Mental Illness: How Sad Happiness Can Be


Must Those People In The Pews Be So Happy?


I remember seeing “The Happy Hunters”, Francis and hubby, who always smiled, laughed, and were jovial when on the stage.  When attending church, everyone always seems happy, having it together.  Even if they are hurting, they hide it well. What better place to take a person who is depressed than to a happy place like church! Right? Wrong!

At NAMI-PA’s recent conference I heard Patricia C. Gallagher tell her story.  She wrote a book “Raising Happy Children on a Reasonable Budget”, so her daughter sent a letter to Oprah who sent a film crew to their home, filmed a day with the Gallaghers, and flew Patricia to Chicago for a program.  The Gallaghers looked like the perfect couple with the perfect family until their lives dramatically changed. Patricia’s husband lost his job, thought of jumping off a bridge, and tried to carbon monoxide himself.  When in the hospital his wife brought him family pictures to raise his spirits.  Instead the pictures of everyone smiling triggered his depression even deeper as he jumped out the hospital window trying to end his life, but survived the fall.  The perfect, smiling, happy family image was shattered, forever changing their lives.

To help her deal with her husband’s depression, Patricia started a “Team of Angels” movement designing angel pins on cards with encouraging poems. To date Patricia has handed out over 78,500 pins to help others cope with trying times. Her husband then had her and her children write their stories in their family book “No More Secrets”.

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I use humor as an outlet. When times are tense, I find something at which to laugh.  When my wife was deeply depressed, my jokes and humor were always received listlessly; in fact they had a negative impact. “Why should everyone be happy when I am not?” the depress person thinks. Depressed people can see through our plastered fake smiles, for they can sense the pain we suffer too. 

If the Church is to be effective in their effort to reach out to the mentally ill, they will have to recognize the fact that pain is a part of life and a part of Jesus’ life.  I remember the poster of the “laughing Jesus”, which made me forget of the “painful, suffering Jesus” on the Cross.  True religion accepts pain as part of life; in fact it embraces pain rather than hides it. Pain can bond people. The suffering of the Black community during the slave trade has produced Negro Spirituals with deep emotion, meaning, and feeling.  Suffering and persecution forced a vibrant Church to practice the Great Commission, to move forward in spite of the adverse depressive conditions it faced during persecution.

Compassion, empathy, and acceptance goes much farther than trying to make a depressive person smile and be happy when their “happy tank” is on “E”. When ill, depression grips the soul, strips the person of happiness, and only the comfort from loved ones and the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, can help.