The young man waited anxiously in the exam room for the doctor to come deliver the news. Weeks of blood tests, exams, disturbing symptoms, and unanswered questions left him and his family at the end of their rope, desperate for a plan that led away from dark place they were headed.

His father, persistent in his strength, like the bright white exam lights above, assured his family “this is making us stronger.” Consistently speaking hope and life, but deep down questioning his own ability to carry his family through this painful season.  His mother, held her 17 year old boy with tense affection.  Reminiscent of the days of him as a newborn when she swaddled him with “mama-bear” unconditional love.

After what felt eternal, the oncologist walked back in with a professional, yet somber glaze across his face.  He knew even though this particular diagnosis was a simple fix, most individuals didn’t survive…

“We got the report back and it’s what we thought…young man, you have cancer.  It’s quite advanced.  But the good news is, with aggressive chemo and intense social support, you have a 100% of survival.  But if you do not have those things, you will die.”

Even though the doctor made it clear the boys’ chance of survival was high, his words seemed to steal the air from everyone’s lungs. The strong stoic father was the first to cry.  He couldn’t contain his grief.  He thought back to the years of anguish he and his bride felt when they journeyed through the season of infertility.  Their boy was the answer to so many years of prayer.  And even though the husband and wife dreamt of more children together, they had settled it in their heart long ago that they were going to be thankful for the one son they were able to have.  But in an instant, with the very mention of the disease, all the gratitude went away.  The boys parents were already showing evidence of the doctors fears… that despite how simple the solution was… many, did not survive this diagnosis.

When he returned to school to make plans for how they would handle his education, he was stunned over how differently people treated him.  All of a sudden, his friends, coaches, and teachers looked down their noses at him.  Disgusted over his existence.  His best friend of ten years walked up to him, and said “I don’t think we can be friends anymore….You’re different now.”  Jarred over the sudden rejection, he stumbled out into the courtyard where he overheard the chuckles of the cheerleading squad laughing over how he was such a “wuss” for getting cancer.  Barb after barb hurling itself into his soul.  “Guess he couldn’t hack it…He’s so sensitive.”  Their mocks wounding his will to fight the disease.

As he walked down the hallway wiping tears from his eyes, he noticed his lacrosse coach down the hall.  As he approached his hero, eager for affirmation, the coach looked at him, shook his head and muttered under his breath, “I hate you…You’re such a coward.”

That was the final straw.  He walked into the bathroom and wept.  Overcome with shame.  He hated himself for getting cancer.  And even though it wasn’t his fault, he still managed to convince himself that if he was just a little stronger, he wouldn’t have gotten this disease.  He dropped out of his treatment program, and just like the doctor said, the disease took him.

Six months later, the community gathered together for the boy’s funeral.  Cancer had won.  And despite the simplicity of his recovery, he proved everyone right.  He was in fact…a failure.

A Different Type of Cancer

It’s disturbing to read something like this isn’t it?  How on earth could people treat this boy so terribly?  All he needed was some support and some medication, and he would have gone on to live a happy and successful life.  But because of how he was treated by people who didn’t understand it, he shrunk away from what he needed to survive, and his life was taken.

What you may not realize, is this is exactly what happens to people with depression EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Depression is not a lack of character, choice, will-power, or strength.   It isn’t as simple as just “praying a little harder to make it stop.”  It’s a complex disorder brought on by a multitude of causes such as genes, trauma, and environment.  People do not have control over it.  And while we would never say such horrible things to people who have the disease of cancer, we believe them to be true about people with the disease of depression!  Because we do not understand the disease, we make the fight for millions of people far more difficult than it needs to be.  Driving them deeper into isolation, substance abuse, and darkness.

This is the first of a mini-series I am doing on my blog regarding mental health.  I believe mental health might be the most pressing issue of our time.  The reason is, because I believe it is the underlying sickness that causes so many of the symptoms of pain we see throughout our world.

Mentally healthy people don’t abandon their children.  Mentally healthy people don’t abuse their loved ones.  And mentally healthy people don’t shoot up schools.

Just like anything else, awareness and education, are the only way we see change. People who are battling mental health problems need your compassion to break their “type of cancer.”  Their brains do not function like yours do.  And because of that, they act different, abuse substances, and hurt people.

If you, or someone you love, has ever battled a mental health problem (depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, social withdrawal, or addiction), subscribe and share this with them.  America needs greater education regarding mental health if we want to decrease the pain our great nation is in.

Be a bridge and break the stigma.

Here’s to loving the process,