The March for Life is today! Eight hundred thousand people are gathering in Washington, D.C., to walk in memory of the unborn, in protest of a societal injustice, and in hope for a brighter future. And march they should.
But being pro-life doesn’t stop at birth. The idea that a human life is only worthy if it’s wanted, healthy, happy and whole pervades our society. This notion is dangerous not only for the unborn and elderly. It has terrifying implications for the millions of Americans who suffer from depression. So how can we challenge the Culture of Death for those who have mood disorders? Here are three easy suggestions you can put into practice today.
1. Refuse to Walk Away
Depression sufferers aren’t exactly little rays of sunshine. They’re often sad, pessimistic and hard to approach. They tend to push family and friends away from them and have a markedly negative outlook on life. In short, they’re not very fun to be around. The prevailing pop culture suggests that we rid our lives of this type of person. Take a scroll through your Facebook newsfeed sometime and look at the memes to see what I mean:
“Once you let go of negative people, positive ones appear.”
“Protect your spirit from contamination. Limit your time with negative people.”
“Avoid negative people, for they are the greatest destroyers of self-confidence and self-esteem.”
“Life becomes easier when you delete the negative people from it!”
These sentiments are nothing but New-Agey bassackwardsness, anti-Christian and anti-life. As Catholics, we are commanded in the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy to both “comfort the sorrowing” and “visit the sick.” This means deliberately reaching out to those who might not be the life of the party. Depression is an illness that causes the soul to curl in on itself—sufferers desire to spend more and more time alone, which amplifies their loneliness and negativity and causes their condition to become worse and worse. It’s only when someone refuses to let them be lonely that the cycle can begin to break. So it might not be fun or affirming to hang out with someone who views the glass as half-empty, but it’s sanctifying and life-saving work, for us and for them.
2. Love Gently
Imagine using a loofah on a third-degree burn.
This is what sarcasm, teasing and tough love feel like to the most thin-skinned of all people, the depression sufferer.
We are rarely gentle in contemporary American society. We’re outgoing, outspoken, brash, crass and apt to interact with each other using a social code that allows put-downs and biting irony as acceptable forms of discourse. But this code breaks down when talking with someone who has a mood disorder. When we tell our healthy friend, “Get out of your pajamas, you lazy bum!” he knows exactly what we mean. He’ll chuckle, maybe stick out his tongue or flip the bird, and the conversation will continue. When we say the same thing to a depressed or anxious friend, no matter how well we mean, we could send her into a tailspin of self-loathing for hours. Same goes for common bits of advice like, “Just think positive,” “Suck it up,” or “You have a lot to be grateful for.”
Mood disorders are diseases of the mind, so stop and think how your words might be received by those whose perception itself is ill. Be straightforward, loving, soft-spoken and above all, gentle. This will help a loved one slowly rebuild a thicker skin and healthier perception until they’re ready for our abrasive society once again. If you question the effectiveness of this approach, don’t take it from me. The great St. Francis de Sales, Bishop and mystic, said, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”
3. Fight for Life
Euthanasia and assisted suicide creep into the news more and more frequently with each passing year, especially as they become commonly accepted in many Western European countries. It can be tempting for Christians to put this issue on the back-burner, especially when we read about the terminally ill who want to end their lives peacefully and quickly as a way of ending their pain. We may understand or empathize with their desires, but we must fight the normalization of suicide anyway.
The life of our depressed friend, who also wants to end her pain peacefully and quickly, is at stake. This is not an exaggeration. Suicidal thoughts and self-harm are the hallmarks of severe depression. In 2014, more than 42,000 people succeeded in killing themselves, and a quarter of a million tried. More people killed themselves than were murdered by others, and among people ages 15-24, suicide was the second leading cause of death. *
It’s dissonant and disheartening to urge the mentally ill, bullied and downtrodden that their pain-filled lives matter, that “Life is Good” and “It Gets Better,” then turn around and cheer those who “bravely” and “courageously” choose to end their lives because of their pain. Profound mental and physical pain are differently experienced, but one is not worse than the other. They are equally painful. So societal support for suicide, even for the terminally ill, adds another layer of pressure and confusion to the already clouded thoughts of those with mood disorders. It’s hard to resist ending your own life when your brain tells you you’re worthless, your body tells you to give up, and your soul can barely speak at all. It’s even harder when you imagine someone out there might support your decision.
So write your Congressman urging him to resist legislation permitting assisted suicide. Click away from news articles and media that glorify death. Gently but firmly explain your position to anyone who asks. And take as your mandate this Scripture from Proverbs 24:11-12: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who guards your life know it? Will He not repay everyone according to what they have done?”
Depression is a pro-life issue. So whether you’re Marching for Life in D.C. today or fighting the good fight at home, pause, and say a prayer for your brother or sister with depression. Every day is a march for life for them, a struggle against death itself.
*All statistics found at SAVE.ORG (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education)