I started a blog post about the statistics of sexual assault and suicide and mental illness to highlight the suffering that goes unseen in our world. I don’t think I can go into that kind of detail.
If you want statistics, here are links for you:
For now I am going to keep it simple. If you are in a room with 5 people, at the very least one of you has been affected personally by one or more of those. If you are all women then it is probably better than half of you.
As a minister, and in the past working at colleges, I have had a lot of people tell me things they won’t tell anyone else. So the following are stories of people I know personally. Not just random people who came to me for help, but people I saw everyday, people with whom I was or am close.
I have known two women who have told me about being raped. One was on a date the other was wrestling with a cousin as a young teenager when he chose to pull her pants off. Neither wanted to have sex, neither was capable of stopping it. Neither ever told anyone other than me up to that point and in both cases it was years later. Why? Because they felt like they were partly to blame, which they were not, feeling as if they were only stronger, better, nicer etc. it would not have happened. Because they did not want to hurt the people that cared for them by burdening them with this horror. Because they knew it would make no difference if they did tell. Because in both cases the rapist acted like it was no big deal. Because talking about it was reliving it. In both cases these women suffered and continue to suffer.
I have known several people who have attempted suicide, and one went through with it. For those who attempted it they seemed utterly normal, but they hid hurt. None of them wanted to die, they just wanted to stop hurting. The girl who did commit suicide was someone I knew from long ago. She was the most beautiful girl in school, cheerleader, prom queen, popular. She grew up, got married, had kids. She dealt with cancer, but seemed to be past that. Then she died, unexpectedly. The story that went around was that maybe the cancer came back suddenly. I have some insight from various sources that it was deliberate. She chose to end her life. I cannot tell you why. I had only had the most passing contact with her in the last twenty or more years. I can tell you I remember being mean to her, she was popular and I was not, she was pretty and a bit of a ditz and I was smart. I did eventually get over that, and we were more friendly later; but I do wonder what would have happened if I or others had looked past the shell and been better to the person on the inside. Maybe nothing, but you never know.
Let me tell you about the person I know best with mental illness: me. Anxiety and depression have followed me all my life. Some other things as well. It was just not something that was addressed. When I did think about it I thought it was just me, that if I could better discipline myself and my thinking it would go away. Or I thought if I got treatment it would change who I was. I thought I could not admit to weakness. I was hurting, a lot, and I can look back on things in my life and say “that was the illness.” Telling me to get over it, to smile, to look on the bright side is not helpful. It was no more possible for me in depression to get over it than it is for a man with no legs to just walk it off or someone with cancer to just eat better and exercise more to be fine. It takes more than that. I have gotten help. Medication is your friend. I have talked to people and I am working on finding someone else to talk to here.
I want no pity and I have no political agenda here. I want you to know two things.
First, if you are hurting you are not alone. There are lots of people out there who have gone through the same kind of things you are experiencing. It feels very personal and private and unique, but it is not just you. Finding someone to talk to about it, maybe even getting medication or physical help, is not an admission of weakness but of strength. Strength to not be defined by your pain but to choose what you want to be. In admitting to your pain you might help others as well.
Second, if somehow you have avoided these problems an avoided seeing them in the people around you, people around you are hurting. Be more sensitive to that. Do not assume you know why people do what they do. Make yourself a safe person by being available, not spreading rumors or sharing sensitive information, by not being judgmental, and by being kind. If you can do that you can help someone who is hurting maybe hurt a little less.
Remember, Jesus focused on the sick, the prisoner, the stranger, the mourner. Those were the people he called his followers to help. They are not always obvious. You are called to see them anyway and offer what you can.