I’m a missionary. On July 1, 2015, I threatened suicide. I didn’t act on it; it was simply a threat.
Which part of the previous paragraph caught your attention most? That I’m a missionary, or that I threatened suicide?
Would I have ever acted upon the thought? No. The threat itself was a desperate cry for help.
The point is: I wasn’t well. I had hit rock bottom.
I suffer from depression: a mental illness. Did I just say that out loud? How does that make you feel? Nervous? Awkward?
Would it be easier if I said that I was in an accident and broke some bones? Would a physical illness be easier to pray for? Would it be easier for me to talk about?
In my roughly 18 years as an Adventist, I have never heard any mention of depression in a church service. No sermons preached. No prayer requests mentioned aloud. I’ve heard it addressed in our seminars, and since I haven’t attended every church on every Sabbath since becoming an Adventist, my perspective may be a bit skewed. But I still wonder why I have not heard about depression at least once in the past 18 years. Isn’t the wellness of our minds just as important as the wellness of our physical bodies?
Paul thought so, and so does God. Why then does it seem as though mental wellness (or the lack thereof) is one of those hush-hush topics?
Let’s be more aware of the inner battles people face. It’s not easy to struggle alone.
In my host country as a missionary, I lived near a small community known for its mental (or “crazy”) hospital. In fact, the way you catch a minibus to this particular community is moving your hand in circles over the right side of your brain. But not everyone who suffers from a mental illness lacks a sound mind.
My depression took center stage while I was in mission service. I love the people and culture where I served, but I still felt out of place. It was my heart. Within the financial, social, and career walls in which I served I wasn’t equal to the other missionaries. I’m single; the other missionaries my age weren’t. I was on a slightly elevated volunteer stipend. The other missionaries my age, well . . . you get the picture.
The other major issue was that I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do. Teaching isn’t my calling; I was doing what God had opened to me at the time. I was also in the final stages of my M.A. degree. I was both a teacher and a student, a mid-30s single among married couples the same age. I wasn’t making enough income to do anything more than basic travel, etc.
With my emotional and mental state, my feeling out of place even in the country I loved to serve, the sadness and frustration of not living the life I really wanted to live eventually overwhelmed me. The gifts and abilities God gave me weren’t being utilized.
My depressed state didn’t begin during my time of service in the host country, however. I hadn’t been able to put a label on it, but for the longest time I felt a deep sadness, even on the greatest days. There were moments of laughter, of course, but an overall sense of peace and happiness just didn’t exist.
My family background isn’t that great. In fact, it would take a book to share all the reasons my family is a big factor in my mental wellness. From a human perspective I have a lot to be sad about. My depression and other circumstances interfered with my mission service. Yet as a daughter of God, I have much for which to be thankful.
I’m a missionary. I claim this.
Here’s the thing: Just because followers of Jesus suffer from mental illness doesn’t make them any less followers. I love Jesus, and even though I currently am experiencing this internal mental and emotional battle, I spend time with Him every day, talk to Him, and want His will to be done in my life.
As we look in God’s Word, we find a number of people who suffered from depression. Have you read through some of the psalms lately, or Lamentations? David and Jeremiah, just to name a couple, experienced mental and emotional distress. In this sin-sick world Satan has so many avenues through which he can destroy the peace of mind and abundant life God intends for us.
And this brings me to my final point: Can one truly be in the mission field and suffer from depression? Think about that. It surely hinders the fullness of life that service requires. However, there is hope. Through years of distress David could still be a man after God’s own heart. And thankfully, God has provided resources that work through His awesome power to overcome this illness. Here are some verses that speak directly to depression. Read them if you need help, or share them with others to encourage those who suffer from depression: Psalm 13; Psalm 34:18; Psalm 42; Lamentations 3:19-24; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 11:28; 1 Peter 5:6, 7.
Once overcome, missionaries—and everyone else who suffers from depression—are all the stronger in their partnership with God. I can live with that hope.
Let’s be more aware of the inner battles people face. It’s not easy to struggle alone. And those of us who suffer from this type of illness need prayer and tender loving care just as much as anyone who suffers from a physical illness.
I’m a missionary, and I suffer from depression, but not forever. I’m back in the United States regrounding my life and becoming a stronger woman in my Savior. Then, by His grace, I will return to the mission field and serve people in a way that glorifies Him through the gifts and abilities He has given to me.
Jesus promised: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). That is my prayer for us all, especially for those of us who suffer from depression.
Cecilia Luck is working on a graduate degree in global community development at Southern Adventist University.