Depression Should Not Be Taboo in America: We Can Destigmatize It
Author shares the disorientation he felt for years — and how, with hope, faith and friendship, he dug his way out (and others can, too)
Depression need not be a taboo topic in our society. At a time when so many people are shamed into a life of quiet desperation, it’s high time we destigmatize those who suffer from dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder).
Buzz Aldrin, one of America’s most legendary astronauts, suffered from depression and alcoholism. He would eventually go on to serve as chairman of the National Mental Health Association.
Abraham Lincoln’s first major depression happened in his 20s. He struggled with it for the remainder of his life; he also suffered from anxiety attacks.
Winston Churchill had bipolar disorder (which he ominously referred to as his “black dog”).
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Ernest Hemingway had suicidal depression; he died by his own hand.
Kurt Cobain, dubbed the John Lennon of Gen X, was a teenager when he predicted he would become a rock star, then kill himself, which proved a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When I suffered a decade’s worth of depression, I felt disoriented. I had an old head on young shoulders, an ancient soul in a youthful body, and thoughts prematurely aged. I was always tired.
“Churchy” people tried to encourage me, bless their hearts, by talking “Christian-ese” to me. They were well aware of all I had been through — from the deaths of both my sister and brother, to a romantic heartbreak — and sometimes they’d try to comfort me with Bible verses or attempts at profound sentences. While I appreciated their good intentions, it didn’t much help me.
Healing didn’t come when people had deep talks with me, or invited me to coffee, or got on their knees with me, but when they got showed me that life could actually be crazy again and filled with childlike joy. Healing arrived for me when I learned to be a professional “fun haver” — and to throw a party without pity.
The shortest verse in the Bible is not “Jesus wept.” In Greek (the original language in which the New Testament was written), that verse is 16 characters. No, the shortest verse is Paul’s command: “Rejoice always.”
“Rejoice always” packs a pithy, powerful punch. While weeping endures for a night, joy comes in the morning.
Don’t get me wrong. My friends were not always so happy themselves. Some of them, too, were once depressed. But while weeping may have endured for a night, they cherished the joy that came in the morning.
Today, we’re very serious about “rejoicing always.” We don’t stay in the ashes. After all, a phoenix must burn to emerge. And depression wasn’t our undertaking. It was our teacher.
Despite the hipster phrase, “We must learn to live with depression,” I say we defeat depression.
Few things pulled me out of depression as my friend squad did and still does. Even though I don’t always feel like getting out of my head to go out with my friends, it’s good for me. And yet study after study shows that we opt for what feels good now or feels easier, rather than doing the things that we know in our hearts will make us better in the long run.
Choose friends over feelings — and you may be surprised at how life can become a bouncy castle house of fun again. Despite the hipster phrase, “We must learn to live with depression,” I say we defeat depression.
The psalmist didn’t congratulate himself for being cast down.
Rather, he told his soul to hope in God.
Ben Courson is a pastor, speaker and the founder of Hope Generation. He has a TV and radio program and is the author of “Optimisfits: Igniting a Fierce Rebellion Against Hopelessness” (Harvest House Publishers). His mission is to generate hope in God “to build a generation of hope in others.”