Depressing news hit my email this morning. The World Health Organization has recently named depression as the leading cause ill health and disability worldwide. 300 million people now struggle with some form of depression. This is an 18% increase between 2005 in 2015.
What does this have to do with the Catholic website? Simple. Catholics are not immune from the effects of depression. From mild to psychotically severe we all know people who struggle with this condition. We may even struggle with it ourselves. Furthermore, stigma is alive and well in the Catholic Church regardless of lip service that says otherwise. And, according to the news release “prejudice and discrimination” are key reasons for lack of treatment.
Let me point out just two of many ways the People of God foster stigma.
1) Insisting that depression is a spiritual problem. Beef up your spiritual life through prayer, sacraments, volunteerism, and involvement in the church community and you won’t have depression goes the advice.
–Have you ever had a serious bout of depression? Would you attend mass if you could hardly get yourself out of bed and shower? Would you participate and volunteer if you knew that at any moment you may begin crying for no reason, or make an embarrassing outburst because you are so irritable that a person need only look at you innocently for your temper to be triggered? It’s not the kind of thing to make someone want to be out in public. Making judgments about people’s faith practices does more harm to those who struggle than anything I know. Considering close, warm, and supportive environments are key to successful depression recovery I think we Catholics have a lot to offer. So, make no judgment. Offer your welcoming smile and listening ear. Don’t avoid depressed people because you don’t want them to bring you down or you want to remove negative people from your lives. Jesus never did that; then again, He was solid enough in himself that He didn’t need to worry about other people changing his state. Something to think about when you post those silly sayings on your social network walls.
2) The belief Saints never experienced depression and if they did it was very early in their lives before they achieved the heights of sanctity is another way stigma is unintentionally promoted.
–Why is it Saints can die while struggling with all kinds of other illnesses and conditions but never with a mental or emotional one? Why is it that biographies of saints are loaded with stories of Saints overcoming mental conditions as evidence of their sanctity? What message does that send to people who are going to struggle with a chronic mental or emotional condition until the day they die: that they don’t have a chance for sainthood but would have if they had Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or cancer instead? Depression may be in remission during the last years of one’s life, but it is never eliminated or conquered. That is not the nature of the beast. This attitude about Saints and mental conditions is based on ignorance and simply needs to be revised.
300 million people is a lot of people. We need to work towards making the Catholic Church the strong community of support it’s supposed to be. Hats off to the people working very hard in this regard!
The link to the news release: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2017/world-health-day/en/