Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Thoughts on Depression and Suicide

It's a few days after the sad death of Robin Williams, and along with all of the tributes, there is a lot of opinion flying around the interwebs about depression and suicide.  Having some firsthand knowledge of the topic, and never being a shrinking violet when it comes to giving my opinion, I held forth on Facebook and was surprised and pleased that it seemed to resonate with and help people.

For the person with clinical depression, there is no life circumstance that will protect them from it.  None of the things we aspire to in life will stop it.

The answer to the question "How could someone so (gifted/talented/intelligent/confident/competent/strong/seemingly happy) take their own life?" is that when driven by clinical depression, suicide is not a rational act.  Depression isn't just being extra sad.  It is a real mental illness that can make people imagine and believe the most horrible, irrational, outlandish lies about themselves, lies that everyone else knows to be lies.  Such a person can feel that they ought to die, and deserve to die, even painfully, as a gift to the world and restitution for the crime of having been born and lived.  Does that sound shocking to you?  Because that is the depth of irrational self-hatred to which depression can drive a person.  Severely depressed people can also be subjected to the chaotic short-circuiting of thoughts, resulting in what I can only describe as the feeling that one's mind is on fire.  Given that, it should be evident that suicide is not necessarily an act of weakness, selfishness or cowardice.  For some unfortunate people, simply being is itself at times unbearable.  People point out that suicide is a choice, and while that's true, it's not necessarily a choice made by a person in possession of their faculties.  I wonder if it ever is.

Society can help by understanding that mental illness is physical.  The brain is a physical organ that operates through chemical processes, and it is no more immune to malfunctions in those processes than is, say, the digestive tract.  A person with mental illness is no more defective, flawed or bad than is a person with ulcerative colitis.  But mental illness is the one physical illness that carries with it fear, stigma and judgment.

We would also do well to be a bit circumspect and humble in our opinions about anti-depressant medication if we have never personally had our lives and sanity saved by them.  They are not "happy pills" and they are not an escape for the weak.  For some, when prescribed and used properly, they erect a floor beneath their feet, a stop, a limit to keep their depression from spiraling out of control, and for them, they are a godsend.

Of course, I believe the best thing for any person is to be reconciled to their Creator and enjoying fellowship with him, through the redemption of our lord Jesus Christ.  I believe that much anxiety and depression is the result of unresolved guilt and unrepented sin, and the library has not been built that could adequately address the topic of the mind of the person whose soul is at enmity with God.  But mental illness is real.  And if we can make use of our God-given gifts and arts and intelligence to come up with ways to treat the physical problem of mental illness, we should.  And if we can stop seeing those afflicted with mental illness as being specially and frighteningly damaged, we should.

John 9:2-3 
And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him."

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