My Take: Let’s stop keeping mental illness a secret
April 8th, 2013
12:18 PM ET

My Take: Let’s stop keeping mental illness a secret

Editor’s Note: Rebekah Lyons is the author of "Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of Meaning." She writes on womanhood, purpose and mental health at RebekahLyons.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebekahlyons.

By Rebekah Lyons, Special to CNN

(CNN)– We grieve. Our stomachs turn as the shock settles in. Many of us were raised in pews where answers were given freely. But this past weekend proved otherwise. If we are honest, we are shaken by the frailty of our faith.

As the news spread on Saturday, Christians around the world were gripped by the suicide of 27-year-old Matthew Warren, son of Rick Warren, a beloved megachurch pastor and best-selling author of "The Purpose Driven Life." A son’s life was fraught with mental illness from his earliest years. A father bravely addressed this struggle head-on in a letter to church staff stating, "only those closest to him knew that he struggled with mental illness, dark holes of depression and even suicidal thoughts."

Mental illness is a category so vast, with varying degrees so complex, we collectively avoid the topic until it creeps into our homes and afflicts those we love most. But today, we're forced to face something that’s become so rampant, it can no longer be ignored.

For years, we've reserved the term “mental illness” for only the most extreme cases, but 26% of us in any given year suffer from depression, anxiety and a serious number of other mental illnesses, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s a dirty little secret few people want to talk about, a devastating statistic implying that, in each of our families, we all care for someone who faces this pain.

This problem doesn't go away just because you have faith. For many, the church has become a place where they quietly suffer.

Almost one in four middle-age women is on some form of antidepressant medication, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Women intent on managing the expectations of their spouses, children and friends quietly medicate while trying to keep it all together.

Opinion: How churches can respond to mental illness

As one representing the 26%, for me it came in waves. From the low hum during the longest of winters to volatile moments rocking on the floor of my closet, questioning whether my life would always bear this weight. Watching it firsthand in my family during my formative years, I wondered whether history was repeating itself in me.

For those afflicted, depression enters when we've lost hope for the future. When we no longer imagine a life that is free. Whether it’s triggered by a chemical imbalance or a change in circumstances, facing it in isolation is the most treacherous. At precisely the time we need others, our inclination is to turn inward.

I’ve been comforted to know I’m not alone.

Anxiety and panic are my nemesis. In my struggle to break through the mental distress, I’ve found comfort and promise in the writings of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. His summation that the root cause of anxiety is a sense of unfulfilled responsibility resonates.

For me, the low surfaces when I am not contributing to someone or something. When I lose a vision for my life, purpose hides beyond my grasp. But when I recover my sense of purpose and calling — to help women navigate these hidden troubles — meaning rushes in.

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Over the past three years, the promises of Jesus have been paramount in helping me walk forward. Uttering hushed prayers in subways as the doors close in, softly crying out for rescue on long desolate Central Park walks in the dead of winter. God’s presence has always been a guiding force, my source for purpose beyond myself.

For each of us, this tragedy raises important questions: How do we better care for the 26%? What is your role in bringing healing to those who hurt?

Perhaps these three postures could go a long way.

Remove the stigma
As people of faith, let’s talk about mental illness, giving others permission to do the same. Let's release the stigma that keeps this a secret, holding untold millions captive. All secrets lose power when they exit the dark. The church is a place where we should be able to come as we are, with our longings for what we hope to be. Jesus always pursued the weak with open arms. When we are broken and fragile, He draws us closer to Him in ways we’ve never known. In my own journey, I’ve never felt more loved and cared for by God than in my darkest hours. When we grieve, we are comforted.

Be present
Let’s be present. Let’s love unconditionally. Eye to eye, we must be honest about our own struggles. Especially in the church, no one should have to hide or sneak around or double his or her dose. Let’s be on-call in the late night hours, when the phone rings and we are summoned to show up. What if our communities of faith were the one place you could count on to find a listening ear, a hand to hold, another loving human being with a compassionate and sensitive response?

Don't pretend to have all the answers

Let's not shame mental illness with the judgment of spiritual weakness. As Christians, we believe this side of heaven all disease, sickness and pain is rooted in a world broken by sin. But there are real consequences to living amidst the mess. To oversimplify these complexities would be naive at best, negligent at worst. Faith should never undermine the necessity of doctors, of medications and therapy, because we must deploy every effort afforded to us when we tackle our brokenness.

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I’m comforted to know that even in this tragic moment, America's beloved pastor still teaches us. Warren's sensitivity and understanding in the closing words of his letter give hope for a new posture within the church. He acknowledged that "Kay and I often marveled at (Matthew's) courage to keep moving in spite of relentless pain. I'll never forget how many years ago ... Matthew said, 'Dad, I know I'm going to heaven. Why can't I just die and end this pain?' But he kept going for another decade."

With that kind of honest, raw vulnerability and perspective, who wouldn’t want Rick Warren to be their pastor? Or their dad, for that matter.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rebekah Lyons.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (312 Responses)
  1. bobk52

    1 down millions more to go!

    April 9, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
  2. kevobx

    The most high God is with thee. There are twelve hours in a day? Mankind gave the world 24 hours in a day to worship the sun. If you hide behind honesty, prove all things. Who do you love more? Love truth and he reveals all things as the living God.

    April 9, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      speaking of mental illness...here's kevobx ! ! !

      April 9, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
  3. kevobx

    Sandy hook is a blood sacrifice, all these concert rituals and idolatry worships. When death comes to the door, what do Satanists say? They are still worshipping the ground of dead souls. Is the synagague of Satan next door to that Newtown school? (Matthew 27:25)

    April 9, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  4. kevobx

    Who brings their children to a pit? That is blood ritual sacifice. White people are scared to mention the name Esau, because Satan will kill them for telling lies about the Father. The British are calling another man lord, why? When they are of Esau's duke lineage also. (1st Samuel 7:13)

    April 9, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • Who Brings a wind-up Babble verse toy to an article??

      kevobx – that's who!

      April 9, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  5. kevobx

    The computer / phone is a device, it is constantly updating lies, the people put their trust in devices. In this day and age where are all the secruity camera's at? The devil and his distractions (Jeremiah 18:11-12 ) *2nd Corinthians 2:11*

    April 9, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
  6. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    "The idea of God was not a lie but a device of the unconscious which needed to be decoded by psychology. A personal god was nothing more than an exalted father-figure: desire for such a deity sprang from infantile yearnings for a powerful, protective father, for justice and fairness and for life to go on forever. God is simply a projection of these desires, feared and worshipped by human beings out of an abiding sense of helplessness. Religion belonged to the infancy of the human race; it had been a necessary stage in the transition from childhood to maturity. It had promoted ethical values which were essential to society. Now that humanity had come of age, however, it should be left behind." -Sigmund Freud

    April 9, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  7. kevobx

    Satanists purpose is to keep you afar away from the word of God. And to keep you afar off from the word of the Lord. (Micah 4:5)

    April 9, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • the real Tom

      I think he's keeping you "afar away" from sanity.

      April 9, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
  8. kevobx

    *John 3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

    April 9, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  9. kevobx

    Joseph's biblical children are Puerto Ricans and Cubans, is that a lie? (John 11:54) America tell the truth! The media is interviewing their own payroll system for ratings, the devil is the white man and the coloreds and the hispanics are under attack now. Find your tribe, my people. *1st Peter 4:7 But the end of all things is at hand: *Revelation 1:3 for the time is at hand.

    April 9, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
  10. kevobx

    Athesists are not the ones in the churches, the satanists rule the world and all religions thereof. Black people have rejected grace and truth for the pride of life. God resists the proud, and the white man wants you proud, always telling you to be proud. The devil is using his celebrities against you to confuse and confound you. The world wants facts & honesty to set them free. Idolatry is everwhere, everyperson, place and thing is the world is called a saint, why? The most high God is over JEHOVAH do you believe. (1st Corinthians 3:21) and sorrow of the world is death *2nd Corinthians 7:10*

    April 9, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  11. Truth Seeker

    Does this mean his books don't work? Just asking.

    April 9, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • Lycidas

      How does those "books" do anything?
      They are merely tools and nothing more.

      April 9, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • Truth Seeker

      Well, I guess his son should have been a better student. It's harsh but when people get rich on the "word" of God, they should have some results. I have read one of his books and its full of self-empowerment, prosperity gospel, visualization and the like. It is chock full of creative theology, and scripture that is taken out of context. God is power, we are mortal. We are bankrupt, and no matter how much we want wish for things to change in our lives, they will not unless we have change of character and heart. God doesn't provide people with blessing by following a recipie, it is by totally submitting to Him and being obedient. No amount of visualization and postive attraction will empower us. We are mortals. It was satan that said "we shall be like God" in Genesis.

      April 9, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  12. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    You're depressed? Pray. Still depressed? You're not praying hard enough. Depressed and suicidal now? Pray harder. *BANG* Oh dear, well he was very mentally ill, we will pray for him.

    Seems like a very effective process to me.

    April 9, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  13. Truth Seeker

    I take it his son had an UNpurpose driven life. The Irony.

    April 9, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  14. lol??

    Ti*tle:My Take: Let’s stop keeping mental illness a secret

    Exactly! I'd like to see the president's medical records. Grades in school, while yer at it, too. How do crackpots get security clearances anyway?

    April 9, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • the real Tom

      Still mad because the SS wouldn't let you get over the fence, huh?

      April 9, 2013 at 11:25 am |
    • Akira

      Nope. HIPAA rules. As you have pointed out yourself, lol??.
      Doesn't stop anyone from recommending mental health services, just stops them from being privy to the treatment. Duh.
      You have no point.

      April 9, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  15. Big Shiz

    Religious insanity is Reality. He is super religious about pushing his atheist agenda. He doesn't see every time he point's his finger he has three pointing back.

    April 9, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • Joel OilSheen

      points, not point's, stupid. Even a slimeball like me knows that much.

      April 9, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • Big Shiz

      If you dont have something to add to the conversation than shut the Fuk up.

      April 9, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • sam


      April 9, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
  16. William Demuth

    With an old man like him I would opt for the dirt nap as well.

    If I hear his voice for even a few seconds I to feel like air conditioning my temples.

    April 9, 2013 at 9:19 am |
  17. Reality

    What religious insanity looks like:

    As the koranic/mosque driven acts of terror and horror continue:

    The Muslim Conquest of India – 11th to 18th century

    ■"The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

    and the 19 million killed in the Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C by Muslims.

    and more recently

    1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured

    1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh

    2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured

    3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US troops killed in action, 3,480 and 928 in non combat roles. 102,522 – 112,049 Iraqi civilians killed as of 9/16/2011/, mostly due to suicide bombers, land mines and bombs of various types, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

    4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[2]

    5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.

    6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

    7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.

    8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.

    9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

    10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,385 killed in action, 273 killed in non-combat situations as of 09/15/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

    11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

    12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

    13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,

    14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane's wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

    15 The daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings in the terror world of Islam.

    16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.

    17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.

    18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.

    19) A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country's controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday, 3/2/2011

    20) two American troops killed in Germany by a recently radicalized Muslim, 3/3/2011

    21) the kidnapping and apparent killing of a follower of Zoraster in the dark world of Islamic Pakistan.

    22) Shariatpur, Bangladesh (CNN 3/30/2011) – Hena Akhter's last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl. Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh's Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public. Hena dropped after 70 and died a week later.

    23) "October 4, 2011, 100 die as a truck loaded with drums of fuel exploded Tuesday at the gate of compound housing several government ministries on a busy Mogadishu street. It was the deadliest single bombing carried out by the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group in Somalia since their insurgency began. "

    o 24) Mon Jun 4, 2012 10:18am EDT
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A suicide bomber detonated an explosive-packed car outside a Shi'ite Muslim office in central Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 26 people and wounding more than 190 in an attack bearing the hallmarks of Iraq's al Qaeda affiliate.
    The bombing on a Shi'ite religious office comes at a sensitive time, with the country's fractious Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs locked in a crisis that threatens to unravel their power-sharing deal and spill into sectarian tensions."

    25) BURGAS, Bulgaria | Thu Jul 19, 2012 11:27am EDT

    (Reuters) – A suicide bomber carried out an attack that killed seven people in a bus transporting Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, the interior minister said on Thursday, and Israel said Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants were to blame.

    26 ) September 12, 2012
    Envoy to Libya dies in rocket blast


    April 9, 2013 at 7:10 am |
    • The real Tom

      What insanity looks like? That would be a poster who does nothing but copy and paste the same manure over and over and doesn't discuss or defend his views because he's too cowardly to do so in his own words.

      April 9, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Insanity is the fact that you're whining about someone doing the same thing over and over, when you come here day after day and have done so for at least two years to complain about others. You have been served. Don't bother with another one of your negative comments. They are as always, predictable, boring and incredibly pompous.

      April 9, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • the real Tom

      When you figure out how to fake Lycidas's style, do alert the media.

      Obvious troll is obvious.

      April 9, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • the real Tom

      Lycidas would know that there should be a comma after "always" in that last sentence.

      Poor little guy. You really don't like me, do you? Why are you so het up by my posts?

      Lycidas wouldn't even bother to respond to something like that.

      April 9, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • the real Tom

      Edit: "there should be a comma after "are" in that last sentence.

      April 9, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • the real Tom

      Oh, and honey? Lycidas would never say something so pedestrian as "You have been served."

      April 9, 2013 at 11:07 am |
    • the real Tom

      What's the matter, Piddler? Got a class?

      April 9, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • Akira

      "You have been served."
      Oooh, so scary.
      Bet Tom is shaking.

      April 9, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • Lycidas

      Kind of nice to be important enough to have someone feel the urge to use my alias. Wonder if they even knew where it came from?

      April 9, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • the real Tom

      I suspect it's "Mark from Middle River" and guaranteed he didn't even know you used both names, much less their origins.

      April 9, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
  18. Icare

    Thanks so much Rebekah for this article. God bless you. There's so much strength in weakness, when we acknowledge it and confess the strength of He who is has all might – the Almighty. We all need supernatural strength to be sane and successful here whether we acknowledge it or not, and those who struggle without giving up are often rated higher in the sight of God than those who didn't have to.

    As we all express our opinions in response to this article, I know we speak only to the extent of our knowledge/ignorance and experience permits. Let's be open to learning also as we share our own opinions. We all need answers. God bless u all

    April 9, 2013 at 2:58 am |
  19. Paolo Merolla

    Reblogged this on Psicogeriatra's Weblog.

    April 9, 2013 at 2:56 am |
  20. twocents

    Thank you for this article. It is comforting to know that so many people understand the pain of mental illness. I agree that we should be more open about it. It can help immensely to know you're not alone, that people get it, and that we're all in this together.

    I can't even imagine the pain this young man's family is facing right now. Prayers go out to them, and to everyone struggling with similar pain. Hopefully this will raise awareness and inspire conversations that save lives in the future. A silver lining to this dark cloud.

    It's a shame that some people see this as a place to mock religion. The lack of respect for the dead and the grieving is a bit disgusting.

    April 9, 2013 at 1:12 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.