I can guarantee there are people out there who would read the title of this article and think, “Well of course a depressed person wants to talk about God. I mean, only crazy people believe in God anymore.” Those people would think this, but they wouldn’t dare say it out loud, because you’d have to be a real jerk to
1) call someone struggling with mental illness crazy, and
2) tell them that the one thing giving them hope is a dreamt-up delusion of their aforementioned craziness.
I can state unequivocally that I know God is real. I know God is a living being, who knows, loves, and is aware of me. Who has both the power and the desire to help me overcome my struggles and who rejoices with me in my successes. Who provides me with guidance, comfort, and direction in all aspects of my life. I know that. And I hope you know that. But maybe you don’t. Yet.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a faith-centered home. I always went to church. I always prayed. It wasn’t ever something I had to question, God was simply always there. That meant when I faced difficulties, when I was mistreated, when I was attacked, when I was alone, when I felt my mind start clouding over with darkness, I had somewhere to turn.
My faith afforded me an expanded understanding and perspective about who I was, why these things were happening, what I needed to do, and overall gave me a knowledge that my trials were not a punishment from God or the universe. I wasn’t a terrible person. I wasn’t dying, even though it sometimes felt like it. Even when I felt utterly alone, hopeless, and unloved, when those feelings drove my thoughts and roared at the forefront of my brain, there was always a little clear voice in the back of my head that assured me I was loved, that there is always hope, and that I would not ever be alone.
You are sick, not a sinner:
If you are a person of faith who deals with depression or other mental disorders, you may have been told or heard somewhere or just felt like the reason you have these problems is because you’re a sinner. You’ve let the devil in. You need to repent. I hope you never believe that, because it’s not true. (Ok, yes, we could all use a little more repentance in our lives, but we in no way need to apologize for being sick.)
Mental disorders are something we are just in recent years beginning to medically understand. The brain is beautifully complex and the chemicals in our bodies and our environments have a huge effect on us. There may be any number of things contributing to your depression.
The thing is, while having depression doesn’t make you a devil-worshipper, the adversary is real, and he does have power and influence. He wants you to feel terrible about yourself. He wants to destroy you. So when your struggles bring you low, and you are at your most vulnerable, he attacks. He whispers awful thoughts and lies in your head.
And to make this worse, if you have obsessive-compulsive tendencies like I do, your brain latches on to these lies, and replays them over and over and over. Soon the only thoughts revolving around your head are these lies, and even though deep down you know they aren’t true, it’s impossible to think about anything else. This is what makes mental illness so scary and so hard.
I’m going to take a moment to touch on suicidal thoughts, just because I know I’m not the only one here who has faced them. I won’t get graphic but I understand if even the mention of it is too much, so consider this a *trigger-warning* if you want to skip down a couple paragraphs. Suicidal thoughts can happen, and they are terrifying, and they can come out of nowhere. And as I mentioned above, with OCD, once the thought is in your head, it doesn’t stop recurring. I won’t name any examples here, because if you’ve had them I don’t need to give you any more, and if you haven’t I’m sure you can use your imagination. The reason I bring this up at all is because my belief in God, my relationship with God, is what saved my life.
When I knelt on the ground and was ready to give up, begging for an end, God was there. He was there because I invited Him to be there. I prayed, and told Him I was done. But that was not His plan for me. I knew it wasn’t. That’s why I couldn’t take my own life. And I found that God was not going to end my life either. It took me awhile longer to understand this truth: the end of this mortal life is not an end. Leaving my mortal body would not remove the anguish of my mind.
I needed to find solutions while in a changeable, moldable, healable state. I needed to become the master of my thoughts. Because I will have to continue controlling my thoughts throughout eternity. I had been relying solely upon spiritual supplication and support for a problem that was not spiritual. That spiritual connection is what gave me the strength to continue and to eventually find clarity.
But I needed to reframe my struggle to correctly portray it for what it was. A physical, possibly chemical, psychological defect. An error in thought-patterns. An overload of stress. Something that I needed to take care of in a physical body. And most importantly, something that could be taken care of.
Guess what, there’s hope!:
Throughout my struggles, I’ve studied anything I felt I could connect with that could be a possible solution to my problems. I’m all about self-education. That means books and blogs and articles, scripture and words from spiritual leaders, mindfulness and meditation practices, journaling, yoga, nutrition, float tanks, aromatherapy, meridians and chakras, anything I can get my hands on.
Anything except medication and therapy. My experiences with psychiatrists haven’t been good, and I really don’t like the idea of putting laboratory chemicals into my body to alter the way my brain functions. It sounds ridiculous to some people, but maybe you can relate. We all have to take our own journey towards healing. My own coping mechanisms have gotten me through to now, but I understand the bridge of western medicine is one I will likely have to cross at some point.
Overall, God has helped me to see that I do not need to be ruled over by my depression. I have the power to take action. It’s not always easy when I’m feeling helpless, but God sends reminders. And He supports me in my efforts to heal. He magnifies the effects of the helpful habits I try to cultivate. He isn’t going to remove my struggle, because I chose struggle when I chose mortality, and God doesn’t interfere with our choices. But He helps me to carry on. (If you’d like a little more context to these statements, you can click (here) to learn what I believe about mortality and God’s plan. The link is also included in the Further Reading section below.)
What Does Science Have to Say?:
Understanding how God has played a role in my depression and recovery, I was curious to explore what studies have been conducted when it comes to a correlation between belief in God and mental illness.
For one thing, I found that there have in fact been studies. I’m not the first person with this question, which I take as a hopeful sign. A simple google search pulled up a number of articles, a few of which I read are linked below. You can take a look for yourself, but it seems the most common finding was that mental distress is neither the result of belief in God nor the lack thereof.
Reactions to trauma depend on what one believes about God, not if. A person who believes God is loving and supportive will be comforted by their beliefs in times of stress. Those who believe God is vengeful and punishing have a harder time. Those who don’t believe in God don’t have religion pop into their brain in the midst of mental tumult.
Meditation and ritual can have positive effects on brain activity and function. People benefit from being a part of a supportive group, such as being a member of a church and meeting locally with other members.
Really, what I gleaned from the studies is that God doesn’t have anything to do with mental illness. If religion is a part of our life, it will influence other parts of our life. Makes sense, right? Mental illness is a problem of the mind, not the soul.
So What Is the Point Here?:
This brings us back to the original question. Why do I talk about God when I talk about depression?
Partly, because what I write about is specific to me. The stories and the poetry, they come from my brain, a brain full of God as much as it is depression.
Could I choose to focus on the artistic aspects, or think more about what’s popular in the market, and just omit all of the religious stuff? Sure. I could. But I’m not going to.
I think it’s high time the conversations we have become real and purposeful. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a room where someone starts talking about something real, something that matters, and everyone else goes silent. There is power in our words, and we need to wield it rightly. We need to cut past agendas and stop making it about what side someone is on. We need to focus on truth, and finding solutions that will really make for a better world, and not just appease a group of people. There is suffering flooding countries and homes, and a lot of people choosing to bicker about it instead of reaching out.
Mental illness is a plague that affects a much larger amount of people than you may realize. And it is taking its toll on our world. It is a problem we need to address. Raising a mentally sick generation is not an option I’m willing to accept.
But why God?
Because for a person to understand their self-worth, their intrinsic and eternal value, they need to understand who they are. They need to know where it is they came from, what the point of this life is (because there is a point), and where they go from here. That knowledge, those answers to life’s greatest questions, start with God.
Does that mean I’m here to preach?
Maybe. And the question I’d throw back to you- is that a bad thing?
If this isn’t the sort of thing you want to be reading, then thanks for stopping in and taking a look, but no one is making you stay.
If on the other hand something here speaks to you, if you’ve felt a spark ignite, then I implore you to stay. Stay and keep fighting. Stay and keep breathing. Stay and make change.
Because we are going to talk about depression. We are going to talk about God. And we are going to talk about a whole lot more.
If you’d like to understand a bit more about my mental health journey, I chronicled part of it in this poetry collection.
Further Reading and Viewing:
The following is written of our Savior, Jesus Christ, “ And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” Alma 7:11-12
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