Growing up as a Christian, I learned valuable concepts like self-love, community service, selflessness, the power of prayer and forgiveness. One of the biggest lessons I learned in church and from my family was about the power of the tongue. Through scripture, I understood the importance of speaking positivity about my life in order to make my dreams become my reality.
While I attribute many successes to the morals and values I developed through Christianity, “speaking positively” all the time became pretty difficult for me. I started battling depression and anxiety at the age of 12. I often felt on edge and I was in a constant state of worry. I battled with suicidal thoughts, but I didn’t know those were signs of my mental illness. So I went undiagnosed for 13 years. In my experience, I noticed through the years many black Christians were uneducated about mental illness. So, they do not realize how detrimental their words could be.
Here are some of the hurtful things folks said to me:
1.“You are speaking it into existence.”
In other words, some folks told me I was “giving” myself depression and anxiety by saying I was depressed. I was told I was in a constant state of worry due to my depression and anxiety disorder. For a long time, I was terrified to say I was depressed and worried at all. This was incredibly damaging to me because I could no longer express myself, and I suffered in silence. It does not mean I am speaking depression into existence by saying I am depressed. Rather, it is my reality.
2. “Worrying shows a lack of faith.”
I hated hearing this because it constantly forced me to question my faith, and it made me think something was wrong with me. I heard this more than 50 times last year during sermons. The scripture Matthew 6:25-26 (NIV) comes to mind, “Therefore, I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food and clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
At times, that scripture reassured me that I would be OK, but there were also moments when my anxiety disorder got the best of me. Some days, it was impossible for my mind to go blank without worry. Now that I am in therapy, I have learned coping strategies to bring my mind back to a calm state. In the past, I did not have the tools I have now. When someone said I did not have faith, it intensified my episode because I could not control my anxiety. What I have learned is I have a disorder and it has absolutely nothing to do with my faith.
3. “You need to pray about it.”
So you may ask, “What is wrong with this statement?” Well, everyone automatically assumes I haven’t been praying for myself and/or about my illness. I am fully aware of the power of prayer and I believe in it. However, this statement was hurtful to me because I have been praying for years about my thoughts and emotions, and the prayers didn’t make it better.
Keep in mind this is not to say that my prayers have not been answered. Many of them have! I am referring to my mental illness, in this case. When I mentioned it to people, they often gave me an automatic and insensitive response, “It will happen on God’s time.” People were so busy telling me to pray that it never occurred to anyone that God could have been telling me to seek professional help. In my experience, I find Christians can be so deep in spirituality they become out of touch with reality. I was never asked, “Have you gone to see a psychiatrist or therapist?” God gives us wisdom. Sometimes this means using your resources (seeing a doctor, taking medication and going to therapy).
4. “Suicide will send you to hell.”
This statement frustrated me because it was drilled into my head, even as a child. Considering I began struggling with suicidal thoughts since I was a child, I feared I would go to hell. My thoughts did not stop until I took medication 12 years later. I do not know why suicide is considered one of the ultimate sins in the black church. “Thou shall not kill,” is one of the Ten Commandments. 1 Corinthians 6:20 says, “For you were bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” With this scripture, many people argue if you have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide, then you are not glorifying God.
This statement made my illness worse. It made me pull away from the black Christian community because I felt judged and misunderstood. Instead of saying suicide will send me to hell, perhaps encourage me to seek professional help so I can receive treatment and get the proper treatment.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.