In the aftermath of Robin Williams’s death, there has been a lot of talk about depression. A friend asked me to write this article, which may be the hardest thing I’ve ever written. So—Jordana—this is for you.
Jordana is clinically depressed. You wouldn’t know it to look at her. She’s beautiful, smart, witty. Funny. Very funny. She’s the life of the party. Most people don’t know about her struggles. I’ve watched her fight this battle for many years. She’s amazing. Strong. Jordana’s diagnosis came late in life. With medication and help from doctors, she’s getting better. But when depression makes the news like it has recently, it breaks her heart. She sees every snide comment about weakness, lack of faith, etc. as being pointed straight at her.
To my mind, the worst thing about Jordana’s battle with this disease is the shocking amount of abuse she’s taken for it. She’s reached out for help and received insults, coldness, admonitions to just be strong. She is strong. If she weren’t, she wouldn’t still be here.
Purportedly well-meaning people speculate about what is wrong in Jordana’s life. Is it abuse? Lack of faith? Is she just not trying hard enough? They tell her that Jesus would never have been depressed.
This sort of uninformed abuse has not only made Jordana less likely to reach out to others in the future, it has driven her from the church. What should be a community of support and hope has become a place where Christians shoot their wounded.
When my mother had cancer, her doctors told me that each cancer is unique. So it is with depression. I’ve talked to a lot of people with depression. I’ve suffered from it myself. And I’ve found that each person’s experience of depression is unique. Some of the abuse that Jordana has dealt with comes from people not understanding that—and not understanding that there are different types of depression.
Humans are spirit, mind, and body. Depression can attack each area, and not only does it manifest differently in each case, each type seems to require a different approach. People who are familiar with one type of depression may have seen a miraculous healing of that type of depression and believe that they can apply the same technique to every victim of depression. But the end result of this approach can be devastating.
Spirit. There is such a thing as spiritual oppression or depression. This spiritual attack strikes at a deep level that only prayer and support from others with similar beliefs can help. It takes love, patience, faith, and prayer, which can banish this type of depression like the sun washes away mist.
Mind. Another type of depression that I’ve observed is what I would call mental depression. This is generally brought on by a precipitating event—the death of a loved one, chronic illness, financial trouble, the death of hope. People tend to understand this type of depression. Of course you’re depressed, they’ll say. Anyone would be. Drugs may help as a quick pain reliever, but recovering from this type of depression is largely a matter of time. This is where it can be helpful for a friend to come and take someone out for a day to try to break the destructive cycle of depression. Love, prayer, care, consideration—taking time to see and to be what is needed for a friend can make all the difference in the world to someone’s recovery, because recovery is possible.
Body. Last, there is clinical depression, a depression of the body. This is a physical condition, a physical illness as real as the flu—or cancer. Just as a person with cancer can’t heal herself by wishing the cancer gone, a person with clinical depression can’t just “get over it.” Yes, people with clinical depression need the support and love of friends. Yes, they need prayer. But they also need the help of medical professionals to deal with what is going on in their bodies.
In all cases, I believe prayer helps. But it is particularly discouraging to a person of faith to be told that their faith should be enough to heal them and that their failure to heal is proof they don’t have enough faith. This is neither Biblical nor loving. God put Job’s friends in their place when they suggested the same thing. Despite repeated prayers, God chose not to heal the Apostle Paul—who through faith healed many—of the thorn in his flesh. God did not disown Paul for not having enough faith—because it wasn’t a question of faith. And neither is Jordana’s depression.
Let me make one thing clear: depression is deadly. I’ve lost friends to it. Once you’ve cried at the grave of a friend who took her own life, you’ll never ignore depression again. You can’t just hope they’ll get better. And if you are lucky—very lucky—you’ll get one chance to help.
So Jordana wanted me to ask you—to beg you: be sensitive to those suffering from depression. They don’t choose to be where they are, and your help, your understanding, your tenderness, and your willingness to simply listen may be the bit of love that gets them through today.
Jordana also asked this: when someone has chosen to end their life, don’t blame their loved ones. Those people are hurting, their hearts breaking with grief and loss. Blaming them may make life make sense to you, but it isn’t an honest perspective. If you must cast blame—blame the disease.
Finally, I would add, be kind to everyone around you. You don’t know what they may be going through. Any one of them may be secretly depressed, and your kindness could make all the difference.