The Costs and Blessings of Depression: Freedom, Part I

People diagnosed with depression are roughly three times more likely than the general population to commit violent crimes such as robbery, sexual offenses and assault. This is the conclusion of a widely published 2015 Swedish study conducted by the Oxford University psychiatry department. The latest figures for the U.S.A. put the percentage between two and four percent. An article, Jailing People with Mental Illness, published by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) states that “Nearly 15 percent of men and 30 percent of women booked into jails have a serious mental health condition.” Caring for the mentally ill in America’s state and federal prisons has become a national health crisis.

The following is a story of one such man who went to jail for committing crimes while seriously mentally ill. Here is his story in his own words:

Depression was always a part of my life from the time I was a youth. It was never very serious, but there were days when it was hard to cope. In my 39th year things changed. I was diagnosed with clinical depression, severe, recurrent. My life took a radical turn.

I was pastoring a wonderful congregation in the Midwest. The church had grown by nearly 50 percent in three years. More people meant more responsibility, but I loved it. The congregation had voted to purchase 15 acres for a new campus and we were talking about going to two services. God was so good and life was fulfilling for my family and me. And then, I became deeply depressed and it lingered on for days, months, years.

Despondency overtook me. The temptation to complete suicide was a battle I waged every day for the next four and a half years. Medication, and the belief that suicide is a sin, kept me alive. My family struggled with uncertainty and the presence of a body that looked like their father and husband, but could not function like one. My marriage took a hit from which it never recovered. I tried counseling, but when the counselor said, “Maybe God is finished with you,” I became angry and quit. Later, I tried intense counseling over a three-week period. Although it helped, it was too little too late to save my ministry. I resigned soon thereafter.

Forced into the secular job market, I was poorly prepared for the disdain the secular world held for my Master’s of Divinity degree and the executive and educational experience I gained from 21 years in the ministry. I was desperate. My wife took a full time job for the first time in our 20 year marriage. After consulting with her, I began to cast wider and wider circles in an attempt to find a job. But, when I found a hot prospect that required us to move, she put the brakes on.

We argued. I was moody and hard to live with. Our marriage was falling apart and I was helpless to stop it. She re-prioritized her life; I was near the bottom. The day before Father’s Day she told me that when we vacated the parsonage she was going her own way and I was not invited. Our separation was short, but our marriage was essentially over.

At last we decided to return to the southern states from whence we came. Housing was available and friends were there to help. My family was safe for the moment. My wife was quickly hired into a new job and a friend helped me to find a job that appreciated my skills. We prospered in our employment. She spent more and more time at her work and so did I. I went to saying I was number 25 on her list of priorities and she did not object. Communication failed between us. The harder I tried to repair the breach the worse things became. I became an angry man.

Eventually, the depression dissipated. I was able to go off my medication for a couple of months. There were several promotions at work and I went back to school for a second master’s degree. Then, the bottom fell out again. Within six weeks I had four major, negative life events. One morning I sat up on the side of the bed preparing to go to work when I burst into tears and could not stop crying. My wife rallied to my side and tried to be helpful and compassionate. I tried to cope on my own, but eventually had to go to the hospital. It was my first hospitalization and lasted for 10 days. I experienced two severe episodes of catalepsy while there. (Catalepsy is characterized by a lack of muscle response, a stupor. One is not unaware, but unable to respond.) It was not the first time, but by far the worst.  A dark side appeared that I did not know existed within me when a doctor failed to recognize I was in a catatonic state and treated me very rudely. When I “awoke” I went after him, but stopped short of attacking him.

When I returned to work they demoted me and stripped me of my responsibility as a supervisor. To say the least it was hard to accept. I had taken a department that was weak, underutilized, and losing money; expanded it, hired more employees, and showed a profit for the first time in several years. Upon my demotion they split my department into three units and hired three people to take my place. Things at home began to disintegrate, too. After an initial show of support my wife withdrew from me more and more. I became angrier and was very difficult to live with.

Our home environment became very hostile. I practically got on my knees again and again and begged my wife to change the culture in our home. She ignored me. At a time when I needed order and structure, she became more disordered and unstructured than ever before. Although she was never a good housekeeper, she grew worse and the house became unlivable. I tried to help, but I could not keep up. On one particular weekend I was home alone and decided to give the house a thorough cleaning. It was spotless, ordered, and neat. Within ten minutes of her return it did not look like I had done a thing. I gave up. Eventually, I went to work, came home, and went to bed. My depression grew deeper to the point that I withdrew from all social contact, including church.

As the depression worsened I found myself crying on my way to work, in between clients, and on my way home. Suicidal ideations returned forcefully. I checked myself into the hospital for the second time. During the eight day stay, my wife visited me once. By the end of the week after returning home she asked me to leave. Little did I know that our separation would last four years.

(Watch for more of the story next week.)