A Sometimes Fatal Illness
“While I kept things to myself, I felt weak deep inside me.” -Psalm 32:3
We are always shocked when we hear that someone has committed suicide. It has happened in our own community several times over the past year. It happens to people we know and love. We are grieved beyond belief, we are stopped in our tracks at the tragedy of it all, we are often uncomprehending and angry.
When someone famous or seems to “have it all” takes their own life, it gets lots of news coverage. Such has been the case with the recent death of Robin Williams, one of America’s favorite comedians and gifted actors. How could someone who is so gifted, so bright, so funny do this tragic thing?
Suicide is the final result of a sometimes fatal illness, a mental illness, called clinical depression. Mental illness is something many do not understand. It still, unfortunately, carries a taboo about it. Somehow people want to assign blame, to connect it with some kind of fault in life or character. Sometimes it is accompanied by substance abuse or drug addiction or alcoholisma process that often begins with an attempt to “self-medicate” against the psychic pain.
But clinical depression is a disease. (See the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel V-“DSMV.) It is a brain disease. It is not simply ordinary sadness which we all feel from time to time. Clinical depression is the result of what some have called a broken brain. It afflicts people of all ages, races, social classes, educational levels, genders, professions, vocations, and situations in life. About 10 percent of Americans are clinically depressed in any given year. Stop and think about this. That is one in every 10 of the people we live among. Sometimes it is a member of our family. Sometimes it is a neighbor. Sometimes it is me. (In the interest of self-disclosure, I am one who has suffered from and been treated for clinical depression.) About 30,000 Americans commit suicide each year. Depression, bi-polar disorder, and substance abuse are associated with about 80 percent of these deaths.
But there is hope and there is help. Clinical depression can be treated medically, psychologically, and spiritually. A holistic approach to care and treatment is appropriate, dealing with all aspects of the human personality and experience. Depression needs to be attended to rather than pushed aside or ignored. Support needs to be given as well as encouragement for seeing a physician or mental health professional.
(Rev. Dr. Victor L. Hunter, pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in New Martinsville, is the co-author of “What Your Doctor And Your Pastor Want You To Know About Depression” and “Living Free In An Anxious World”. These two books are written from the perspective of medical science and theology/spirituality. They are available from Amazon.com, or by calling the First Christian Church office at 304-455-4460. A support group for those dealing with depression is held weekly at the church’s Disciples Center for Human Wholeness. Information on this group can also be obtained by telephoning the church office.)