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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Kos

Prayer - Not the Only Treatment

We are so relieved to hear about the lifting of those final restrictions related to the COVID-19 epidemic that we often forget about another epidemic that is killing people at an alarming rate, especially our teens. This is the mental illness epidemic. For the first time ever, the loneliest generation is not our elderly, but our young people who find themselves constantly surrounded by people with whom they feel little connection. As with any other organ in the body, when it is overburdened and undernourished, the brain becomes ill and needs medical intervention to heal and improve. We know that a poor diet can lead to problems with the way the hormone insulin is made and reacts in our body, oftentimes leading to diabetes. Just like we know that problems with the productions of certain other hormones like serotonin and dopamine can lead to brain illnesses that we call depression and anxiety. And just like diabetes and thyroid disease, it can be very difficult for doctors to find the right combination and dosage of medications to balance out the hormones.


What is different about mental illnesses however is that most of us will not experience thyroid disease or diabetes, but all of us have felt anxious or depressed at some point in our lives. Because these mental illnesses have the same name as these common feelings, people are prone to believe that their occasional bouts with the blues makes them an authority on responding to mental illness. However, though I have experienced crazy sugar rushes in my life, I have no idea what it is like to live with chronic diabetes. Feelings that come and go are not the same thing as a disease that wreaks havoc on hormones.


As a woman of strong faith, I have often heard that people suffering from mental illness are somehow insufficient in their prayer life and could overcome their illness with the right relationship with Christ. This is like telling someone in insulin shock that a few Our Fathers will perk them right back up! While I feel very strongly that faith can play an important role in treatment, short of a miracle, prayer and faith cannot be the only treatment for mental illness just as it cannot be the only treatment for other diseases of the body. As with all illness, treatment must be directed by a physician specializing in the field in conjunction with other specialists who work as a team. Then, we trust that the Lord works through these people and will be a part of each step in the process.


With the few people that I have discussed my own mental illness, I have been asked on occasion, I don’t understand. You seem so happy! What have you got to be so depressed about? I then have to explain that I have depression, not things to be depressed about. The difference is that I do not have an explanation or a reason for my illness just as people who have cancer cannot tell you why cells in their body began to radically reproduce. I can point to my family’s medical history, but the real answer is that I do not know why I have this disease. I receive moments of grace when I get an inkling of how God is using my suffering for good, and I must be content with that for now.


My faith has been such a comfort to me in my treatment and a real source of strength. The joy that comes from being in a close relationship with Christ is incomparable. This is how I know for certain that mental illness is not a feeling. Even in my solid faith and assurance that Christ walks with me at every moment, I cannot pull myself out of depression. I cannot snap out of it or cheer up, because I do not have the proper balance of hormones in my body to regulate my brain function. I do not feel depressed; I have depression.


Mental illness cannot be cured with the right combination of family, friends, and faith. This support system is a critical component of treatment, but there is no cure for mental diseases today. And, tragically, we see too often how fatal mental illness can be. We see it in the people who have taken their own lives and in the people who have taken the lives of others. There are too many empty chairs at too many tables around the world because of mental illness. There are too many young people attending funerals for friends that have lost their battle with mental illness. And there are still far too many people that refuse to get help for themselves or the people they love because of stigma and shame.


If you are wondering if you or someone you love is just going through a bad patch or if there is something more to it, know that this is a nudge from the Holy Spirit to consult a mental health professional or physician. If you know someone that has been diagnosed with a mental illness, if you are capable, accompany them on their journey. This means to pray for and with them, but it also means to hold a space for them where they can just be. Hold a space where they are not judged or given advice, but where you can be with them when they need you with no other purpose than companionship. In this way, you will walk with them as Christ walks with each one of us.


As we wrap up this Mental Health Awareness Month, pray for the people that suffer from mental illness and the people who love them. Pray for the people that treat mental illness so that they can be fortified with the Holy Spirit in their practice. Pray for the families and friends that have lost someone to mental illness. And when you are done praying, be sure to act. Help get someone the help they need. Be with someone that just needs to know they are not alone spiritually, and physically too. And make your community one that loves and supports people with mental illness.

 

Elizabeth Kos is still a Catholic woman in progress and continues to learn as much as she can about her faith from the classroom as well as people she meets. Please keep her in your prayers!


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