[dropcap type=”4″]F[/dropcap]ew were aware that actor Robin Williams battled mental illness for years. He was found dead Aug. 11 at his home in Northern California from an apparent suicide.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 10 American adults struggle with depression.
Left untreated, thousands fall into hopelessness and decide to end their lives. There were 39,518 suicides in the United States in 2011, and suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the last decade.
Kelley Orr, a single mother of four adult sons, has fought depression for years. After her husband left her and she lost a child, Orr was plunged into a valley of grief. She’s been fighting her way out ever since.
In spite of her symptoms, she managed to go to school and complete a degree in social work, wanting desperately to make a difference in the world.
For two and a half years, she threw herself into her profession, but then developed fibromyalgia. Eighteen months ago, the chronic pain and depression became so serious that her doctor put her on disability. Although it’s been difficult, Orr has never given up hope.
“You have to reach out,” Orr said, “because if you don’t, you get very isolated — you start feeling like you don’t want to be here.”
These days, it’s the heartache over a son’s addiction that threatens to crush her spirit. On bad days, it’s hard to speak without breaking down. She’s been on anti-depressant medication and has been going to counseling. That helps, she said, but there’s also a spiritual dimension to her fight.
“I ask God to help every day, help me know what I need to do,” Orr said. When she prays, the name of a friend will usually pop into her mind. “If I’m really down, I’ll call that person and ask if they can talk to me for five or 10 minutes. Sometimes that’s all I need is for somebody to listen.”
Fr. John Greb, parochial vicar at St. Timothy Parish in Mesa, has listened to the heartaches of those who struggle with depression for years.
“I think the people who believe that if you’re a strong Catholic, you shouldn’t deal with depression have kind of an idealized view of life here on earth,” Fr. Greb said. “The Lord said twice in the Gospel, that if you want to follow Me, pick up your cross. We struggle.”
Revelations that Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta suffered from deep interior sadness caught the world by surprise back in 2007. Many have referred to her struggles as an example of the “dark night of the soul” as described by renown mystic and doctor of the Church, St. John of the Cross.
“Probably no one else is closer to the Lord than the saints,” Fr. Greb said. “And if they’ve dealt with it, we are in good company when we struggle.”
Search for meaning
Nikki Westby, a licensed professional counselor who offers counseling at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, said that depression is a complex issue, but can have a spiritual component to it.
“It kind of comes down to that question, why do we suffer? That’s a question we all have to address at some point in our lives, whether it’s depression or something else that happens that’s very difficult,” Westby said. Oftentimes, it comes down to the search for meaning.
Dr. Maria Chavira, chancellor of the Diocese of Phoenix, taught psychology for years at Mesa Community College. One thing she told her students was that “psyche,” the root word for psychology, means soul. Psychology, Dr. Chavira said, began as a search for the soul. In an increasingly secularized society, she noted, many seem to have lost sight of that.
“When we look at the spiritual component — who it is that you are as a child of God — that’s what we’re searching for,” Dr. Chavira said. “When you understand that and you really know what it means, it gives you a perspective. It’s like St. Augustine said: ‘Our hearts are restless until they rest in You, O Lord.’”
Although there is still a stigma attached to mental illness, people shouldn’t be afraid to reach out, Dr. Chavira said. Oftentimes, depressed people feel they are all alone in the world and that no one understands.
“You need to remind yourself that you are not alone. God is there,” Dr. Chavira said.
Westby and Fr. Greb agreed. Confession, spending time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and attending Mass can help a Catholic who is depressed. And while those things are good, they won’t necessarily relieve depression, Westby said.
“There is definitely a time in life when we need to seek help and we need a guide to help give us a perspective,” Westby said.
No matter how bad things get, Orr said she has always had a mustard seed of hope in her life and a passion to want to live in spite of the pain.
“I always think in the back of my mind that things are going to get better. God isn’t going to leave me,” Orr said.
Depression and Anxiety Support Group
When: 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesdays
Where: Franciscan Renewal Center, 5802 E. Lincoln Dr., Scottsdale
Info: (480) 948-7460; $10 suggested donation, but no one is turned away.[/quote_box_center]