The Stigma of Silence Ends…Now


I’m fed up.

How’s that for an opening line of a blog? It’s true though, I’m fed up. “Well, with what?” You may ask. Quite honestly with the perceived apathy towards Mental Illness that seems to be running rampant these days; especially within the Christian Church. The one place a person should feel safe has ironically turned into a torture chamber for the burdened soul.

I tried doing some research last night when this topic was placed on my heart. Mental Illness seems to be well represented when it comes to generic research. When I tried to dig a little deeper (into the Christian realm) I found very little. Surprising? No. Sad? Yes.

I’m sad because the more I represent Mental Health the more I notice Christians suffering. Not only that but they are afraid of opening up in a Church for fear of rejection or judgment. What’s the most common thing a depressed person will hear from the people around them? “You need to just get over it.” “You’ll be fine.” “Again? Really?” Or my personal favorite…

“You have Jesus so you need to be happier.”

Yes, Jesus is my source of peace. He is the sustainer of my life and gives me the breath I breathe. Have you ever stopped to think about content of your words though? The phrases above are simply an excuse to get out of having to deal with something you know nothing about. It’s not just Christians who do this but I’m sure many others as well. Can I enlighten you on something?

According to the Barna Research Program:

18% of Americans suffer with Anxiety disorder

10% of Americans are diagnosed with Depression

70% of Pastors suffer Depression, Anxiety, and Burn Out

350,000,000 People worldwide suffer from Depression

What I’m trying to say is that “Suck it up” isn’t going to cut it anymore. Depression is a disease. It’s an illness that literally shrinks the Hippocampus of your brain. The longer you suffer from sadness or stress related anxiety the smaller it gets. Therefore making it harder to feel joy. Why do you think Serotonin is such a favored medicine amidst those battling this illness? Serotonin is the chemical released in our brains that allows us to feel joy and happiness. Too little of this chemical obviously results in overwhelming sadness brought on by events in life or simply just because.

Our struggle isn’t situational. It’s our livelihood.

I’m fed up with the stigma of silence that so many have held on to. Carlos Whittaker (a Christian blogger and musician) says, “Anxiety and Depression are the Church’s dirty little secrets.” Why? Because no one knows how to handle this. Not many people have a single clue as to how best aid someone through their suffering. The other honest truth is that not many people care to take the time to learn…Instead we’d rather watch dopey videos and share gossip about what celebrity did what this last weekend.

Meanwhile 41,000 people commit suicide in America each year

I’m literally sickened at this thought. I feel so much for people who believe the lie that they are alone. I’m angry with Christians (and even non-Christians) for not reaching out with more compassion. If we only stopped for more than two seconds to think about someone other than ourselves this world would be a much better place.

Amidst my frustration I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to attack my brothers and sisters in the Church nor anyone outside. I’m passionate about getting people to care. Apparently that’s a hard thing to do when our noses are so far stuck into the cesspool of our plethora of selfies.

While I was plundering my Facebook newsfeed for all that it was worth today I saw something. A friend took the time to express their opinion about people who use Facebook to rant about their own opinion. I’m not sure that it was aimed at me and I won’t assume it was. They said something that caught my eye though…They mentioned that they were tired of people ranting on Facebook but never doing anything about it. The word they used was…Hypocrite. What I’m about to do has been planned long before any of today’s events but it comes with a little added zing to it.

Honestly, I don’t want to be a “hypocrite”. I don’t want to scream from the rooftops without ever getting down and dirty in the streets. I happened across another friend’s gofundme account last night. I noticed that she was preparing to run a marathon but it was her cause that caught my eye. She’s running for awareness of Mental Health within the Church. I don’t know her full story so I can’t elaborate but it seems to me that she was yet another victim of the stigma. She is currently trying to raise 2,000$ for theย Mental Health Grace Allianceย (link is embedded). They are a Non-Profit organization seeking to educate Churches on Mental Health and to better prepare people to help sufferers such as us. She is hoping that she can raise 26$ per person (for every mile she runs).

Please know that I will very rarely ask for financial contribution on this blog. I don’t believe in monetizing what I do on here. What I do believe in though is a cause like this. People need to know about our struggle and I believe that this can be a great way to do some education.

If you would, could you check out their website, see what they’re all about, and consider supporting my friend Anna as she runs the mess out of this marathon?

Anna’s Race for Hope

You all are loved. You are not alone in this fight. I will spend my life fighting for you and with you.

We’re in this together.

29 Replies to “The Stigma of Silence Ends…Now”

  1. GREAT article. This is a a frame rarely put around the Mental Health issue — and it needs to be talked about more openly. I’d like to add to your article with a point of view I’ll bet few outside the EFD/Attentional Dysregulations community I support have ever considered:

    Many, many years ago a colleague wrote an article for his church that he emailed to me. Not only were his prayers not particularly helpful in dealing with some of his mental health challenges, he admitted, he also experienced shame and depression resulting from his experience that, as an AD”H”D sufferer, on many days he found it difficult to stay focused and still long enough TO pray. He was also the minister, by the way.

    There is MUCH to be done in all communities to end the stigma and lack of understanding about and empathy toward a great many issues of mental health. I would like to believe that the church communities would find it in their collective hearts to lead the charge. (LOVE: “the greatest of these” – right?) Articles like yours might encourage them to actually DO that, so thanks.

    FYI: I recently wrote my 2016 Mental Health Awareness Month post calling stigma to shame with a few analogies to point out how SILLY it is, really. [The importance of a Diagnosis: Name it to Tame it – “Label Stigma” is very OLD thinking]. I plan to go back and add a link to this post in the Related Content. Watch for a ping – and I hope you will be able to take the time to jump over to read it. (Leave me a quick comment to let me know you were there if you do, okay?)
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Madelyn! I absolutely agree with everything you said. It kills me to know that the church of God, a place where love and encouragement should abide, is of the leading catalysts for Mental illness stigma. It makes me sick! I’m so appreciative of your kind words and I can only hope that I could make a small change in the mindset of the people around me. This was so encouraging to read and I will most definitely hop on to your page and read! I look forward to getting to know you and to read your work!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Kills me too but we must both do our best to remember that it is not THE church of God that is the leading catalyst – although I’m sure God weeps to see *any* of his supposed followers choose judgment or cruel words over expressions of love and acceptance.

        My board is not spiritually based, per se (although I do have a “What Kind of World do YOU Want? Series) Leave me a comment to say hello when you find the time to visit.
        xx,
        mgh

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent Matt. Very touching to read some of the comments here as well. It’s a reminder that having true joy in this life is a fight. As you know from having me as your dad I have had seasons of battle with depression and discouragement (though I don’t think nearly as severe as many). I think if people were open about it, almost everyone has seasons in life with at least mild depression. Obviously some cases are far more severe and can lead to very sad circumstances. I have often struggled with what I perceive is a laissez-faire attitude from church goers about depression. I have felt some of the things you and some commenters have described feeling from Christian people in churches. As a pastor it is especially difficult to let your guard down because pastors are supposed to be the leaders and the spiritual giants. I find it ironic and helpful to know that Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who is quite possibly one of the greatest preachers ever, suffered throughout his ministry with bouts of depression. The thing I’ve learned is that we must fight for our joy and the joy of others in Christ with the weapons of our warfare. Prayer, Bible Study, meditating on Scripture, and close-knit relationships with others whom we can trust and confide in are all vital in the fight (places we can feel safe to confess our faults and struggles with others). Of course, some of this does not come easy and runs contrary to the one who is depressed. For example, close relationships with trusted people are hard enough to find, but then considering people in depression most often run for seclusion and it becomes even harder. This is where the fight takes place…the front lines, if you will. I wish churches we’re safer places to be sure. Thanks for being a voice crying in the wilderness of the depressed and downcast.

    I have often turned to Psalm 40 where the psalmist fights for his joy in the Lord. Much of the Psalms provide great comfort for the downcast and can serve to refocus our minds on Christ. Here are a couple of other resources that might be helpful for those in this fight…both written by John Piper

    When the Darkness will not Lift
    When I don’t Desire God

    Thanks for caring for others. You know I think you’re the bomb! Dad

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for being so supportive. I’m also grateful for your example as a pastor and father through the hard times. Much of my passion stems from watching you and mom struggle for peace during pain. Your words are such an encouragement and will definitely serve to help people grow closer to Christ. I love you so much!

      Like

  3. Thanks for such an awesome blog post. Coming from being one of the diagnosed mental illness, this blog really hits home. When people would say, “You’ll be OK, Everything will work out”; “Just pray about it”; “Suck it up” and the inevitable “It’s just a bad day”, I would look at them and think, you have no idea that everyday is a bad day! I wrote a suicide note and even attempted to commit suicide several times. My biggest thing was to Google ways to kill yourself and how I could do it without having my family to clean up after me.

    The two people that came to my rescue were my husband and my daughter because they were warned on what signs to look for. My daughter called my husband and he came home in time to see me turning red then blue while I was trying to tie a rope tight enough around my neck to cut off my air supply.

    I spent two weeks in the hospital and then 2 weeks of outpatient ECT (Electric Shock Therapy) which did not work. I wanted so badly to leave this place because I was just tired of trying. I would always think that I wouldn’t go to Heaven if I committed suicide, but it got to the point that I only thought that why would God want someone like me. Every church that I had attended were against suicide and that was the end of the story. There was never a church group that met due to this illness.

    I could only think that I wanted to go to Heaven and how I would be going to hell. I was already living in hell on earth and I really didn’t think there was going to be much of a difference. Churches that I have attended seem to leave the stigma of mental illness as a problem that only homeless or non-believers suffer, they never think to look at their own congregation and how many people are struggling under their own roof.

    It is still difficult for me to understand why my brain does not function like everyone else. I wish I didn’t have to take medication just to feel “normal”. I want to feel the joy, peace, love and patience that other Christians feel but I just do not know how to get there. I do a Bible study every morning (by myself) and want so badly just to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit within me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is an incredible story that brought tears to my eyes. I only wish and hope that the world opens their eyes to see the pain presented here. I’m so sorry your heart has been crushed by the weight of the world. You have value and Christ loves you. Please dot give up hope!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Reading this in the shoes of a depressed Christian, it really hits home to see that someone cares. Growing up in a somewhat Christian household, it was tough to say I was depressed due to what my family said; “You’re fine. Just pray about it. God has a plan and his plan doesn’t involve you being upset.” But when you are depressed, having an all mighty God doesn’t exactly help you out. I know, personally, my faith was being tested during my worst low of depression and I failed. I couldn’t understand why an all loving and all mighty God would put me through this. As a depression Christian, it is very hard to “come out” as a depressed Christian because of the stigmatisim behind depressed people. But in fact, “coming out” to the church is one of the best things because they are some that may not help and follow the stigmatisim but there are so many who want to help them get out of a rut and help get the Lord back into their lives. But we need to get rid of the stigmatisim because you never know who may or may not be depressed. That’s my two cents ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I whole heartedly agree! There’s no need to be ashamed. It’s hard when people brush you off but ultimately they don’t need to be in your life anyway! Keep fighting my friend! You’re not alone in this!

      Like

  5. I loved this piece because it drives home that, yet again, this is something that effects everyone (directly or indirectly). You aren’t spared from these things because you are a “good Christian” and I am not struck with them because I’m a “bad non-believer”. Sadly, I have heard too many of my friends who do belong to churches (some from the time they were born) that laugh this off or exude the “pray away” stereotype. The silence of mental health issues and depression need to be broken overall, but thanks for the reminder there are smaller battles that will need to be fought along that way too.

    ((hugs)) and peace to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amen! I firmly believe that prayer is vital but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse. People are far too quick to toss us to the notion that we can just get over it. It’s not that simple! It’s high time we start calling for education and understanding. I refuse to live in a world where I’m (or any of my friends) tossed to the side as an emotional outcast.

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  6. what a post, matthew. i feel like i might have a lot to say, but this is a deep subject and for me is totally surrounded in uncertainty and shame. i’ve never talked about my faith on my blog, because it’s obvious that at the moment it’s not a priority. but for my entire life, it has been the focus. a lot of what you wrote really spoke to me. mostly, it’s the idea and truth that jesus should be enough. my fill. that’s what i’ve always believed. so my faith has been completely rocked since being overwhelmed with depression and anxiety. because i am not full at all. i am empty. and if he’s not enough then i’m doing something wrong, and how could i ever admit that? i go to church and stare into space. where i used to be filled with the spirit i’m now a hollow shell. i have never felt so far from god. and the shame of going through a faith ‘crisis’, which i know is a normal part of a life long walk with jesus, is still too humiliating and shameful to admit. i’m too afraid of judgement from my ‘christian’ friends and family. so i silently trudge through this valley death alone.

    there’s a lot more to my story. and this is all too big for a blog comment. but you seem to understand. and you seem like someone who won’t judge me. you seem like a safe place to admit all this. i hope you don’t feel like you need to pick all this apart and save me. you’re my friend…and friends listen. so thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear you loud and clear my friend! My only hope in all of this is to have a safe place for people. Nothing you say will ever incur judgment from me! I won’t pretend I can save you but I will certainly be praying for you. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

    1. In that realm I don’t blame you. I know there are churches out there who are very welcoming with such a thing but apparently they are incredibly hard to find. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had that experience. I can guarantee you that if I’m hired as a Pastor I will do everything I can to make sure my church isn’t like this.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s so disheartening…I just don’t get it…It baffles me as to the reason behind this. I started to wonder why 80% of pastoral students don’t make it past year five of their career…Then it hit me. How is the church helping them stay? Honestly, they’re not.

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      2. That’s really a staggering statistics.

        People around here seem to view the pastor as a larger than life figure and expect him to be there for *everything*. Heaven forbid an associate pastor check in on someone, not be able to do something because of personal illness/family issues. It’s like pastors are looked at as demigods. Our old pastor didn’t let it get to him and maintained his boundaries (and was promptly told to leave after 4 years), but this pastor tries to do everything on his own, way too much for one man, especially not to get supported when he needs it.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Everything you’ve said I’ve seen. My dad has been a pastor for the last 15 years and (without going into crazy detail) he had the same issues. People have forgotten that a Pastor is there to preach, teach, and encourage. Their job is to equip people in the Church to do the ministry. Somewhere along the road, as you said, pastors have become idolized. I spend many days in fear over what my future will hold as a pastor. It’s only going to be God’s grace that gets me through.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I belong to a church that is very welcoming to people who have mental illness. We support our local NAMI, (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and host NAMI meetings. Such a church is very hard to find. When I do NAMI In Our Own Voice (IOOV) speeches, and mention this, other people with mental illness are amazed and say they have never been able to find such a church. Sad.

        Liked by 2 people

      5. Hi Jim! Thanks so much for commenting! What is the name of your church? It’s amazing that you are involved in such a cause! I knew there were churches out there who did this but like you said, they are very few and far Between. Keep up the great work and please let me know if I can do anything to help!

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      6. My church is South Side Christian Church, Christian Church, Disciples of Christ. It’s in Kokomo, Indiana. I feel very lucky to have found it. I never would have, except that, years ago (2002) I started going to NAMI meetings at South Side. I also met my wife, also a NAMI member at South Side.

        Liked by 1 person

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