Grief vs. Depression; Loss vs. Disconnect


Mental Illness Raises Many Questions Spiritually

Questions about Mental Illness And The Christian’s (Church’s) Perspective


Charlie Rose, P.B.S. Charlie Rose ShowYesterday we looked at the medical and genetical perspective of mental health, problems caused, and hope for the future. More questions were probably produced than answers.  Today let’s look at some of the spiritual impacts:

In that same Charlie Rose program on mental health, Kay Redfield Jamison of Johns Hopkins University who leads research on Bipolar Studies, who herself is bipolar, had some interesting insights. The following is from the excerpts from the transcript of this show.

            KAY REDFIELD JAMISON, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: Yes.  Yes.  There’s nothing more motivating in life than nearly dying from an illness, which I did because I tried --

                  CHARLIE ROSE:  Because you know a lot about it. 

                  Kay Redfield Jamison, Johns Hopkins University, Researcher & ConsumerKAY REDFIELD JAMISON:  Because you want to know more.  You really -- you’re a little impatient with the pace of the field, and it’s very motivating.

KAY REDFIELD JAMISON:  You look at how society responds to you if you’re depressed as opposed to grieving.  Everyone can reach out to you -- or almost everyone, unless they’re complete creeps. 


       But for the most part people will really reach out to you if they know you have undergone a loss like a death.  And they will do so.  And those rituals will work for a while, not totally but they will work.  And society has evolved ways through religion and friendship and so forth to do that. 

                  In depression people avoid you because it is -- first of all, depression is contagious, the mood is contagious.  And secondly they have a real sense that they can’t connect.  They cannot make a connection with you, you cannot makes a connection with them. 

What an eye opener!  That program gave me a new insight and perspective in the difference between grieving and depression.  In the church, pastors are trained about grief, how to handle funerals properly, how to comfort those mourning, but in the world of mental health with depression there is a total disconnect with the person, and often a disconnect with those trying to reach out to them.  Someone with depression experiences emotional, psychological, and spiritual death while still alive and do not know how to express it, and we, usually, are clueless on how to address it. They can’t emotionally connect with us if they try!

                  Grief:  a touch, holding one hand, a hug, just your presence can bring comfort.

                  Depression: everything emotionally is at a distant, so far, so deep, it is ineffective.

                  Grief:  a word of encouragement, sympathy cards, flowers, etc. are expressions of hope beyond the grave, a hope to move forward from a loss.

                  Depression:  how can you express hope to someone who has lost all hope, disenfranchised themselves from any meaning of hope, even to the point of wanting to take their own life in their hopelessness.

                  Grief:  Even though it comes and goes, grief is still temporal.  Eventually a person comes out of it, faces it, and often overcomes it.

Depression:  It seems to be never-ending, and if untreated leads one into an abyss.

Grief:  Grief can establish relationship, good memories of those lost, feeling good about the relationship one had with the one lost.  It is something you work through.

Depression:  With depression comes nothing but bad memories, guilt, isolation, low self esteem and worth, etc., etc.  It seems like something you can not work through, being hopeless.

As a Church, we have been trained to handle grief, but not major depression. Because of this, a stigma exists about depression; there is no stigma with grief.

Grief Face To Face With Depression:  I personally have discovered that when a loved one is going through depression, the care taker experiences grief, a cruel grief because their loved ones are physically alive, but emotionally disconnected or dead. It’s tough grieving for the living!  In past blogs I have shared how my wife’s illness fragmented how she saw me: the caregiver, the cook, the friend, the person performing household chores, etc.  I was heartbroken, grief stricken when she looked me in the eye and asked, “Where is Anthony, my husband. I cannot find him. I am so confused.”  I felt grieved at my loss, but still had the hope that she would find me again some day. She was depressed, disconnected, disenfranchised from what was happening around her life.  She literally could not find me, her husband. Her experience was totally different from mine, a hard principle to have learned.

Our local church knew my wife for her vibrancy, her strong faith, her warm encouragement, her sensitivity and compassion for the hurting, but did not know how to respond now when she hurt because of the disconnection brought about through the depression.

New questions: 

  -  How are Christians individually, and the church as a whole, to react to someone who was connected so intimately with us when healthy, now disconnected due to a depressive illness?

  -  What are we as Christians individually, and the church as a whole, to do to help a grieving caretaker (a spouse, a parent, a child, any family member) in their time of grief while they are reaching out to their living dead?

  -  How are we to embrace the disconnect associated with depression?

  -  The Church is all about relationships, but how do we handle the broken relationship due to depression?

  -  How can we help save a marriage fragmented by a cruel disease when one realizes that the person they are face to face to is not the person they married?  They are the person you married, but now face the cruelty of mental illness.  When faced with cancer or other deadly physical diseases marriages can become strained, but they can also be strengthened and even bonded better through the illness, but the fragmentation, the disconnection that occurs due to mental illness is usually lethal.

  -  In a depressive world of extreme consuming darkness that we who are healthy can not understand or fathom, what is “the Light of the World” that we can offer them?  The Bible states that, “darkness cannot comprehend light”.  If that is true, how, as a church, can we accept this disconnection as “not comprehending” as part of their illness.  Should we put unrealistic expectations of what we think is spirituality upon them in the moment of non-comprehension? What can we do or should be doing during those times?

Wow! Again more questions than answers.  Your comments to this blog are greatly appreciated!