There is a level of shame and disgrace attached to “mental health illness” in our society. This leads to people turning a blind eye to a person’s mental health issues. But statistics show around 200 million people in India suffer from depression. Now more than ever we need to talk about mental health and fight the stigma attached to it. We are losing more people to depression now than any other generation.
“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.'” – C.S. Lewis
Awareness about mental health issues is the need of the hour. More so among Christians. Like any other illness, depression can affect a believer also. It could be the side effects of medicine, stress, lifestyle, etc… We have Christ in us to approach this with hope like any other challenge in life. Here is an interview with Lavanya (name changed) who talks about her hard path of recovery from depression.
How would you describe yourself?
I am a very outgoing and extroverted person who likes talking to people and making new friends. I am a motivational speaker and love being on stage to encourage young people. As an active member of the Church, I am involved in many outreach programs for the youth where I get to counsel students. With all these activities along with a full-time job, there was never a dull moment in my life.
Can you share what started happening last December?
Out of nowhere, with no reason or explanation, I was beginning to descend into a dark phase. I started isolating myself from my friends and family. Lost my appetite, sleep, and my will to socialize. Bouts of uncontrollable sobbing for no reason throughout the day. My self-worth took the greatest hit. I felt like I had no purpose in life. This gnawing emptiness started devouring me from inside. I wanted to end it all. And one particularly difficult night, I googled ways to die. I lived through those nights by staying awake and crying till the dawn.
How long did this last and did you recognize what you were going through?
It lasted for months. No, I had no idea what it was. I could not make sense of it. It was much later when I opened up to one of my friends, that I realized I was going through depression.
In what areas were you affected and what did you need at this point?
It definitely affected my work and all that I was involved in. I could not go up on stage anymore fearing I might break into another episode of crying for no reason. I hated being not able to do the things I excelled at. There was this overwhelming guilt for not being the best version of me. Consequently, I could not recognize the person I had become and wanted my old self back. I wanted someone to listen to me and figure out what was wrong with me. Ultimately, I was desperate for help.
How were your faith and spiritual life during this period?
I didn’t feel like praying or reading the Bible. I hadn’t lost my faith in God or neither was I angry with God but nothing made sense to me anymore.
How did your family and friends handle it when you revealed your situation to them?
I have a huge friend circle from Church, college and work but none of them understood the gravity of what I was going through. My parents and friends had a vague idea that something was wrong and I was not well. But they could not comprehend why a lively person who is a believer in Christ would go through depression. Sometimes even their well-intended but ill-informed advice ended up adding more to pain my already fragile state.
Did you open up about your struggles to your Christian circle? How did it go?
After much contemplation, I did seek help from my Christian friends but unfortunately much like most of the Christians, they were also ill-equipped to respond to a person going through depression. Demonic oppression was their verdict and fasting and prayer was their answer. Naturally, this did not help me but confused me furthermore.
What was your breakthrough moment? How did you finally find a way out?
By opening up to the right person. One of my friends could read the outward symptoms I was displaying and started asking me questions. And just sat back and listened to what I was saying. That’s what ultimately helped me. To be able to speak openly about my experience without the fear of being judged or stigmatized. She quickly pinpointed what was happening and booked an appointment with the doctor for me.
Did you seek medical help or counseling for your depression?
Medicine. Turns out my depression was a side effect to a new medicine I had just started. The medicine caused a chemical imbalance that triggered depression in me. My doctor changed the prescription and now I am much better. Now, whenever I get into the depression zone, I am able to identify it and quickly take action.
What do you think, as an individual, we could do to help someone in depression?
I strongly believe sharing stories of depression and creating a safe environment for people to open up about their inner battle will help a great deal. Listening to them without judging is vital. Sometimes, clinical intervention sorts everything out. Listening is the greatest gift you could give someone. It could save their life. Much like WHO’s challenge of 40 seconds. Look for signs in the people in your circle.
Sadly, a few years ago my friend had been in deep depression triggered by a traumatic personal event in her life. Initially, I was sympathetic to her plight and listened to her ordeal for hours together. But as the months rolled on, I did not understand her need to rehash and relive the painful event all over again. Listening to her talk about it over and over became laborious and eventually, I told her to stop talking about it. She ended up taking her life a few weeks later. Though I had the time, I wasn’t aware of depression then. Had I known, I could have pointed her to get clinical help.
How do you think the Churches and Christians should respond to someone going through depression?
First is awareness. We need to acknowledge that there are many who suffer from depression. Perhaps they are in the ministry, a pastor, a social worker, etc… It’s an illness. Second is to be able to identify and get them the help they need while listening to them. Last and most importantly, don’t judge and don’t relate their sickness to their lack of faith.
Psalm 34:18 – If you are someone who is going through this hard road of mental health illness, take heart the Bible says, The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit
Read Also: 7 Scriptures To Renew Your Hope