Since ‘going public’ via this blog, BBC Radio and various local newspapers about my life-long battle with depressive illness, I’ve been humbled and gratified by the positive messages I’ve received from many fellow-suffers. Amy Ryan, a journalist with the Antrim Guardian, did a particularly good job in profiling my experience (I have reproduced the article below with permission of the Antrim Guardian http://www.antrimguardian.co.uk/). That said, the extent of silent suffering that these ‘phone calls and e-mails have revealed is worrying; but what is truly shocking is the prevalence of ignorance and misunderstanding promulgated by some sectors of the Christian community.
I’ve heard some horror stories, where ignorance and a simplistic reading of scripture has made life even more difficult, and in some cases utterly unbearable, for those who are already struggling with a debilitating disease. For yet more others, the apathy and inability of their fellow Christians to recognize the seriousness of depression, and treat it as a ‘real’ (and often fatal) illness, exacerbates their loneliness and hinders their recovery. Not only is this lack of empathy and compassion inhumane, it is also distinctly un-Christian.
I would urge those who truly seek to understand depression from a Christian perspective to actually read what individuals like Luther, Wesley and Spurgeon said about their own experiences with depressive illness. Luther and Spurgeon in particular had a sophisticated understanding of depression that stemmed from their own experience of depressive illness, whilst Wesley encountered mental illness in his extended family. All of these reforming Christians employed their extensive and deep knowledge of scripture in their writings on depression.
Northern Ireland prides itself in being a ‘Christian’ society, with higher church attendance than anywhere else in the UK. Sadly, this church attendance doesn’t always translate into compassionate and empathetic living. How very sad.