A few months back, I went to a hear a gentleman named Jeff Olson present at William Kelley. Jeff told the story of his son, Daniel.
To everyone from the outside, Daniel appeared to be the perfect all-American kid. He was a good student, popular among both male and female peers; he had a loving and supportive family; and he was the all-state quarterback for a team that played for the Michigan state football championship.
What wasn’t evident on the surface is that for years, Daniel Olson struggled with anxiety and bipolar disorder. Daniel’s days would get so dark that he’d be overcome by panic attacks and wondered what was keeping him alive. His parents did everything they could from medication to numerous therapists. Daniel Olson was 19 years old when, according to his obituary, he lost his life “following a long battle with anxiety and depression.”
When I was in seminary, I took a class in pastoral care. The professor described there being two types of illnesses in the world: “sanctioned” and “unsanctioned.”
Sanctioned illnesses might be the type of sickness that we might feel comfortable talking about during coffee hours such as colds, flu, arthritis, heart conditions or other conditions of the body. Unsanctioned illnesses such as depression and anxiety, we often try to sweep under the rug within the church. People sometimes assume that such mental illnesses are brought about by insufficient faith.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIH), nearly 1 in 5 American adults struggle with mental illness. The numbers are even higher among our youth and have been rising within the last few decades.
Part of the stigma with mental illness had to do when it’s understood to merely be those affected by psychosis disorders like schizophrenia whose sufferers seem disconnected from reality. The majorities of those afflicted like Daniel Olson go to school, hold down jobs, and might even be active within a church.
Depression and mental illness have been something that has affected my own family. My grandfather, Kermit, had been married for nearly 30 years; was successful in the real estate and insurance business; had a house on the lake; served on the call committee at church; was considered the life of the party wherever he went; and was serving as the mayor of Lindstrom.
One night in 1974, Kermit went out on a boat with a gun and took his own life. The effect of his death still heavily influences family dynamics nearly 45 years after his passing. I hope that people seek help for whatever issues they’re facing for not only the sake of their loved ones, but ultimately their well-being.
The good news is that we have resources within the community that can support people struggling with mental health. The Lake County Health and Human Services website has a directory of services which lists confidential mental health resources within the area.
If someone you knew with a broken bone, you would never tell them they should refuse treatment so that they may be “tough.” Statements like “cheer up” or even “pray harder” would be unhelpful. It works the same way with mental health. The good news is there are potential treatments options upon the North Shore for those who are hurting.
We are broken people living within a broken world. We often fight battles against both earthly and spiritual forces that we struggle to name. The good news as Christian people is that our hope goes beyond the things that we can see on this day. The Resurrection promises us that the future shall indeed be better than the past; the Resurrection does not promise us through life without either physical or mental anguish in the present.