In light of the recent suicide of Robin Williams, I've seen many facebook posts with a favorite picture or quote from the late comic genius, and many articles circulating around on the subject of depression. Most of them written with sympathy and a hope to educate others on the reality of severe clinical depression.
And then I read Matt Walsh's blog post about it.
The first thought that came to mind was "suck it Matt Walsh". The second thing that came to mind was, "he really likes himself doesn't he?" I agree with a point or two he was trying to make- that suicide is a choice and should never be the answer- but the way he writes is incredibly arrogantly and unapologetic in the worst of ways. But since I firmly believe you resort to name calling because you're only acting defensively and can't express your opinion soundly- maybe you're too emotional or lack the vocabulary- I'm going to attempt to "use my words". But after reading his blog post 3 times through, I'm not going to write a rebuttal, because even he contradicts himself in his opinions, so I'm just going to write what I think about the topic.
Pull up a chair people.
Depression. This is a subject that hits close to home for me, since I have several people close to me in my life that struggle with this, daily.
Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depression, major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if life isn't worth living.
More than just a bout of the blues, depression isn't a weakness, nor is it something that you can simply "snap out" of. Depression may require long-term treatment.
Did you also know that mental illness effects 1 in 4 people? It's not something that effects the few and far between.
A lot of people suffer from "situational depression", meaning you feel sad, lonely, or "blah" at certain times revolving around and because of a specific situation. Happens to me. The difference is, I do "snap out of it" when my situation improves. People with clinical depression don't- they can't. They can be in a room full of the happiest people doing the happiest things but still have feelings of despair inside, camouflaging their feelings by putting on a face.
It's relatively easy for me to feel joy, so I may think, "Why can't this person just be happy? They have a great family, great kids, great job, etc. etc." With depression, the road to feeling joy is not a linear one. In his blog, Matt Walsh says, "joy is the only thing that defeats depression," -a very linear conclusion. It takes a lot more than joy to defeat depression, since we've already discussed depressed people can't just flip a "joy" switch. It's not even the part that if there wasn't depression, there would be joy- that may be, but the incredibly difficult part for people who suffer from clinical depression is the "if there wasn't depression" part. It's like if A+B=C, we can't focus on C (joy) because they're still stuck on A (depression).
So can depressed people ever feel joy? Yes, depending on the severity- but it's like those who aren't depressed in reverse; we feel happiness most of the time with occasional bouts of sadness and depressed people feel sad most of the time with occasional bouts of happiness. This specifically can be magnified with another diagnosis commonly given with depression, bipolar disorder. Matt Walsh also says you can't feel joy and despair at the same time (crap...is this actually a rebuttal? meh...) but that's exactly what bipolar is. It's complicated, right?
Suicide is a choice yes, but a choice made when you're up against the wall of a dark cave with a lion bearing it's teeth 2 inches from your face, and on the back of the cave wall your hand feels a door knob, so you open the door to escape the lion. Is it possible to escape the lion without opening that door? Without committing suicide? YES! There is ALWAYS hope, there is ALWAYS a way out of the cave besides the back door- it will be terrifying, and the hardest thing you will probably ever do- but there IS always another way out. You may think that I'm trying to "justify" someone committing suicide- I'm not. What I'm doing is trying to (maybe) help someone understand that someone who chooses to take their own life is in an insurmountable amount of pain and desperation- in their mind it's not that they "want to die", they want to escape the roaring, claw-bearing lion. Suicide is a desperate act to try to feel relief, to escape pain. It is should not EVER be encouraged as the solution- what we should want people in this position to feel is even a glimmer of hope that relief can come- that deep dark hole you have to crawl out of by the skin of your teeth is worth it because of the view at the top- life is worth living. We want them to make the other choice- life. The more we know about depression, how it effects the people we love, and how to help those we love can make that choice a little less daunting for them.
Once we understand just how debilitating this disease is- because it is, a disease, a mental illness, some thing you cannot cure yourself of by happy thoughts and pixie dust- we can help those who are backed up against that wall realize what's behind the lion- the way out. The way to get help and to get on that road to feeling hope, a road that eventually leads to more feelings of joy and less feelings of hopelessness. A road that is worth living for, worthy fighting and struggling for.
Matt Walsh also says depression isn't just physical, but also spiritual. I guess I'd have to know what he means by "spiritual", because he isn't super clear- he does say he doesn't mean people with depression are evil or weak or "not spiritual". So from what I can gather, he is saying depression is rooted in both body and the soul, the soul being the spiritual factor. This is a toughie because depression is displayed and portrayed through emotions, something we usually tie to the "soul" in us- cancer, for example, isn't- it is displayed through uncontrolled division of abnormal cells that may make us emotional if we or a loved one has it, but the disease itself isn't a dysfunction of the emotions. I can see what he was trying to say there (if he indeed meant what I just stated).
Now it depends what side of the religion fence you're on. Personally, I believe suffering from depression may be a trial some have in this life, just like some suffer from drug addiction, some people have cancer, some people's babies die- trials. Life is full of them. I have a quote written in my scriptures that says "Tribulations are not a bipart of transgression, they are a bipart of mortality." (That may lead you to another bigger question, "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?" Whole other discussion for another day.) Now, you may bring some hardships on yourself if you are involved in drugs or alcoholism or whatever else, but EVERYONE has trials- not just the people sinning. I believe that's one of the purposes of this life, to see how we can deal with and get through the trials we have. It's hard to understand someone else's trial. I don't understand at all how someone could destroy their life with drug use- but that's not a struggle for me, not a temptation for me, so how could I? Just like the heroin addict may not understand how I can struggle in my own life with something they deem trivial.
I believe their is one person who has never-ending understanding and empathy for our trials- Christ, because he suffered for them, didn't he? He felt our pains, sorrows, hardships. (If you're not on the religion train at all then your opinion would obviously differ, but this is mine and I'm ownin' it.) I believe that because of this, how could He, understanding what a debilitating mental condition this is, damn someone to Hell for choosing suicide, which many religious people believe? (Matt Walsh doesn't touch on this at all, we've left the Matt Walsh station).
"Suicide consists in the voluntary and intentional taking of one’s own life, particularly where the person involved is accountable and has a sound mind. … Persons subject to great stresses may lose control of themselves and become mentally clouded to the point that they are no longer accountable for their acts. Such are not to be condemned for taking their own lives. It should also be remembered that judgment is the Lord’s; he knows the thoughts, intents, and abilities of men; and he in his infinite wisdom will make all things right in due course.” (Elder Bruce R. McKonkie quoted in this church talk)
The talk goes on to say, "I feel that judgment for sin is not always as cut-and-dried as some of us seem to think. The Lord said, “Thou shalt not kill.” Does that mean that every person who kills will be condemned, no matter the circumstances? Civil law recognizes that there are gradations in this matter—from accidental manslaughter to self-defense to first-degree murder. I feel that the Lord also recognizes differences in intent and circumstances: Was the person who took his life mentally ill? Was he or she so deeply depressed as to be unbalanced or otherwise emotionally disturbed? Was the suicide a tragic, pitiful call for help that went unheeded too long or progressed faster than the victim intended? Did he or she somehow not understand the seriousness of the act? Was he or she suffering from a chemical imbalance that led to despair and a loss of self-control?
A question stated there- "Did he or she somehow not understand the seriousness of the act?- may seem completely ridiculous in our minds. A couple of years ago I was in a suicide prevention training for the school district that I work for. Our presenter was presenting case after case of teenagers they were working with who were "high risk" for suicide, and spoke of things that would happen for them after they killed themselves. Even something like, "Well, after I kill myself then Sarah will want to get back together with me next week and everything will be better." Again- depression is not logical- it's one of the traits of the illness.
"Obviously, we do not know the full circumstances surrounding every suicide. Only the Lord knows all the details, and he it is who will judge our actions here on earth."
Just felt like I had to throw that bit in there...
The first thing we can do from here is to break down the social stigmas that come with words like "depression," "anxiety," "mental illness." Often times we associate words like weak and unmotivated with them. Let me assure you- people fighting the battle against mental illness are in no way weak- but among the strongest and bravest. I don't think twice about getting out of bed in the morning to start my day, but for people with severe depression even that is a struggle and a battle they fight intrinsically while we may never know it. In recognizing that, we can help those with depression not feel ashamed or embarrassed of their illness. Many keep it to themselves and don't seek the help they need because they do feel this way.
So what's the point?
Depression is real.
It is crippling.
It is a leech of happiness, joy, fulfillment, and purpose.
Because of how serious it is, serious enough to the point that someone would choose to end their existence on this earth, we have to learn to recognize the symptoms of depression in those we love, so we can help them- so we can cry with them, fight with them, and scratch and claw our way back to the top WITH them so we can enjoy that view of this beautiful, messy thing we call life together.
"Our job is improving the quality of life, not just delaying death."
Robin Williams as Patch Adams
Robin Williams as Patch Adams