Friday, May 22, 2020 : By Erika Frantzve, Falkirk Fellow
From Van Gogh to Adele, you’ll hear the consistent theme that many artists’ most notable masterpieces were born out of the darkest moments in their life. As we acknowledge mental health awareness this month, I can’t help but also recognize how this topic has unfortunately become a redefined pawn in the chess game of cultural narratives.
In Marie Claire summer edition magazine, Dakota Johnson addressed her battle with depression and said, “That was when, with the help of professionals, I was like, ‘Oh, this is a thing I can fall into.’ But I’ve learned to find it (depression) beautiful because I feel the world.”
After reading Johnson’s statement above, one might ask how depression can be beautiful. To use a common business term, looking at this from 30,000 feet, I understand what Johnson is saying, and I commend her for vulnerably sharing her battle with depression. She found a way to turn a negative into a positive and is looking at her moment of “falling into depression” as a beautiful opportunity to feel the world around her.
It’s not the depression itself that is beautiful. It’s the fact that she’s able to feel the world she is immersed in on a different level.
Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but where this becomes a fine line is creating a romanticized idolatry around depression. We cannot place our expectation of hope and a transcendent experience in anything other than Jesus Christ.
As human beings, we have a multitude of complexities, and each one of us processes life’s happenings in different theological and philosophical ways. Unfortunately, Hollywood tends to glamorize issues that can initiate the pendulum swing from the stigmatization of depression and mental health to one of glorification. This is especially true in the world we find ourselves in today with COVID-19 spiking the suicide prevention hotline by 800%.
Epidemiological circumstances aside, mental health issues today have been closely associated with social media usage. According to a study from Child Mind Institute, teenagers and young adult users who spend a large amount of their time on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook were shown to have a substantially (from 13 to 66 %) higher rate of reported depression than those who spent less time on social media.
I have witnessed firsthand the battle scars mental health disorders can leave on the hearts of those in the fight. What some might define as beautiful, others define as anything but that. As we navigate through these traps that can take our mental health captive, it’s imperative to set boundaries and return to Scripture when the lines of emotions and feelings blur our minds.
As Christians, we are called to live an abundant life (John 10:10) and it is with the mind that we serve and obey God’s law.
If you find yourself in this mental battleground, hold tightly to the Scriptures that talk about joy. There’s a difference between joy and happiness and an expectation for one sometimes creates a lack in the other and leads to disappointment.
Joy is a strong emotion based on a result of an individual’s spiritual inner-peace and grounded satisfaction in Christ. On the other hand, happiness is a “feeling” and a response to an external force that brings gratification to the individual. Joy is internally linked with the Holy Spirit, while happiness is based on a circumstantial external source. More often than not, joy is attached to a moral attribution, while happiness is linked to a more materialistic one.
What is beautiful about choosing joy over happiness is that joy is long-lasting while happiness is inconsistent and fleeting.
So, if I can offer any words of encouragement as we walk through this mental health awareness month, know that you’re not alone. Take courage. Just because someone might label their depression as beautiful, doesn’t mean you have to as well. Don’t be afraid to confide in someone, a counselor, a pastor, a priest or a trusted friend. True beauty is to be found in overcoming the battle, through the power of prayer, Christ-centered community and God’s Word.