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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. kevobx

    Coloreds and his panics wake up! You are under attack now by this satantic world. Find your tribe, Joseph's children are the Puerto Ricans and the Cubans. The truth sets you free *Jeremiah 9:25-26*

    April 11, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
  2. kevobx

    The world chose Satan his desires for things, all these satanists hate grace and truth. The lukewarm people are stuck in the midddle of sea with the swine. Gentile people are scared of their own lineage Esau. The media and idolatry celebrities are devil worshippers of him Satan. When death comes to the door, what will the worldly people say then? *John 9:9 Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he. (*Isaiah 43:25*)

    April 11, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
  3. You, Me, BPD

    The issue with mental health is that the current system is broken. Take our story, the facility I sent my wife to, doped her up on meds and released her into the world in a much worst state and unable to make decisions. They actually released her after she removed her family from her contact list, HUGE RED FLAG, but the facilities and doctors are not held responsible; especially when they have senators like Tim Mather (ND) on their staff. Too much power and not enough responsibility. Treat the patients and the conditions, don't use it as a revolving door to make money!

    April 10, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  4. kevobx

    The most high God is with thee. He has blinded the Gentiles, thou the white man from truth *Acts 13:11* (Luke 1:20)

    April 10, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • clarity

      so kevobx – have any idea who wrote all this crap??

      April 10, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • sam stone

      kev: quotes from the bible are only relevant to those who accept the supposed authority of the bible. does it make you feel godly posting scripture?

      April 11, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  5. kevobx

    Christ died for the children of Israel, the twelve tribes. Only a remnant will escape mount Zion (Isaiah 37:32) *Luke 24:21 But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: *Psalm 77:15 Thou hast with thine arm redeemed thy people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah. *Malachi 3:6 For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. *Mark 14:62 And Jesus said, I am: *Revelation 21:12 the new Jerusalem which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:

    April 10, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
  6. kevobx

    Genesis 25:32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? *Jeremiah 12:13 They have sown wheat, but shall reap thorns: they have put themselves to pain, but shall not profit: and they shall be ashamed of your revenues because of the fierce anger of the Lord. *Job 39:12 Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barn? *Matthew 13:30 but gather the wheat into my barn. *Jeremiah 22:22 The wind shall eat up all thy pastors and thy lovers shall go into captivity: surely then shalt thou be ashamed and confounded for all thy wickedness. *Revelation 13:10 He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity:

    April 10, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  7. kevobx

    Culture is a cult, u r Esau. *Jeremiah 12:7 I have forsaken mine house, I have left mine heritage; I have given the dearly beloved of my soul into the hand of her enemies. *Jeremiah 12:15 And it shall come to pass, after that I have plucked them out I will return, and have compassion on them, and will bring them again, every man to his heritage, and every man to his land. (Romans 9:15)

    April 10, 2013 at 11:39 am |
  8. Atheist, me?

    I don't think all anti-depressants cause weight gain. And they do not solve the self-esteem issues either. To be successful as a clinical depression patient I have learnt to tell myself repeatedly that I love my neighbor as myself. This helps me to cope much better than just taking the drugs. It also helps to exercise and sleep well. The drugs are but a small part of the treatment.

    April 10, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • Pole dancing for Jesus

      Beats religion though

      April 10, 2013 at 11:21 am |
    • Atheist, me?

      I am a Christian and it has helped me a lot. In fact telling myself that I love God with all my life is helpful when the blues just won't lift off and/or when I am under extreme stress.

      April 10, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • Akira

      All anti-depressants should be used with a comprehensive treatment plan. Just taking a pill isn't, and never has been, intended to be the only therapy.

      April 10, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
  9. kevobx

    All religions belong to the devil. The world is fighting against grace and truth. Satanists are killing off your children with voices, visions and dreams. Satan is one eye (dollar bill) using all his celebrity friends who are being idolized as great people. Remember, our Lord is lowly and meekly (Acts 8:33 and Isaiah 53:9) Even Moses was meekly, repentence means acknowledging the truth of the Bible. *Jeremiah 13:15 Hear ye, and give ear; be not proud: for the Lord hath spoken. *Psalm 85:11 Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven. *Galatians 2:21 I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

    April 10, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Most of what you think you know is wrong.

      April 10, 2013 at 11:09 am |
  10. Big Shiz

    REALIST shoots dope.

    April 10, 2013 at 10:48 am |
  11. Sane Person

    My invisible friend in the sky would like to help you with your mental illness.

    April 10, 2013 at 10:33 am |
  12. REALIST

    His son studied and learned that ............. GOD IS IMAGINARY dot com and killed himself

    April 10, 2013 at 3:47 am |
    • REALIST

      His son studied and learned that ............. GOD IS IMAGINARY dot com ... and killed himself

      April 10, 2013 at 3:47 am |
    • REALIST

      His son studied and learned that ............. GOD IS IMAGINARY dot com ........... and killed himself

      April 10, 2013 at 3:48 am |
    • REALIST

      but THANK GOODNESS ... GOD IS IMAGINARY ... because he emanated from the ..... EVIL BIBLE dot com

      April 10, 2013 at 3:48 am |
    • REALIST

      ..... http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com and http://www.EVILbible.com (visit both)

      April 10, 2013 at 3:49 am |
    • (2i)^0.5

      It is common for atheists to claim God being a spirit, as something imaginary. But we all know that he is not literally imaginary. God is as real as any of us, but much more than any of us in all ways. God is spiritual and we are physical, and therein dwells who you deny.

      April 10, 2013 at 5:46 am |
    • Pole dancing for Jesus

      (2i)^0.5
      What evidence do you have for that?

      April 10, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • (2i)^0.5

      I will avoid falling into your zero trap by walking on the right side of it.

      April 10, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • Pole dancing for Jesus

      (2i)^0.5
      So that's a gotcha question as you have no evidence? I knew that but wanted you to say it.

      April 10, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • (2i)^0.5

      What would you throw into an infinite hole?

      April 10, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • Pole dancing for Jesus

      (2i)^0.5
      Bibles, churches, and preachers.

      April 10, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • (2i)^0.5

      The angle you came at this, doesn't phase me at all.

      April 10, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Pole dancing for Jesus

      (2i)^0.5
      My "angle" was to get evidence for your statement. As no one has yet produced any I expected you would also fail.

      April 10, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • drep

      "What would you throw into an infinite hole?"

      Christians & Muslims

      April 10, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • (2i)^0.5

      If someone gives evidence to a chimp, it will throw it around and def.ecate on it, or toss it into an infinite hole.

      April 11, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  13. 3n1

    Thanks Rebekah for this. I would love to see this exposed. It seems as though people care for others who may suffer from other illness, diseases...heart, lung, etc. But when it comes to our "minds", people are then called "crazy", "psycho", etc. When will others realize that our brain/minds are part of our body. It can fail us...just like anything else in our body. It's time to educate the world...and care for people who are truly suffering from mental illness. God bless you.

    April 10, 2013 at 3:07 am |
  14. Georgia

    Great Article! I am a pastor and I also struggle with depression and anxiety ever since I gave birth to my first child. I had a second child and PPD was even worse. Something else I would like to draw attention to with this regard is the side effects of taking medication – namely, weight gain. I have talked to my doctor about this and pretty much every anti-depressant and anti-anxiety med causes weight gain. Such a wonderful thing, right? I mean gaining weight on top of being depressed?? I have seriously thought at times that I have to decide between jumping off a bridge and becoming an obese person. I have gained 30 pounds since being put on meds 14 months ago and I do eat right and I do exercise. I only offer this because a lot of times we people gain weight we makes some assumptions – like they eat too much and don't exercise. So when people around us are either overweight or are gaining weight, let's consider that far more is going on than simply needing to lay off the potato chips and signing up for a 5k.

    April 9, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • Evan

      Best wishes for you, Georgia.

      April 9, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • the real Tom

      Georgia, thanks for your post. Not all antidepressants have the same effect on weight. While there are many that do cause weight gain, some are less likely to cause it than others. I hope (and assume) you have talked to your doctor and that he/she has considered changing your medication. There's not always an easy fix for that problem and I do sympathize.

      April 9, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • drep

      Why don't you just pray to not be depressed and lose weight.

      Prayer works no?

      April 10, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
  15. Light of Pure Truth

    Some of these comments are very distasteful and disrespectful. They are most likely from the fornicators that want to change God's laws about marriage. Their sins against Him are vile and Satanic. His mark has been set upon the earth and soon these vile creatures will burn for disobeying Him.

    April 9, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • Akira

      Are you one who see fornication around every corner? You should probably visit a mental health professional about it. That simply isn't true.

      April 9, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
    • REALIST

      His son studied and learned that ............. GOD IS IMAGINARY dot com ..... and killed himself

      April 10, 2013 at 3:50 am |
    • drep

      Cookoo for cocoa puffs.

      April 10, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  16. Nate

    "Faith should never undermine the necessity of doctors, of medications and therapy,"

    Then I ask, what good is your faith? Faith, a supposed virtue, nothing more than belief without evidence. Nevertheless, this statement is in DIRECT opposition to your own scripture, however true. Religion is truly sad, and a huge cause of mental illness. How can one be sane with such cognitive dissonance. How can you feel purposeful when you are constantly told the very core of your being is evil regardless of your actions. Religion causes your mind to be in perpetual war against itself. What we are all witnessing is the exponential rate of decline in myths; religion is in its death throes right now. Free yourself from mental slavery.

    April 9, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • God is the creator of the universe

      Your world view is utterly distorted and lacking the truth of God. On the off chance you might be interested, believe God, and read the bible. Jesus died for the sins of others and raised again the third day. Believe him and repent of your sins.

      April 9, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • drep

      "Jesus died for the sins of others and raised again the third day"

      After three days his corpse would have started rotting.

      If that bullsh it story were true, jeebus would have looked like a rotting zombie.

      April 10, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  17. kevobx

    The truth sets you free (Acts 8:32-33)

    April 9, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
    • Answer

      It's funny how you freaks don't know what the truth is.

      April 9, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • screwedupbad

      Rick Warren's son had the truth, according to the Bible you quoted, yet he was not set free from the depression that killed him.

      April 9, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
  18. kevobx

    What does the world want? *Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. *Luke 15:14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. *Lamentations 5:10 Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine. (Amos 8:11)

    April 9, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Joel

      Want in KJV means to lack or to be in need.

      April 9, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
  19. kevobx

    Jerusalem exposed! *Lamentations 4:12* (2nd Kings 18:26)

    April 9, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
  20. Jerry

    When trouble comes we must not run FROM God, but rather we should run To Him. He is the God of all comfort and in good times or bad, He is the One who can truly be counted on to listen and to comfort us. He is our Rock. For ages many have spoken of the great comfort received through reading or listening to the Psalms. Psalms 23 for Example, as well as many others. I have found peace many many times through prayer and reading of the Holy Books. I have peace in Yeshua and I hope others will turn to God, not away from Him, in times of trouble and despair. Shalom

    April 9, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
    • Answer

      Religious idiots do not like taking up on their own responsibilities.

      Run towards an oncoming bus you freaks.

      April 9, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
    • Joel

      Jerry, Amen, I couldn't have put it any better. So many turn away from the Lord in times of suffering and difficulty when they really should be drawing closer to Him. The adversary "Satan" who is mentioned throughout Tanakh (OT) and of course is revealed to us more fully in the New Covenant, loves to come at us in times of difficulty to try and turn us away form the only One who can help us most. How sad. God bless Shalom

      April 9, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • REALIST

      His son studied and learned that ....... GOD IS IMAGINARY dot com ... and killed himself

      April 10, 2013 at 3:51 am |
    • drep

      Warren's kid ran to god.

      He found nothing, and then blew a hole in his noggin.

      Nice fail.

      April 10, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
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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.