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Recruitment campaign against depression, suicides shifts to evangelicals

By Dan Bodine

(From an earlier version on Center on Social Minimalism)

Can’t help but add a personal note (on both a late neighbor and an incident in my own life) after reading Wendy Murray’s God Bless the Broken People  in a blog. Topic was mental illnesses’ Big D disease–Depression. The old disease is getting new Christian attention. Which is good. Maybe now we’ll move closer to controlling it.

The World Health Organization, I’d noticed earlier in an international Express-Tribune blog, expects the disease to be the second largest killer by 2020, behind only coronary heart problems.

“…(D)epression is a debilitating disease that sucks pleasure out of the lives of its sufferers and shrinks their self-esteem to almost nothing,” wrote Sahrish Ahmad. “Going about a daily routine turns into a draining struggle…(amidst) hopelessness…”

Murray, in Patheos, brought it closer. She was writing in sympathy for well-known mega-church pastor Rick Warren and wife Jan in this month’s death of their 27-year-old son, Matthew —  ruled a suicide.

The only positive news on society’s long, ugly history on mental illnesses and depression now is the searing public blame and guilt (instinctively dumped on individuals and, associatively, on friends and family often) is receding.

The Jethros of the world are finally admitting there’s a good chance they’ve been wrong as hell on this one!

Finger-pointing (by “good Christians,” a large majority they were/are, I’ve believed for decades) has now largely receded into a general willingness among folks to let health-care professionals manage these diseases as best as they can, with prescriptive medicines, therapy or both.

When groping for a pathway in the dark, “every one stay connected to each other” is becoming an evolving accord of even the Moral Right. At least in this one area. Stunned? This could signal a monumental shift in public mores.

Why? Back off on the aggressive ‘Jesus treatments,’ as a way of treating people may be ushering in a new era of tolerance.

Back off should only be natural for those of us joining the old-timers ranks now. The roots against throwing the first stone are in the old teachings of Christ admittedly.

It’s reminiscent, too, of the old, socially acceptable “Don’t criticize ’til you walk a mile in that person’s moccasins” rule we grew up with, isn’t it? Which merged into the shade of the old teetotalers’ Heaven forbid, There go I refrain — punch-spiked into the future as it was by the nation’s first Prohibition era.

"Greed" by AlterNet

It was the Sunbelt’s rush to gold that knocked tolerance out of whack for this ongoing second Prohibition era, in my opinion. The tree of genuine human compassion was derided in the past 40 or so years by aggressive capitalism’s in-your-face, “that-ain’t-my-problem” exclusions. If it’s extending its shade once again, hopefully it’ll protect even more people who think different.  More people under the tent in this fight increases the potential for help.

Embracing tolerance while looking for Sunbelt success came hard for me. I had to beach myself as both a sick alcoholic and a self-exiled stranger in a far, remote border community in Far West Texas once — amidst a different culture to boot — for it to get into my thick head.

Helping others puts you on a pathway to Inner Peace. God does work in strange and mysterious ways.

Essentially I faced two options in Presidio: Lay there alone in my self-pity and die unnoticed to the world; or involve myself with Life — Assist wherever I could, receive a certain level of  friendship support back in exchange. And use it to eventually overcome alcoholism and start a new family.

Which is basically a time-tested golden rule. During Sunbelt growth (the opportunities for wealth and political power it created), aggressive capitalists drove a moral majority into politically embracing a new kind of golden, however. And put kinks in the old one.

As traditional conservatism became passé, vagrant transliterations of God and Money became fashionable. The Gospel of Prosperity even brought tattoo artists into their fold, moving them from waterfront taverns over to Wall Street glitz as another star on God’s blessings. More energy for the new gospel.

It sent another strong message, too. A new kind of social exclusion for those still outside the tent had reared its ugly head.  New cultural enlightenment was a swap-off for benevolent concerns toward the poor, disadvantaged and less fortunate.

Now Big D may be pulling us back toward the old way. It’s gotten too large. And as in most early reform movements,  “good Christians” are being asked to ante up. This is causing a bit of a rift.

“The problem is, many good people — Christians in particular — find the use of any anti-depressants and/or seeing a mental health professional, a sign of spiritual abdication and weakness,” Murray wrote.

“I sat in the church service once and listened as the pastor preached about how only Jesus gives us peace. He said, ‘401ks can’t bring peace, only Jesus can bring peace. A therapist can’t bring peace, only Jesus can bring peace.’ The more he said it, the more people said ‘Amen’. ‘Medication can’t bring peace, only Jesus can bring peace.’”

But the pastor was her husband. (Good blog, this woman writes! Again, the link is here.) Indeed, she’s struggled for years dodging the stigma that “good Christians” place on those with mental illness and depression. Now confronting it, she’s finding peace.

The Warren son’s story opens a unique chance for public healing in this long struggle, I think the gist is. Matthew’d suffered from deep depression most of his life, and even though he’d received good counseling and treatment…It happened.

What else can we do? thus is reverberating. A new kind of speakeasy is emerging that may pull evangelicals into the fray and give tolerance a shot in the arm.

It happened has become too much for our collective conscience. It happened with my next-door neighbor last year, too. A 28-year-old former soldier, he left an ex-wife and four wonderful kids in puzzled anguish.

Back a year or so from Afghanistan with a bothersome history of drinking too much; recently dishonorably discharged over a minor drug possession incident and unemployed; too, just a month or so after a rocky separation and divorce had ended his marriage (and living alone in an apartment)…He put a gun to his head. To stop the pain. And created so much more.

Makes one want to climb up on a high church steeple and shout to the Jethros, “The Lord’s work is never finished, Mr. High and Mighty! You know that! You’re settin’ over there worrying over your money while we’re in a Killin’ Field here!”

Understanding this bottom line on the depression situation needn’t be that muddy. Don’t cloudy your thinking with holy righteousness is the first emerging message to help sort it out.

“Depression is complicated, capricious, incapacitating and in most instances associated with chemical imbalances in the brain that, in a good scenario, can be ‘managed,'” Murray wrote of the disease. “Many wise pastoral counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists have stopped pretending people can be cured of depression; best simply to set the goal at managing it.”

I see Depression as incurable as a thief in the night who knows perfect circumstance; who robs people, family and friends indiscriminately — losses not only in immediate lives, but in forsaken dreams and hopes by those who can’t get adequate treatment to cope well enough.

Mental disease is a broad term. More and more people now — including the Matthews, yes, thankfully — are seeking treatment. But for a variety of reasons or causes, “the last resort” happens sometimes anyway. Why?

The increasing public weight of the question is pushing it into mainstream politics. Cries of Why Not the old Golden Rule? are stirring among the hordes of “good Christians” the Far Right now has corralled off in an encampment adjacent Wall Street.

And right-wing, Republican politicians are nervous; a “jailbreak” would imperil their control of politics and the status of the elite’s 1 percenters who underwrite it.

The old Golden Rule has survived many skirmishes throughout history; don’t count on it being down much longer.

Examples of Big D playing out on us are plentiful. I carry scars, too. I’ve been on medications for it almost 20 years.

In Presidio once as justice of the peace, I came so close at one point to “losing it” over some impending court hearings, I talked about it privately for weeks afterwards — just to wring out remaining tensions, I guess.

My depression feeds an “anxiety disorder” — a trigger. Luckily a psychologist in El Paso who’d been treating me contacted me this time, advised me to quickly substitute a medication, and I calmed before returning to the bench an hour or so later.

My “something ugly” would not have involved violence though. I’ve never reacted that way. But it could’ve ruined my relationships with numerous parents and, thus, my re-election chances, too.

The common denominator of disorders is a quirky urge to “to get that monkey off your back!” To do something to stop it (“whatever it is”). Even someone’s facial expression, i.e., threatens to leave you naked before the world if you don’t respond correctly, you feel.

Could the difference, indeed, in my puny example here, and say, someone picking up an AK-47 and going bonkers, be mostly in degrees or levels of affliction? To quote Shakespeare, O, what tortures we mortal fools lend ourselves to! if, indeed, that’s the case.

Fear prompted me to search for treatment. Maybe 8-10 years earlier, at home eating lunch one day, seeing a speeding motorist pass by the kitchen window triggered panic. It was one of those things “out of the blue,” my understanding then was.

A few minutes later I’d found myself hiding in a bedroom closet  — sitting on the floor, knees raised, face buried in my arms — scared to death that if I got up and went into the front rooms again, someone would drive by and shoot my worthless ass thru a window.

The silliness of the situation when I realized it, was what struck me.

“This is stupid!” I told myself. “You need to find a doctor!”

I contacted the mental health department at El Paso’s V.A. Hospital for an appointment. And felt better doing it.

Maybe my sobriety was paying off, I reasoned later. “Could alcohol abuse, for me, be just a fall guy for something else back there?”

With counseling and prescription medicines, I was able to cope easier. And “get on” with my life. But things happen, yes.

And this day years later — when sheriff deputies “instandered” what I remember as many as 8-10 juveniles before me (for some rowdy, dastardly incident yáhoos do) — was one of them. It set the monkey off big-time!

Now, additionally, to say it happens may or may not have something to do with the best laid plans of mice and men. It’s only fair to say that, if, indeed, we’re entering a new period of more focused research. If you can catch this drift.

For several days prior to this day, I was aware of a change coming over me. Had simply been preoccupied with work and failed to connect the dots though. I’d had the luxury though of being warned there was a possibility of it.

Maybe a week or week-and-a-half earlier I’d been in El Paso at the V.A. for a regular maintenance visit.

The doctor changed my medication slightly then. Took me off one; substituted another. Something I said in answering his questions bothered him, I think. But he advised me to be on the alert though. And this slow change downward in my mood came, I could feel it.

Earlier, this day of the yáhoos, I’d telephoned the doctor’s office at the V.A., and even left a message, advising him of it. A staff member took the call, said the doctor wasn’t in, but promised to get the information to him.

Hey, what's coming down? You feel it!?

“Please have him call me,” I asked.

But he didn’t call back. Throughout the morning and into the mid-afternoon, he hadn’t.

Then we were advised the deputies were on their way to the court with the yáhoos in hand. Would be multiple detention hearings. Requiring much paperwork. Parents would be arriving, too. Brace yourself essentially, the dispatcher said.

First, juveniles are a mess to handle. State law gives them more rights than Cisco, my pet turtle. One of them is the right to be questioned by trained juvenile officers, in the presence of a parent or guardian. If you’re going to prosecute. In the Big Bend, juvenile officers are in Alpine, 90 miles from Presidio. So you wait.

Meanwhile, while the court clerk and I prepared for magistration hearings, the papers or forms for it, various parents began arriving and lined the wall outside the JP office, sitting in chairs. An angry fuse, the air was. And still no returned call.

I “got away” for a break — went home for something, maybe a sandwich. In strange and mysterious ways, God works, yes.

Just as I’d pulled up in the pickup before our home’s driveway gate, my cell phone rang. The number showed to be from El Paso. The V.A. doctor!

“Doctor, I’m about to lock up half the damn rowdy kids in high school here!” I blurted out.

As usual, he was very calm, and soft-spoken.

“Mr. Bodine, that medicine I changed for you is having the opposite effect of what I’d expected. Don’t take any more.”

Then he asked if I had any of my “old” medication left? I replied yes, “inside the house.”

He said take some quickly and wait an hour to return to the juvenile hearings; and call the next week to schedule a follow-up appointment, to re-examine what had happened today.

And in the process, too, assured me “the sky wasn’t falling.”

It didn’t. By the Grace of God. And by what I’ve come to appreciate as teamwork — inclusiveness by definition. A reinvention of humanity is needed to manage this disease.

Evangelist Ed Stetzer, writing June 7 in a CNN Belief Blog article on how churches could respond to the Warren’s tragedy, advised “stop hiding” the disease, remove the public’s fear of prescribed medications, and, perhaps most of all, “end the shame.” Then we can start.

The new message apparently is this willingness to re-think the moral self, and bring a large sector of the Christian community back into a better search for answers.

It could end up being a tipping point for  reversing a whole array of ugliness that’s beset this country since the Sunbelt era exploded.

A growing chorus of evangelical voices I believe are realizing the Gospel of Prosperity, its doctrine of individual exclusions, doesn’t get too many people into “heaven.” If any.

“This is a real need among our congregations, one that we absolutely cannot ignore or expect to go away,” wrote Stetzer, who not only is president of LifeWay Research (an evangelical research organization) but, too, is an active minister. “People of faith know that God has freed them to love others, and that love extends to everyone, even (and sometimes especially) those we don’t understand.”


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Category: Border Stories

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