Jesus and Lexapro

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[Trigger warning: Content includes mention of depression and suicide.] I am 34 years old. I’ve had depression and anxiety since I was 12. I attempted suicide twice. A psychiatrist later confirmed I had C-PTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) from events in my childhood and later, in my years spent serving in missions overseas. After the birth of my first child, I experienced dark postpartum depression, and my generalized anxiety disorder came back with a vengeance when he was a year old.

What am I saying? I have struggled with mental illness for more than half of my entire life—almost as long as I have been a Christian.

Praying helps. Faith helps. Jesus helps.

You know what else helps? Getting enough sleep. A balanced diet. A creative outlet. And yes, also a little white pill.

When we in the Church disregard the suffering of those struggling against mental illness, we do a grave disservice not only to them, but also to the Jesus we claim to believe in. The Jesus who is a great physician. The Jesus who is well acquainted with all of our fractures, all of our brokenness; the Jesus who used spit and mud to heal the deaf-mute man; the Jesus who is our God with skin on, who loves us enough to save us, “body and soul, through whatever means necessary—even science and medicine.” (Wright, J. 2018) Jesus has come that we might have life, and life abundant, and I can fully attest he used daily doses of my SSRI to wake me up again.

With the tragic loss of lives in the public arena this week, mental illness and suicide awareness has become something of a recent hot button topic in our culture and on our social media feeds. It can be uncomfortable to talk about but, as we’ve learned from the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, mental health is something that we need to discuss. According to a 2015 study from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately one in five adults in the U.S.—that’s 43.8 MILLION people—experience mental illness in a given year. The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that one in five Canadians experience it any given year as well. Societal stigma surrounding seeking treatment, results in lost wages (which exacerbates the cycle of poverty), hospitalization, chronic medical conditions and, heartbreakingly, suicide. We as a culture need to keep having these conversations. Lives literally depend on it.

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As the hands and feet of God in the world today, I believe we in the Church need to be aware that, often, we are the solace people seek when they are suffering. And because of that, we need to be careful to not sweep their problems under the rug or gloss over them because we are either uncomfortable with or untrained to deal with mental illness. Dismissing them with the advice to simply “pray harder,” “fully submit to God,” or even “have more faith” (yes, people actually say these things) is dangerous theology that trivializes people’s very real anguish. We have a tendency to think of hard, heavy issues like this as separate and distinct from the spiritual when, in fact, they are enmeshed, because we humans are a swirling constellation of a great many things, of heart and soul and sweat and flesh and veins and thoughts and feelings and fears and sometimes maybe we come undone.

Stigma surrounding mental illness exists, even in the Church, I think first and foremost because of a great misunderstanding about those who live with it. Mental illness does not discriminate; anyone can be affected by it. It knows no boundaries of race or age or gender or class. It doesn’t care how famous you are, how rich you are, even how spiritual you are—and that’s the kicker. There’s this misconception out there that if you struggle with mental illness, it must mean you are weak, or a failure, that we’re lacking in faith or not depending on God enough.

Really, all it means is that you’re human.

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If you or someone you know is in the U.S. and is in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454. Or try the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

In Canada, you can dial 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645 for help.

And please, always remember: you are so, so wanted, and you are so, so loved.

Friends, it has been a long week, a hard week, and there are so many of us who feel heavy and paralyzed in the aftermath of tragedy. If nothing else, take this opportunity to reach out and check on your loved ones. See how they’re doing. Let them know you care. And if they need help, please take them seriously. Like I said before, we need to keep having these conversations, because lives quite literally depend on it.

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Elena Delhagen
Elena is an immigrant from Canada who has since settled in a small town in northwestern New York with her husband and son. She’s an INFJ, old soul, new mama, and storyteller. She’s always caffeinated, usually craving ice cream, and forever wanting a nap. She blogs (semi)regularly at elenateresaann.com about theology, racial justice, her years in Africa, mothering, and the fullness of womanhood.
Elena Delhagen

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Comments

  1. Madeline Twooney says:

    Wow Elena! Such a thought provoking piece. I have had depression for most of my life and have recently recovered from a long infirmity of severe depression and burnoout. This is definitely a topic that needs to be addressed. As you say, the latest media coverage highlights how it can affect anyone and the more people are made aware of it, the more others can be helped. Thanks for writing this post. God bless.

  2. Allison says:

    Love this! As someone who has struggled with depression on multiple occasions but is doing well now, this week left me feeling vulnerable, knowing all too well those intrusive suicidal thoughts. They seem so illogical and far fetched now, but then they seemed totally normal, rational, and even like a good idea. What if they come back? What if they seem normal again? Will I get help? What will work next time? Different medications? More therapy/counseling? How many more days of my kids’ childhood will I miss out on? Will I survive?

    Yes, the church needs to be having these conversations. They need to be comfortable and confident recommending things that help, therapy and medication along with some prayer.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Thank you so much for your thoughts, Allison! I know that it’s difficult for churches to wrestle through these hard topics, but it is so important they be well-informed, for the sake of all the hurting people that walk in their doors. I hope you are giving yourself grace and being gentle with your soul after a tough week like last one! xo

  3. Thank you so much for speaking this and sharing your story and truth.

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