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From the Desk of Pastor Dan Forsgren

March 2018

What Does Mental Illness Look Like?

Mark L. Sabin

This is a picture of my friend Mark. Mark was a member of First English Lutheran Church (FELC) in Cannon Falls, MN. He was one of my best friends I made during my call to FELC. Mark was always quick to help someone out…sometimes that someone was me. He loved to fish, to camp, to sit around a campfire; he loved to take kids up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern MN. Mark was a jack-of-all-trades and a master of a few of them. He was kind, patient, a loving and gentle father, a caring husband; quick with a joke and a laugh. Mark had an infectious smile. His daughter Erica is synonymous with “babysitter” for my three kids. Mark, Cheryl, and their kids would join the Forsgrens for games and nights of laughter. Mark and I shared a birthday, just one year apart. Mark was a child of God, a regular guy like any of us really; a regular guy who would take the time to do what he could when he could…it was easy to like Mark. Mark took his own life on February 13, 2018. He left a hole in the lives and hearts of everyone who knew him.

I had already planned a trip back to the Twin Cities when I got the news about Mark. I was able to change my flight and be with his family at the memorial service. I hadn’t told them I was coming. They received me as one of their own, and we grieved: we cried we laughed, we hugged, we shared stories; all those parts that go into the process of saying goodbye to someone you love. Sarah told me that you will never regret going to a loved one’s funeral. She was right, as she so often is, I did not regret it. I’m sorry that it happened, but I will not ever regret being there.

There are a couple of reasons I needed to write about Mark. The first is for my own grieving process. Being able to talk about Mark, remembering the times we shared, and even writing down some very brief thoughts about him helps me to reconcile his death…talking about it, naming it, while painful is also good. The second reason I needed to write about Mark is that Mark was a victim of an epidemic in our country…in our world. Mark suffered from depression; though that information was only entrusted to me in the past few years.

When I was talking to folks from Cannon Falls, a repeated question was asked concerning Mark, “He had so much to live for; why did he do this?” Or, “He always seemed so happy…I don’t get it.” The majority of people will not, no, cannot understand why someone “who seemed so happy” or “had so much to live for” would take their own life; because they have not walked the lonely road of depression. And they cannot know what it is like to live with a sense of reality other than their own. In other words, if you have never suffered with depression you cannot know what it can and does do to your mind, your perspective, your outlook on life. What does mental illness look like? It looks like anyone and everyone…it looks like my friend who is gone and leaves behind a wife and two kids.

There are many stigmas surrounding mental health issues. There is an incredible amount of shame that society puts on people who suffer from these issues. The topic makes many people uncomfortable and therefore they don’t want to talk about it. The silence needs to stop. I’m sure each of you know someone who has suffered depression, not just feeling down sometimes but clinical depression. Perhaps they try to control it with medication, or perhaps there are other methods and routines that help some persons deal with what they are going through. Make it okay for them to talk to you. If someone reaches out to you, how you respond could save a life.

I know depression and the effects of it have touched members of our congregation ...some have even experienced the loss of a loved one because of it. The stigma needs to stop. Disease of any sort makes many people uncomfortable, but when someone has cancer, a thing that can be pointed to, we can rally against cancer. It is much harder to point a finger at synapses that receive or don’t neurotransmitters. We still have so much to learn, and until that point, all we can do is be a good friend to those who suffer from depression or any mental health issue. Being that friend includes not being afraid to talk about difficult issues, or maybe just listen about them. It means creating a space where someone can feel comfortable sharing what needs to be shared. We can ask questions that show we care. We can be comfortable with the uncomfortable. We can stop the silence, the stigma. We can remove the shame that is associated with mental health issues.

A part of our duty as Christians in this world is to stand against those things that seek to rob life from our fellow brothers and sisters: Depression is one of those things. I don’t have the answers to this problem. I do know that raising awareness, and removing any stigma of shame from mental health issues are good steps we can all take. Maybe you’ve had a “Mark” in your lives; maybe you know the pain of losing someone close to you to depression, and maybe together we can make a difference whether for strides against mental illnesses altogether or for one individual person.

Thank you for listening. May God bless you on your Lenten journey.

In Christ ,
Pastor Dan Forsgren
pastordantlccla@gmail.com | Download Pr. Forsgren's Message

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