Every once in awhile, a Saturday Night Live cast member will give voice to an issue in a way that moves beyond hilarity and begins a striking dialogue. Such was the case with Pete Davidson, who opened up on a recent episode about his recent diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, mixing dark humor with truth about the reality of depression.
During the show’s Weekend Update segment, the 23-year-old describes, in an almost confessional way, his ongoing struggle with depression. His matter-of-fact handling of mental illness is refreshing. He normalizes his situation, appropriately placing it among physically or outwardly manifesting illnesses. He also provides a few quick pieces of advice for those who believe they might be suffering from depression but are as of yet undiagnosed: “If you think you are depressed, you know, see a doctor and talk to them about medication, and also be healthy. Eating right and exercise can make a huge difference.” He proves himself credible and relatable, but true to form, Davidson then launches into a self-deprecating, darkly humorous bit about how more air time on SNL would “help” with his depression, creating an awkwardly hilarious atmosphere for the rest of the segment.
As I watched, I was struck by the bravery it must have taken for him to speak so boldly and publicly about such a stigmatized illness. Although comedy and his hell-if-I-care veneer can act as armor, I didn’t get the feeling that Davidson was greatly disconnected. On the contrary, he seemed raw, unfiltered, and genuine. And this made me think about the opportunities we in the Church have to reach out to those similarly suffering from mental illness. When a hurting, broken individual, especially a longtime church member, finds themselves in the throes of depression, anxiety, or the like, do we fully meet their needs or treat them as primarily spiritually ill? Are they forced to the fringes of the pews? Do they hang out on the periphery during Bible study or fellowship times?
The Church must focus on whole-person health. So often we play up spiritual traits and disciplines like joy, peace, patience, and long-suffering, but depression and other forms of mental illness can directly affect the apparent presence of these fruits in our lives. As the body of Christ, we must recognize depression as a legitimate illness and provide resources and counsel so that individuals will feel comfortable and supported in seeking out appropriate medical care.
The Church must focus on whole-person health.
Depression is more common in women than it is in men. I fear that this has led to a stigma-within-a-stigma, especially for Christians. If depression is already stigmatized, a taboo topic, then how much more stigmatized must it be for Christian men—those strong, faithful leaders who are expected to be steady, unwavering, and tough? Where can men (the Pete Davidsons) fit into this conversation? A quick Google search reveals many Christian-authored books written especially for women on the topic of depression, but there seems to be a dearth of this sort of literature for men.
John Piper’s perspective gives me hope in this area. He writes, “We are body and soul, and our bodies can play tricks on us and wreak havoc with our minds and our spirits. If we were sitting together, I’d probably ask you about sleep habits and exercise habits and eating and so on. There’s so many ways that we can be depleted, and it feels spiritual when it has physical roots as well.” He responds as church leaders should.
Depression is real; many of us suffer from it and are silent. The Church is the perfect setting for those who are suffering to come for counsel, be surrounded by prayer, and encouraged to seek out appropriate medical help. When we cultivate a compassionate culture, where the hurting can find help and a haven, we as the Church are being the hands and feet of Christ, continuing a conversation modeled in the unlikeliest of places: Saturday Night Live.