Saturday, August 24, 2013

Misunderstandings - stigma

Recently I've become frustrated and angered again by a fresh reminder of stigma. Since this blog was initially started to speak out against stigma, I have to address this once again.

I was drawn to a book about fighting to have joy in our lives. So I bought it. I haven't read the whole thing yet but one small statement from the book makes me doubt that I will value what the author has to say. The author - who will remain nameless for now - said: "A Christian, no matter how dark the season of sadness, never is completely without joy in God. I mean that there remains in his heart the seed of joy in the form, perhaps of only a remembered taste of goodness and an unwillingness to let the goodness go."

It's so obvious to me that this person has no understanding of what deep depression can do to a person. For a person like that their "seed of joy" lies dormant - in effect, dead. There is no "remembered taste of goodness" for a person who wants to die.

I told my pastor how annoyed I was with this obvious lack of understanding. I told him how a person who had never experienced deep depression should not be writing about seasons of dark sadness, without at least mentioning the presence of mental illness in some people. I feel there's a huge gap in this author's knowledge and he shouldn't be writing a book like this.

Pastor told me how the author was probably talking about people suffering from bad times in their lives, and not thinking of depression. He told me how we need to treat "normal" people who don't understand with grace, as we who live with mental illness want to be treated with grace. I agree with him and yet...there's a lot of learning that absolutely must take place.

I heard another religious leader make the statement, "Depression is no excuse not to focus on God." And - as he had explained in his sermon - focusing on God will bring joy. This is another case of total lack of understanding. When we are deeply depressed, our minds are broken, unable to function normally. Often we are just not able to focus on God. It's no fault of our own.

Thing is, one in five people deal with mental illness. It's certain that many of the people who have trouble finding joy are suffering from depression. They will feel blamed for not focusing enough on God, made to feel guilty by church leaders and writers for something that is not within their ability to control. This is so very wrong and so very damaging.

I'm praying - praying big - that religious leaders will educate themselves about mental health issues. I pray that they will find ways of giving better support to those many of us who suffer in this way.

And I'm thanking God that Rick Warren, after losing his son to suicide, has started a sermon series to counteract the stigma. I haven't listened yet, but will soon. Thank you, Pastor Warren.


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Cameron VSJ said...

Hi there Marja! I was checking out your blog just now and had a quick question. I was hoping that you could email me back when you have a moment. I really appreciate your time and response!

- Cameron

marja said...

Hi Cameron,

Would you like to email me? My address is

I'm curious about what your question is, since my pastor himself seems to hold this view. Am I wrong here?

Open for discussion.

Rachel Nichols said...

Hi, Marja. I plan on ordering one or both of your books next month when I have more money.
The problem with the writer and a lot of other Christians is they confuse joy with happiness and feeling good. I believe we can be joyful regardless of how miserable we are. If we maintain a thankful attitude and are within the will of God, we can still count as joyful, I believe. Jeremiah, David, and Job all suffered horrible bouts of depression. So did Elijah, Hannah, and countless others. Christ Himself was far from happy when He fulfilled His Father's will, yet He was perfectly sinless. Happiness does not equal holiness! Joy is something different altogether. ;)