Silence is golden, or so they say. However, in some cases, silence can also be quite deadly.
Growing up under the rule of a strict Ghanaian father, I was taught that some things were better left unsaid. So, even as a young child, I knew how to keep quiet about them. Because of this, I ended up withdrawing within myself and began to be known as a quiet and reserved child.
As I got older, silence — though a familiar friend — was also a threatening force. This was especially so in my teenage years, when I started to experience many depressive episodes. While I did make efforts to seek help, they were to no avail.
One day, I opened up about my struggles to a group of girls whom I considered to be within my close-knit circle of friends in high school. Unfortunately, once I did, I became exposed to their scrutiny and condemnation, which only led me deeper into my cocoon of isolation.
The long stretch of silence that followed as a result of my friends’ subsequent absence slowly began to kill me. When my cries appeared to go unanswered, I began to lose my grip on myself. My faith no longer possessed any meaning for me. The more the gulf of silence widened, the more my emotional health started to decline. Not feeling as if there was anyone I could really turn to, I started to entertain thoughts of taking my own life.
For those who battle a mental illness on a daily basis, silence often hinders, rather than aids, them along the path to recovery. Due to the stigma often associated with depression and other mental illnesses, many suffer in silence. According to Teen Help, which provides information to teens and parents on adolescent issues, less than 33 per cent of teens get help. Yet, 80 per cent could be successfully treated.
What is often needed in such cases is a support network to affirm them and provide a non-judgmental forum where they can be free to openly communicate their deepest fears and concerns.
Unfortunately, because of the fact that such a space is hardly ever encouraged (even in church circles), many times a lot of those dealing with depression find it uncomfortable to tell people what is truly in their hearts. In other cases, they are prevented from doing so because those within their circles are not equipped to provide the counsel and support they need.
Because of the nature of mental illness, many people don’t know what to say and so end up saying either even more hurtful things or nothing at all. At times, their body language may reveal their discomfort and lack of empathy. What they fail to realize is that by responding in this way, people speak a message that is hurtful. Subtly and indirectly, they are actually saying they don’t care enough to reach past barriers that may be in the way.
The danger of silence can also reveal itself in the way we treat those who have a mental illness. For instance, we may exclude them from church fellowships and activities or lessen the amount of time we socialize with them. These are all forms of silent treatment.
The fact is, no matter how discouraging an exchange with individuals battling a mental illness may be, I do not suggest losing touch with or further distancing yourself from them (although its important to keep in mind your own state of being upon your interactions: You are no good to anyone if you are not first good to yourself). Instead, I would recommend you persist in efforts to reach them. In doing so, you may end up saving a life.
When you feel tempted to engage in isolating behaviors, just think … what would Jesus do? We have to make more of an effort to reach others where they are (mental illness or not) and remind them that there is a God who loves and cares for them. Today is the day we need to start tearing down the walls of silence in our homes and communities.
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If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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