meagerly. The very same qualities of selflessness and service that make for beloved pastors also make for tired spouses and parents, and worn out people who may not feel the permission to take time for themselves.

Being in the role of pastor does not mean that these men and women don’t deal with the very harsh realities of being human. They are just as susceptible to a diagnosable mental illness as the rest of us. In fact, the stressors associated with the role are likely to increase their risk. It can be difficult to manage family and home life along with the relational and administrative responsibilities of pastoring. With the possible exception of large churches with a big professional staff, most pastors are asked to manage what would in any other context be several jobs: administrative head, visionary executive, supervisor of training and development, budget manager, congregant relations specialist, and the list goes on. It’s a lot for one person (or even a few people) to manage! While the call is a great honor, it is also a great responsibility. Some of us as parishioners have this sense that pastors must be special citizens in some way. We perceive them as being closer to God and somehow more able to manage the demands of life. I believe it is a great disservice to view pastors in this way. When we put them on such a high pedestal, we leave less room for their humanness to coexist with their call. Pastors are shepherds, not camels. They can guide, direct, and support our faith walk, but it’s not their responsibility to carry us. If we view them as human guides, rather than divine saviors, there is space for them to struggle with life just like we do. There is space for us to provide support to them, rather than them having a series of one-directional relationships where they always give and never receive.

I think another point here relates to the way we as the church view and talk about mental illness, which is continuing to evolve. Inland Hills knew their pastor struggled with mental illness. He had just been away for a few months to try to get better. But I imagine that most of them had a sense of relief when he came back “Whew! That’s over!” We often think about mental health symptoms as occurring in a discrete time period that eventually comes to an end. While for some people that might be the case, for others,  symptoms are a constant daily battle. There isn’t a point at which they simply go away. There is the struggle to manage these symptoms along with daily stressors. While it’s hard to think about and talk about, it’s not necessarily surprising that thoughts of suicide come up. For the vast majority of people who contemplate suicide, it’s really not about dying at all. It’s about escaping from a life where it feels like the walls are constantly closing in on you. Often, people who struggle with mental illness feel like they are burdensome to their friends and family, so there might also be the misguided belief that their death will sometimes be a relief to the people they are closest to. Often when we help people to put some of the pressure they feel into perspective and offer meaningful support, things can feel a little more manageable.

Sometimes those of us in the church will quickly move to demonize or rebuke those who attempt or complete suicide. We see this, as we do with so many other mental health concerns, as a failing of faith. For me, this is an overly simplistic view of human suffering. The reality is that while we endeavor to have hope, the realities of life sometimes make that hope difficult to grasp. In fact, sometimes our grasp of the possibilities of what life can (should) be, makes it difficult for us to deal with the reality of what life is. This is simply to say that thoughts of suicide are not about a failing of faith; they are a sign of intense suffering and inner turmoil. Rather than shaming people for having a thought that they can’t even control, our focus can be on the passionate dispensation of hope, which is one of the key tools we have in the fight against suicide. The fact that pastors, our spiritual leaders, might also struggle in this area is a reminder that they are first human beings. Human beings need love, support, encouragement and understanding no matter how close their relationship with God might be.

So, with September being Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, I want to offer a couple of notes/thoughts for how we might help people who are struggling with contemplating suicide, particularly those who are in leadership:

1. It is not worth the chance to minimize the seriousness of a mental health crisis. When you notice that you are someone you love is experiencing concerning symptoms, take action. Call a crisis line, contact a mental health provider, or get them to an emergency room. Here are some resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255; Website

Therapist Directories:

PsychologyToday; Therapy for Black Girls; Therapy for Black Men;

2. If you are in a position where you can offer support, do it. Be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or a comforting presence. People who are suffering don’t always feel the strength to ask for help, so do it without asking. Check in on people when they seem to be acting differently.

3. Remind yourself and others to give people room for mistakes. One of the biggest challenges I hear when I talk to pastors is that they feel that the stakes are high ALL THE TIME. There is a sense that if they make one mistake, there might be dire consequences that will be difficult to correct. Maybe membership will go down, or offerings will decrease. Ministries will fail or a reputation will be damaged. While there are certainly egregious mistakes that could yield these results, some “mistakes” are simply miscommunications or miscalculations that can be easily corrected if we simply extend grace the way we wish it to be granted to us.

4. Consider how you resource your leaders: money and compensation, time and resources to take vacation, get continuing education, prepare for retirement, and see preventative and problem-focused medical and mental health care. Leaders are people, not machines. We can’t expect them to go non-stop. In fact, the most effective leaders are ones who take meaningful time away from their work.

Above all, remember that God’s word calls us to love each other and to be present and active in responding to one another’s pain.

Recall the familiar passage from Ecclesiastes 4 (verses 9-12):

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
 Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Our responsibility is to work to ensure that people in our community never feel alone! Burdens are easier to bear when someone is walking beside us. Things feel more manageable when we know someone has our back. We feel a little more powerful when we know someone is praying for us. Take a moment to do an inventory: Who might need you to reach out and check on them? What leader in your life can you pray for or encourage today? Maybe you are the one who needs support. In that case, who can you be honest with about how you are truly feeling? What offer of support can you take someone up on today. Where can you go or what activity can you engage in to get some rest and restoration. The time is now. Don’t wait!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

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Let’s Talk About Stigma

As you might know, May is Mental Illness Awareness Month. It’s a time when we can specifically focus on raising awareness about the multitude of issues facing those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. It is also a time to work to dismantle a detrimental barrier to treatment: stigma.

So, what is stigma? Stigma is any kind of negative attitude, belief, or behavior directed at folks with mental illness. Often, beliefs that display stigma are well-intentioned, but misguided. These attitudes often result in people with mental illness feeling judged, misunderstood, and silenced. Stigma can lead people to avoid seeking support, not attempting to get the medical help they need, or feeling that they are to blame for the symptoms they are experiencing. In the black community, a pre-existing mistrust of the medical system in general makes stigma even more dangerous. In the United States, about 1 in 5 adults will meet the criteria for some form of mental illness at some point in their lifetime. This means that if you do not meet criteria yourself, someone you know surely does! People with mental illness are not “them”; people with mental illness are “us.” Statistics suggest that while African Americans experience mental health symptoms at a rate comparable with the overall population, we are less likely to seek treatment (either therapy or medication), less likely to be consistent with that treatment, and more likely to use emergency vs. preventive services. This means that our difficulty seeking help leads us to crisis situations that are often completely preventable! We can literally save lives if we work to combat stigma and encourage people to seek help rather than trying to handle things by themselves.

Here are some examples of things you might have heard or said that demonstrate conscious or unconscious stigma:

  • People with mental illness are “crazy,” dangerous, and cannot be trusted.
  • Keeping secrets about mental health diagnoses, or avoiding the signs that something is wrong with you or a family member.
  • “Black people don’t go to therapy- that’s for white folks.”
  • People with mental illness should just “get over it” or “fake it til they make it.”
  • Using coded, disrespectful language to describe people with mental illness- “coo-coo”; “bipolar”; “missing a few screws”- etc.

While these may seem harmless, they send implicit messages to folks who might be struggling that you will not see and respect their experience, and that you are not a person who can be helpful to them. So what can you do instead?

First, it’s important to realize that mental illness is no different than diabetes or a heart problem. It’s a medical condition that is treatable and people can often live normal lives while they work to manage their symptoms. For some folks, symptoms of a mental illness are the result of trauma, unhealthy relationships, or dysfunctional thinking styles. For others, they might be due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. For others, it could be a combination of the two. Whatever the cause is, there is a treatment that can be helpful, but in order to do that, people have to admit something is going on, and seek help.

Second, if you have someone who shares that they are having mental health symptoms with you, don’t downplay what they are saying. Acknowledge the difficulty the person must be having, and help them brainstorm ways they can begin to seek help. Often, the most helpful thing you can do is simply to listen and let the person know they are not alone. Pray with them and for them, AND help them to find a health care provider who can meet their needs. If you have some questions about therapy, check out my previous post on this topic. 

Third, be careful about your language. Refrain from using words or phrases that might be harmful to folks struggling with mental illness. If you’ve dealt with a mental illness or have been to therapy, consider being open about that process. One of the best ways to combat stigma is to put a name and a face to the experience! Whenever I do workshops, I always say I’ve been to therapy. It helps to reinforce the idea that therapy is something that can be helpful to anyone regardless of their level of success, education, or status. For more information on how to combat stigma, check out the website for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They have wonderful resources, and this month, there is a special campaign focused on combatting negative attitudes about mental illness, dubbed #curestigma.

This issue is too important for us to remain silent. People’s lives are literally at stake, and we can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Together, we can #curestigma and create and environment where everyone can get the help they need.

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Knowing the Signs

A big part of the way we care for ourselves is to simply pay attention. One of the consequences of the frenzied pace that many of us run at is that we do a lot of things, but we don’t necessarily do those things in ways that allow us to be fully present.  Think about your typical day- how much of it is on autopilot? Probably a significant amount. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it might mean that we are less able to recognize when something is “off” with us. As a general practice, its important to check in with yourself on a regular basis. Doing this allows us to have awareness of how we are doing, and if we need to make some changes in order to be well. Maybe you find yourself “going through the motions” from time to time. If so, keep reading!

Take the time to do a full inventory. For some folks, the easiest place to start is the body. Take a moment and mentally scan your body from head to toe: does anything hurt, feel tight, tingly, or out of line? Have you recently been having an increase in headaches, stomach pains, digestive issues, or trouble sleeping? I often tell my clients that our bodies have a way of telling on us. While cognitively we might be able to push through, our bodies often reveal the stress we are carrying around and not managing. Why is this the case? It’s physiology. Our bodies respond to physical, interpersonal, and emotional stress by secreting a chemical called cortisol. Cortisol is GREAT for managing physical stressors: it temporarily grants us keener vision, greater strength, speed to run, and the ability to ignore typical human needs like hunger, thirst, and sleep. That’s why we see stories of parents lifting wrecked cars to save their children, and people not realizing they’ve been burned as they run from a burning building after saving someone. However, most of our stressors are not physical in nature. And the same chemical that helps us to respond most efficiently to physical threats poses great dangers to our internal organs and bodily processes when exposure is prolonged. As a consequence, our bodies simply “tell on us” when we are under a lot of stress.  So, don’t ignore physical symptoms– they might be a sign it’s time to make a change!

Mentally, have you been feeling lost, unorganized, or distracted? Do you have difficulty making decisions or keeping up with basic tasks? Do you find it takes you longer to complete things or that you are generally unproductive? Emotionally, have you had a short fuse lately? Do you feel sad, frustrated, or overwhelmed? Have you been worrying a lot, or feel like your thoughts are racing so fast it’s hard for you to keep up with them? Any one of these experiences could clue you in that something is off. When we are overwhelmed, we are less able to manage our emotions and there is less stability in our thought lives. Trying to juggle too many responsibilities at one time often leaves us unable to do anything well; you know the saying: “Jack of all trades, ace of none”.

Spiritually, people might feel unfocused and disconnected. There is a sense of dryness or a lack of excitement or energy. You might feel hopeless or helpless, wondering how to move forward. You might be feeling that God has forgotten about you or lack a sense of direction.

I have a simple message for you: don’t ignore the signs! When you start to feel off kilter, it is not simply a time to press through. Keep going, but you may need to do so with caution. A while ago, I provided some steps on how to manage crisis situations in the Stop, Drop, and Roll post. If you are feeling completely overwhelmed, check there first! If you don’t feel your situation is as dire, or if you’ve already read the post mentioned above, here are some suggestions.

First; prioritize and refocus your activities. This could be a process you complete with daily tasks, or with longer term goals in your life. Former president Dwight D. Eisenhower developed a simple system for making efficient decisions in wartime. He looked at tasks in terms of two intersecting dimensions: Importance and Urgency. Categorizing tasks in this way helps you to figure out how to make decisions between competing responsibilities and demands.

– task that are both important and urgent should go to the top of your list. You need to deal with these right away!

– tasks that are important but not urgent can become long term goals. You might be able to break these into some smaller tasks that can be more easily managed.

– tasks that are urgent, but not important require you to make a critical decision about whether this task is something that you need to complete at all. Is it your job to do? Will not doing it result in a crisis? Can the deadline pass, with the task left undone, without anything terrible happening?

– tasks that are neither urgent nor important……need I say more? Let it GO!

Second, develop a plan of action. Break large goals into smaller goals with clear deadlines. Ask for help if you need to. Do an inventory of the resources you need to be successful.

Third, pick one or two self-care practices to engage in. They can be simple: taking a walk every couple of hours, connecting with a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, spending some time reading a book or doing an activity you love, etc. Often, self-care is the first thing to go when we’re feeling overwhelmed. But it’s important to keep these practices going! If you don’t engage in self-care, eventually you will run out of steam and you won’t be able to get anything done. It’s important to take care of you.

Hopefully, this helps as all to pay attention to ourselves and take good care of US. Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

 

Savoring the Sweetness in Suffering

Suffering sucks. It just does. There’s no way around it. Sometimes our natural inclination is just to put our heads down and wait for the hard times to be over. The idea is that if we bury our heads, we can get through it. It’s true that we can get through it that way, but it may not be the best way. What if, instead of just waiting for the bad times to be over, you lifted your head and tried to figure out what you can learn during the hard times?

This would be a different stance for many of us, and it would have to be a conscious choice on a daily basis. It would mean taking a moment to dig in to the suffering, to explore it and see what else can be gleaned. But just imagine what you could get out of it!

You might learn some things about life. You might learn that life keeps going, even if it seems that you will be perpetually stuck in the frustrating place you’re in. You might learn, if you look closely, that it’s never all good or bad. Even in the darkest and most frustrating days, there are rays of hope and light. You might learn that those little things are things to be cherished, and that they can make the suffering more manageable.

You might also learns some things about yourself. You might learn how strong you are. You might learn how resourceful you are. You might even learn about some of your relationships (good things and not so good things). You could learn that you have some virtues you didn’t know you possessed.

The bottom line is that suffering presents us with a unique opportunity: groan or grow. Which do you choose? We’ve already been promised that God will never put more on us than we can bear- that means, we will survive whatever the obstacle is right now. Just keep going! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Surviving the Holiday Blues

This time of year is hard for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. Some people have seasonal mood shifts due to shorter days,  colder weather, and less sunlight (click here for more info on seasonal depression). Some people are thinking of and missing loved ones they may be estranged from or have lost due to death. Others may get overwhelmed by the stressors of trying to select and buy gifts they can’t even afford! For various reasons, people struggle.  Stress levels go up, and people can get more depressed and anxious.  But, the holidays don’t have to be a miserable time of year. Here are some of my suggestions for having a safe and happy holiday season.

1. Connect with friends and family. If you have positive relationships with family, try to figure out ways to connect with them. Maybe you can’t get to them in person, but you could arrange to video chat or put in a phone call when you know others will be together. Spend time with friends if you can’t get to family. The holidays can be a great time to reconnect with people you haven’t kept in touch with, or to try to mend relationships that may be in need of repairing. If you’ve lost a loved one, take some time to honor and remember them as a part of the holidays. Perhaps you can do this by continuing a tradition they loved, lighting a candle, looking at pictures, or simply talking about them! Just because they are physically gone doesn’t mean they are no longer a part of your family. Another option is to connect with social or religious groups. Relationships matter.

2. Give back. Altruism is a great thing to do any time of year, but during the holiday season when we can get caught up in materialism and “stuff,” it can be helpful to have some perspective and take some time to be (or give) a gift to someone less fortunate than you. For the past couple years, my family has chosen to do that instead of giving gifts for Christmas. Some years we will adopt a family, or volunteer to serve a meal, or give a monetary gift to someone in need. Maybe you know of a friend who is lonely or isolated this time of year and you can set aside an afternoon to spend time with them- what a gift!

3. Set some boundaries. One of the great gifts we can give to ourselves and others is to be honest about our limitations around this season. Set a budget and stick to it. Is that Christmas gift really worth 13 months of credit card interest? Perhaps it’s letting family know that they won’t get gifts this year, or that they will get hand made gifts (my favorite!!) Perhaps it’s knowing that as much as you love your family, being around them for too long will be stressful. Maybe the boundary is internal and you need to balance social time with some alone time. Everybody is different so listen to your own needs! For me, I love family time, and it’s important to get some serious alone time. Blame the introversion. So, I work to balance social time with carving out time for me.

4. Remember what this is all about. Perhaps this should have been the first bullet. For me as a Christian, the real purpose of this season is an anticipation and excitement that God thought enough of me to send a Savior, born into humble circumstances for a divine purpose. When I think about the gravity of that gift, any item I can buy in a store pales in comparison. Sometimes we get so lost in the commercialism that we lose a sense of wonder and gratitude. Focusing on the true meaning of the celebration can keep us in check.

5. Keep up the self-care. A lot of times people’s schedules change during the holidays, and it can be easy to lose track of your sleep schedule, exercise regimen, and let’s not forget the holiday desserts! It’s important to try to keep up the things you normally do to try to keep yourself healthy. I’m not saying don’t indulge, because for some people that would be unreasonable, but also keep in mind that those schedules serve to regulate our minds and bodies and losing them can exacerbate the potential for holiday stress.

These certainly aren’t all the tips, but hopefully they can be a good start. The important thing is to do what you need to do to take care of yourself.  For more tips, check out this Mayo Clinic Article: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544

Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!

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A while ago, I was in the car listening to the radio and the Yolanda Adams song “Through the Storm” came on. The song starts out with these words:

The storms of life will blow
They’re sure to come and go
They meet us all at a time
When I’m calm and doing fine

But the Captain of my soul
He’s always on board
He rocks me in His arms
While riding through the storm

A few days later, my pastor preached a sermon about the importance of praising God in the valley. He said that sometimes the valley is a training ground, and sometimes our valley places are where we will stay. Sometimes the valley is to humble us because we have lost sight of God’s presence and power in our lives. My favorite point was that even though the valley can be dark and lonely, you can still grow! We need to have the wisdom and relationship with God to understand which of these situations best fits us. For those of us who struggle with depression and anxiety from time to time, it’s hard to believe the valley has a purpose other than to bring us suffering and make us feel separate from God. I want to suggest that during the valley times, we should seek after God even more fervently – even (especially!) when we don’t feel like it. For a long time, one of my favorite scriptures has been Psalm 42:1.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul thirsts for you, O God! – Psalm 42:1

It wasn’t until recently that I did some more research and realized that the rest of the Psalm is David crying out to God in a moment of depression. What I thought was an exclamation of joyful praise is actually a desperate cry for God in a dark moment. Imagine how our lives would change if in the moments when we feel most frustrated with God, we cry out to the one that we need just like we need water to survive! For some of us, that may be a hard  thing to imagine, but it doesn’t mean that it won’t be rewarding.

Here’s what I know: where ever you are, God is there too. My dad used to tell me God has three possible answers to our prayers: yes, no, and wait. Sometimes when we don’t get the answer that we want, we get mad and want to jump ship. We want to “lean to our own understanding” and do things in the way that makes sense to us. The truth is that God doesn’t promise us that there will be no storms, but there are promises all over the Bible that we will never be abandoned. This really hit home for me as I was preparing for a workshop on the spiritual components of depression. You can’t turn too many pages without finding a scripture that reiterates God’s commitment to be with us every step of the way. For every doubt and question we have while we struggle, God has an answer! Here are just a few:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

The Lord upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down (Psalm 145: 14)

Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall (Psalm 55: 22)

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

These are just the beginning. Even when it doesn’t look right or feel right you are not alone. My challenge to you is to keep trusting through the storm! You might be in the middle of it right now, but it gets better. Trust that even in the valley, even in the dark times, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  Keep trusting. Keep going. God is with you every step  of the way.

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Black Women’s Fight for their Lives

I came across a HuffPost article that described the discrepancy between rates of depression in black women and their access of mental health treatment. A CDC study quoted in the article leads to the conclusion that while black women are more likely than both their male and white counterparts to suffer from depression, they are less likely to see mental health services and remain in treatment. The article notes several factors that might contribute to this phenomenon: lack of or not enough insurance, shame, lack of knowledge about what depression is, stigma, and the idealized “strong black woman.

The article includes this poignant quote from Melissa Harris- Perry:

Through the ideal of the strong black woman, African-American women are subject not only to historically rooted racist and sexist characterizations of black women as a group but also a matrix of unrealistic interracial expectations that construct black women as unshakeable, unassailable and naturally strong.

I have to tell you, those words hit me like a ton of bricks. Even though I have spent my whole adult life thinking and learning about mental health, this sounded like me. I have struggled with what it would mean to seek help for myself, even as I spent my days providing that help to others. How many of us have felt the pressure to be “unshakeable, unassailable, and naturally strong”? How many of us have been screaming on the inside and smiling on the outside? We pride ourselves on being superwomen, and get pats on the back when we never have to ask anyone for help. I know it isn’t all of us, but I also know it’s far too many. It might not be you, but it might be that girlfriend that you see every once in a while, and you keep thinking, something just isn’t right. It might be your sister, who always looks run down and tired, but always says she’s “ok.”  This post isn’t just about mental health. This is about us taking care of ourselves, and each other. If you know something isn’t right, ask about it. If you see that a friend looks down, don’t look the other way. You might be the help she needs. Maybe it is depression and maybe she needs a therapist. Maybe she needs a sista-friend that she can’t be honest with when everything isn’t peachy. Maybe she needs a sounding board where she can say “This is hard sometimes!”

What I know, is that as long as we try to be 24/7 superwomen, we are in the fight of our lives. Despite our greatest efforts, we are human beings. Human beings get worn out when they don’t care for themselves. Human beings get depressed when they spend all their energy caring for others ,and have none left to care for themselves. A while ago I taught a class on self-care for ministers, and I used these two images to show the difference between pouring out endlessly into others (left), and the health of caring for yourself while you care for others (right). In the left picture, you can see that eventually, the pitcher will be empty. In the right picture, you can see that because they flow into each other, none of the vessels will run dry. Which one of these is you?

pouringoverflow

This issue is not just for black women, it’s for all of us! For me, this is a daily battle. I feel the pressure of needing to be a professional woman, take care of my household, be active in my church, and all the other things that I do. I love to do these things, and if I do those things that I love without caring for myself, eventually I will end up empty and do nothing well. So for me, this means I owe it to myself and the people I care about to take intentional time to look inward and take care of me. It makes me a better wife, daughter, therapist, friend, teacher, and community member. What I do for me depends on what I need- sometimes it’s just a girls’ night, or making myself go to the gym because I know afterward I’ll feel like I new woman. Sometimes it’s letting myself be cared for without guilt, and sometimes it’s going to see a therapist.  Let’s stop wearing fatigue like a medal of honor. Let’s stop cursing our humanness as weakness. Let’s strive for wholeness, wellness, and peace!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices.

Let’s Talk About Depression

depression-7

Let’s talk about Depression. I’ve been doing some prep work for a workshop I’m doing about Spirituality and Depression, and I must admit: I’ve been really struggling. I struggle because in the church, we send so many mixed messages to people. On the one hand, we tell people that God is a provider, a protector, a sustainer, and we should cast all our cares on God. On the other hand, we sometimes shame people when they actually admit that it can sometimes be hard to see and feel that! I want to talk about two different types of depression- situational and clinical. Most (if not all) of us have experienced symptoms of depression related to a specific incident (a loss, a death, a break-up, a stressful work situation). If you won’t admit it, I will. I’ve been sad, lonely, frustrated, confused, and unsure about God’s place in my life. In these situations, sometimes a change of perspective, a reminder of scriptures of explaining God’s promises, prayer, and a good cry are just what we need to feel better. But, all depression (or maybe a better word is sadness) isn’t like that!

Sometimes, you are depressed and you don’t know why. You can’t get out of bed. You don’t feel motivated. You don’t feel God’s presence. You can’t seem to enjoy the things that once drove you. You can’t concentrate. You can’t rest. Your body hurts. This is clinical depression. This is not depression that can be prayed away. This depression is not about a failure of faith. This is a brain disease that makes even the simplest of tasks seem like great battles. Here’s the problem- we treat these people, as if they are the people dealing with situational distress. We say things like:

Just pray.

Just trust God.

Believe it will get better.

Fake it ’til you make it.

But what if my mind is so clouded that I can’t see any of that? What if my heart is so heavy that I can’t find the words to pray? For some folks, depression is not something that you can just pray or praise your way out of. For some folks, a professional therapist is needed to help them find ways to cope and to heal. For others, medication is needed to correct a chemical imbalance in the brain. Take a look at this photo from a WebMD Slideshow about Depression:

depressed brain scan

For people who experience clinical depression, the brain functions less efficiently (the bright colors indicate levels of activity) and is less able to handle every day demands- that why people who are depressed may have difficulty getting work done, making decisions, taking care of life tasks, or being in relationships. So, when you tell someone with clinical depression to snap out of it, you are asking them to do something that they are physically (emotionally, spiritually) unable to do. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s not a personal failure, it’s a treatable health problem. There is so much stigma attached to mental illness that people are often afraid to share their struggles. Imagine the hurt we cause when people muster up the bravery to talk about it, and their concerns are not taken seriously or they are given the message that they should just pray it away.

As the church, we have a responsibility to stop shaming people for their “lack of faith” and start guiding people to wellness. Here are some simple things you can do:

  1. Just listen. You can bet that much of the advice you try to give, the person has already tried, possibly without success. Try listening without developing a response other than: “I’m sorry, what can I do?”
  2. Connect them with resources. We are great for providing a listening ear, but if you’re not a professional mental health care provider, don’t try to do it! Offer to be with the person while they make an appointment, or even go with them to the first one. Help them to look up therapists their insurance company will cover. If you don’t know where to start, check out my Find a Therapist page for help.
  3. Pray. Acknowledging that professional help is needed  does not negate everything we know about the power of prayer. We pray before surgeries, flights, road trips, and first days at school. This is no different. Pray that the person will begin to feel God’s love and power. Pray that they connect well with the therapist and/or psychiatrist treating them. Pray for healing!
  4. Don’t stop checking in. Often, people who are depressed feel that they are alone in the world. Your call, text, or email can mean all the world. Show them that you care and that you are there for them. You can be the physical manifestation of God’s love for a person who is suffering. While we don’t always understand why we go through things, we do not that God loves us, God cares, and God never leaves. Check out these promises:

Psalms 145:14- The LORD upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down.

Psalms 34:18- The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.

Psalm 3:3:You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and lifter up of my head.

Romans 8:37-38: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rules, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

My hope is that we will begin to provide a space where we can talk about this without fear of shame. My hope is that we can truly be the hospital for all kinds of ailments, that we can instill hope, and that we can honestly admit when we need to call others for help. The only way people can get the help they need is if they are able to admit they are hurting!

If you are in the Richmond area (or willing to travel) check out the Upcoming Events section for an awesome conference on this very issue being held in a few weeks!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!