One good New Year’s resolution for all of us might be to do whatever we can to prevent tragedies such as what happened just before Christmas in Newtown, Conn., by reaching out to troubled individuals.
According to ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Adam Lanza “suffered from a condition where he could literally feel no pain …” He was “not connected with the other kids … and was obviously not well.”
Lanza was not alone in his suffering. According to the Archives of General Psychiatry, “an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older – about one in four adults – suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.”
Depression is a form of mental illness that may lead to suicide. We can help by being alert to the warning signs of suicide: significant mood swings or changes in diet or sleep patterns; talking about wanting to hurt themselves, and increased substance use.
If we notice these in a friend, colleague or neighbor, we can start by reaching out with love. This might create an opportunity to connect them to supportive services and give them opportunities to strengthen their connections with people – a key deterrent to suicide.
One additional important resource is places of worship where people gather for fellowship and prayer. Evidence of the positive role prayer and spirituality can play in improving both physical and mental health is on the rise. Both are important, of course, because long-term pain or other physical distress can also lead to depression and mental stress. Add one of these to winter blues, loneliness or family pressures, and the result can be overwhelming for some.
Examples of success with prayer in physical healing can be found in “Healing Words” by Larry Dossey, M.D., and in American Psychologist.
Harold Koenig, M.D., in his “Research on Religion, Spirituality, and Mental Health: A Review,” states, “Religious and spiritual factors are increasingly being examined in psychiatric research. … Many people suffering from the pain of mental illness, emotional problems, or situational difficulties seek refuge in religion for comfort, hope, and meaning. … Religious involvement is related to better coping with stress and less depression, suicide, anxiety, and substance abuse.”
Key to religiosity playing a positive role in mental health is a view of God as close, loving and forgiving, not judging and condemning. A God of compassion adds strength to those praying for the release from the fear and suffering that come with depression. The Bible tells us, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee …” (Isaiah 41:10).
Several years ago, a college student, deeply depressed and feeling suicidal, called me to pray for and with her to lift her sense of sadness and isolation from others. I went to see her often and spent time with her, including going to church together. She began to feel happier, made new friends and resumed her studies.
The beginning of 2013 is an opportunity to give our love to others. Consider how much difference each of us, loving and helping someone who is suffering from depression, will add to the joy of the new year.