Suicide is now the nation’s tenth leading cause of death and the rates are climbing in almost every state, according to a CDC report released Thursday. One state in particular, North Dakota, saw an increase of 57% since the beginning of the century. The report notes that well over half of the people who committed suicide had not been previously diagnosed with a mental health condition.
Depression has famously been referred to as the black dog. These days, the black dog is on the prowl. And he brought his friends with him.
We talk a lot about mental health awareness. What does that mean? For some it means a stronger prescription. For others it’s just a hashtag. But if there’s one thing that we can learn from the CDC’s numbers it’s that we need to do a better job of looking at the whole person when we talk about their mental health.
People are more than consumers and their problems are more complex than a prescription can fix. That’s not to say that there never is a time for medication but rather that prescription drugs are not quite the all-in-one remedy that they are often presented to be.
Platitudes won’t work either. Sure, getting out and getting moving can most certainly help people who are suffering from depression. But again, people and their problems are more complex than simply needing to exercise more. One celebrity even suggested that people who are depressed need to have sex more. There are many people who, if they were alive today, would tell us that more sex isn’t the answer.
I’m a pastor and counseling is a big part of what I do. There are some in my circle who rely on their own platitudes and it’s not helping anyone. For them, every problem comes down to a person needing to, “trust Jesus more,” and address the, “idols of their heart.” There’s nothing wrong with recognizing your need to trust Jesus more and we all have our idols in our hearts but every problem can’t be reduced down to this.
Remember Sean Macguire? He’s the fictional counselor in Good Will Hunting played by Robin Williams who helped a troubled young man by the name of Will Hunting. In one of the most memorable scenes in the movie, Macguire looks over the file documenting the abuse that has been done to Hunting and repeatedly tells him, “It’s not your fault.”
There are some who essentially tell those suffering from depression, “It’s all your fault. It’s all your fault.”
There is definitely a theological element to our current mental health crisis. But it must be approached with truth and compassion.
We are too prone to tackle mental health issues by using our favorite go-to issue as our soapbox. So for some, it’s all about medication and for others it’s all about more exercise or spiritual matters. If we really care about mental health, we’ll zoom our cameras back and look at the bigger picture.
We are living in a culture that is growing more and more isolated. Digitally speaking, people are never alone. Relationally, they have never been more lonely. Human beings were designed to live in community with one another and our failure to do so is costing us our lives.
We also need to consider the breakdown of the family. Even the New York Times considered the possibility that a decline in marriage rates might play a part in our problem with depression. When I hear people talk about divorce as if it’s nothing more than two friends deciding to sit at different tables in the lunch room, I always wish that they could sit in on the counseling sessions that I have with kids whose parents have been or are considering divorce. Maybe then they would see it for the horror that it is. The family matters. Moms and dads loving each other matters.
And of course, no one wants to address the spiritual reasons behind this epidemic but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. Jesus tells us to love God with everything that we are and to love our neighbor as ourself. As a whole, we don’t love God, we don’t even know our neighbor, much less love him, and, frankly, we’re not to wild about ourselves either. Is it any wonder that we’re in such a crisis?
Christians and the churches that they make up need to become lighthouses in our dark world of depression. That’s a lot easier said than done. It means that we’ll have to create an environment where people who are suffering feel comfortable to share their struggles with others. It means that we’ll have to train leaders to better love and care for souls that are hurting. It means that we might want to stop worrying so much about our platforms and sharing our 12 principles for becoming a better you and, oh, I don’t know, actually show people what they Bible says.
Depression is real and there is no magic bullet for curing it.
But there is a process that will definitely bring relief.
Those of us who claim to love God need to remember that a natural result of that is loving our neighbor. That means that we will get involved in their lives. We will ask the difficult questions. We will share our own struggles. We will be honest about our shortcomings. We will be quick to give a reason for the hope that we have.
In short, we’ll be there for out neighbor when the black dog howls.