Mental illnesses like depression are often misunderstood and surrounded by stigma. So perhaps it’s no surprise that renowned journalist Jane Clayson Johnson begins her book on depression with this dedication: “So my children will understand.” Understanding depression is a theme throughout "Silent Souls Weeping: Depression, Sharing Stories, Finding Hope," and it is a struggle Johnson appreciates herself from personal experience.
Throughout the book, she shares her own journey with the illness as she draws upon the stories of more than 150 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints she interviewed as part of the project.
The result is a comprehensive tool for those who struggle with depression to discover they are not alone. It is also a solid starting point for those who want to understand more about how mental illnesses like depression affect every aspect of a person’s life, including the spiritual. There are chapters dedicated to different milestones in the lifespan — for instance, how depression factors into a young adult’s mission or a mom’s postpartum experiences — and also information for those who care about and want to help a loved one who is struggling.
One of the things that stands out from beginning to end of Johnson’s book is the importance of recognizing how dangerous isolation can be for the person who is depressed. Breaking that isolation happens when those who suffer share their stories, talk about their pain and put words to the darkness they feel. So, while medication and therapy are key in treating depression, so too are interaction, love and sharing. It is in sharing stories — and listening to others’ stories — that people who struggle with depression can find some relief as they realize they are not alone. That relief then acts as a force to propel individuals to get help — and then to help others, when they are able.
As Johnson tells her own story and those of others, she creates an opening for candid discussions about this disease and a place where anyone can feel safe in revealing how they have struggled. Another great gift of Johnson’s book is that it doesn’t just help readers understand how to think about depression.
It also helps them understand how to act. Johnson models love and compassion in her conversations with others, showing what it means to be Jesus’ hands and heart in the world. Jesus, after all, extended care to those who were vulnerable or sick or afraid or in pain. He offered hope, and he offered companionship. Christians today can live the same way, offering support, compassion and solidarity while also uniting with one another to wipe out the stigma of depression.
Johnson encourages readers to practice living like Jesus, being true neighbors to one another, neighbors who are willing to witness suffering and offer the kind of healing that comes from companionship and living shared experiences. Individuals willing to listen may not be able to cure someone’s depression, but they can still make a difference by being a companion on the journey.Comment on this story
"Silent Souls Weeping" is a tremendous resource for people of faith who are deep in the trenches of the multifaceted dimensions of depression, especially its spiritual dimensions. Johnson doesn’t shy away from discussing tough topics such as a culture of toxic perfectionism that many feel is endemic to some parts of religion, or the epidemic that suicide has become in this country — particularly among young people in Utah. Through her writing she tells the honest, raw stories of Latter-day Saints from all walks and stages of life. In doing so, she calls on all of us to be more like Jesus — to be a source of solidarity in suffering and a witness that hope can emerge in the darkest of places.