As long as I can remember, I’ve lived with a low level of depression. Of course, “depression” wasn’t a word that we used when I was growing up; family and friends instead said I tended to be negative – that I usually saw the glass as half-empty. Through adolescence, I frequently found myself sad, aching for the brokenness in myself and the world around me. The dark periods never lasted long, and within a few days I felt like myself again. It was only after my youngest son showed signs of depression at age 7 did it dawn on me that my periodic episodes of “negativity” are really episodes of depression.
I’ve since learned that mental illness is common – 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in the coming year. Approximately 60 million men, women and children will show signs of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, or another diagnosable mental illness. Mental illness is not only common, it’s highly treatable when addressed quickly, allowing many to manage their illness well.
Part of managing a mental illness is developing the right life skills that lead to resilience – the ability to bounce back from the inevitable setbacks and relapses that happen with a chronic illness. For many people, drawing upon their faith is a powerful, comforting and resilience-building way of managing mental illness.
Studies have shown that people of faith have better outcomes than those who do not. That’s because we all desperately long for true and authentic connections with other human beings, and being a part of a church can meet the need for rich and meaningful relationships with caring friends. We all need hope to cope – and the emphasis on a caring, loving God who offers hope for today as well as tomorrow, offers encouragement to hold on in challenging times. Prayer and meditation offer connection with God, reminding us we’re not alone in the universe.
For me, faith in God has been an anchor in hard times, keeping me tethered not just to life, but to the people I love, the work I enjoy, the relationships that sustain me, and to the hope that better days are ahead. Depression is easier for me to manage when I remember God is always with me, and my growing faith practice builds my resilience one day at a time.