Woo, three posts in a week! Maybe, MAYBE I’ll get back into the swing of things? At least until my world crashes and burns again, anyway.
I just read this very insightful “Top Ten” list (or perhaps it’s more of a “Bottom Ten,” really.) Ten things not to say to a depressed person. Sadly, in reading it, I realized I’ve heard all ten, and then some. I’m sure we all have. My personal number one worst possible thing to EVER say to someone with a mental illness (or, really, any illness at all): “You just need to have more faith, and God will heal you.”
This is quite possibly the biggest cop-out of all time. How much faith is more faith? When I was told this repeatedly in college, I had been a die-hard Christian since my teens. I had gone on multiple mission trips, to yearly summer camps, multiple revivals a year, went to church every Sunday and to youth group when I didn’t have to work, and was now attending a very expensive private Christian university. I would periodically be anointed in oil and prayed over to heal me of my mental illness. I read the Bible and prayed every day, spending countless hours in the chapel in my dorm, begging and sobbing for relief from the depression that was steadily eating me alive. I was constantly suicidal my junior year, and spent a lot of time in prayer, begging for a sudden wave of healing that never came. And every time someone told me this, I just wanted to scream at them, because such a statement implied that if I just loved Jesus a LITTLE more, all of my problems would go away. It negated all of the faith I did have, that I later lost, because I was disenchanted and burned so badly by the church that I wanted nothing to do with Christianity ever again.
Rather than being encouraged to keep fighting, and listened to and reassured that no, I was not an awful person for struggling with such awful darkness in my head, encouraged to take my medication and seek counseling to help me with my serious, chronic condition, I was shamed into silence. I was reminded in cold, clinical tones that if I committed suicide I would burn in hell, no matter what sort of personal hell I was already in. I was told to just have more faith, and that I needed to stop bothering God with such trivial matters. I was kicked out of the Education department because “Bipolar people kill kids” and when I appealed the decision, my Christian school refused to fight the Education department and allowed the judgment to stand. I was offered little support when I eventually had a breakdown that semester and was further ostracized by my Christian classmates. My Christian professors appeared to be afraid of me, who was so very sick and unable to see it anymore, and rather than being offered help I was given a vapid “I’ll pray for you” before being sent on my merry way.
None of these people bothered to actually help me get help. None of them offered to take me to the hospital or to the nurse to look into getting me help. Most of them didn’t talk to me ever again and avoided the hell out of me after I was ultimately hospitalized later in the year. It hurt desperately, that all of these people who sort of offered some support in the form of prayer, would so quickly turn their backs on me because I was sick with something outside of their comfort zone. And sobegan “The year Nadja hated everything.”
I guess where I’m going with on all this, is to encourage people to actually listen to a depressed person’s problems, and offer support. Don’t tell us to snap out of it or that we just need more faith/sunshine/happy thoughts/fairy dust. That isn’t helpful. You might be the last person that depressed person reaches out to, after a long line of similar brush-offs, and your trite response might be the one that ‘proves’ that nobody actually gives a damn. Please, just listen, and help us seek out the help we need. It’s out there. A simple Google search or calling 411 can yield local resources, and 1-800-SUICIDE is an amazing hotline, and has gotten me through some dark nights of the soul.