With several high profile, celebrity suicides in the news recently, the topic of depression has rightfully received a lot of attention in the news media. Many mainstream news outlets have covered stories about the rise in the US suicide rate. The Economist recently reported a 25% increase in suicides in just the last two decades. Antidepressant prescription use soared by nearly 65% in roughly the same time period.
Clearly, something is amiss in our society for us to be experiencing this public health crisis. Many within the medical field are weighing in on the root causes and possible solutions. But what if, at least in some cases, depression is rooted in unforgiveness, and not a chemical imbalance or other mental illness?
A Painful History
I’m a survivor of sexual violence. And while that was certainly one of the most devastating events of my life, it was the resulting bitterness that nearly put me in an early grave. Unfortunately, my experience was not unusual: my credibility was questioned when I reported the incident, charges were never filed, and I was forced to finish out my college career attending classes with my assailant.
I didn’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with my assault and the resulting aftermath. Though I did initially seek out counseling through my school’s resources, I found sitting in a group session listening to others’ experiences of pain and devastation unbearable. I couldn’t deal with my own situation, much less support anyone else through theirs. So, after that first session, I never went back. Doing my best to pretend like nothing ever happened, I buried that experience into the depths of my heart and mind.
Throwing myself into my school work had an immediate effect and unexpected payoff. My grades went up – way up. Graduating with a triple major, I landed my dream job, and went on with living my life…or so I thought. Turns out I wasn’t actually living at all. I was an emotional zombie.
Missing the Signs
Most of my early twenties is a blur. Emotionally numb and socially isolated, I was severely depressed. However, I never recognized the signs of depression in myself, and I doubt anyone else did either. One major warning sign was that I actually refused to cry for years…for any reason. I didn’t allow myself to make an external show of sadness, believing at the time that it was a sign of weakness.
A depressed person, in my estimation, would be curled up in a dark room, huddled in a corner, holding themselves tight or rocking back and forth balling their eyes out. A depressed person couldn’t hack it in the real world (or so I thought). They certainly wouldn’t be thriving in a fast-paced, high-stressed corporate position or quickly moving up the ranks at work, right? Wrong.
A lot of people seem to be just fine from the outside looking in – I know that for a fact because I was one of those people…until the day I wasn’t. For me, the veil was lifted in slow motion and I finally recognized that I needed professional help.
A Shocking Realization
The veil began to lift beginning with what I thought was an inane comment to my manager. I remember telling her shortly after arriving
On the way home that evening I kept thinking about what she had said. Could I be depressed? I just couldn’t reconcile my idea of what depression looked like with my life at the time. Well, God works in mysterious ways because when I got home I found a magazine from my health insurance company in my mailbox. The front cover had a title emblazoned across the front that read “The Top 10 Signs of Depression”.
Even as I quickly thumbed through the pages to read what the signs were, I kept repeating to myself, “but, I’m not depressed. I’m not depressed. I’m not depressed”. Then reality hit me right between the eyes. Immediately after finishing the article, I picked up the phone and requested pre-authorization for mental health services.
Depression Rooted in Unforgiveness
My first session with the psychologist with which I scheduled my appointment was memorable. As soon as she asked me why I had come in to see her that day the
I’m not against medication for people who need it. I just knew in my heart I wasn’t that person. In my heart, I knew the root of my problem was the anger, shame, bitterness, and unforgiveness that I had been holding on to like a security blanket for years. Medication was not going to address those problems, so I politely declined her prescription, and promptly left her office.
I eventually found my way into the office of a Christian counselor. That’s when the hard work of processing all those stored hurts truly began. It was a slow process. It was an emotionally painful process too. But using only the truth and wisdom found in God’s word, my counselor walked with me on a journey of healing and forgiveness. With his help, I was able to unlock the doors of the prison that I had erected around my own heart because I had refused to forgive.
Some years later, I’d come to learn that there had been physical consequences to my unforgiveness as well, but I’ll save that story for another time.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
If there is one truth that has stayed with me from my time in counseling, it’s this…
“The act of forgiveness is a blessing as much to the forgiver as it is to the forgiven.”
Once I fully grasped that concept, it placed the parable that Jesus taught about the unforgiving servant in a whole new light. Like that servant, because I refused to forgive the real and very legitimate debt of another, I became a literal prisoner – not only in a physical sense, but in an emotional and psychological sense as well.
Forgiveness does not mean that we condone whatever wrong we have endured. It means that we will not be enslaved to a spirit of bitterness because of it. I wasted a lot of years being locked up in an emotional prison, and I still bear the marks of it in my body.
Thanks to God, he handed me the set of keys I needed to free myself through obedience to his word, and today I walk freely as a liberated woman.
Now, I’d like to hear from you.
Does my personal story connecting depression with unforgiveness resonate with you?
If so, I’d like to encourage you to seek out godly counsel so that you too can experience the true emotional freedom and healing that is available in Christ.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: DALILA JONES STITZ
Founder and CEO, Health Insurrection LLC
Dalila is a native Houstonian and currently lives in Switzerand with her husband and two kids. She received her health coach training through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and Hallelujah Acres and teaches in-home bible studies and online courses.