I’m so excited to have Jennifer for Mental Health Awareness Month!
At the end of the week, Jennifer will be giving away an e-copy of Great Waters to a commentator.
Jessy: Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing.
Jennifer: I’m a historical fiction author who writes about deeper issues, such as grief, loss, depression, anxiety, suicide, and abuse. My characters often face huge challenges in both their physical and mental health. While these are hard topics, interwoven in every story is the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. However, this is not a “trust Jesus, and it will all be happily ever after.” My characters wrestle with deep questions that are sometimes left unresolved. Sometimes they find hope but not perfect healing. Sometimes they struggle, learn, grow, overcome, and struggle again.
Jessy: I love that your books aren’t “trust Jesus, and it will all be happily ever after.” For many of us, it is a thorn we must deal with. I couldn’t have made it without my faith, but it doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with it. How do your main characters deal with depression/suicidal thoughts?
Jennifer: My book Great Waters, the second in my Sorrow and Song Trilogy, is the one that touches on this the most. This book is about a young couple who are married just before the Great Depression of the 1930s. In a few months, they lose almost everything—and not only material things. This sends the female lead, Katie, into a deep depression. For weeks she can hardly speak, and she can’t talk about what’s happened to her. But it also triggers a lot of past unresolved trauma for the male main character, Russell. As you can imagine, this takes a tremendous toll on their young marriage and their resulting
separation causes Russell to spiral to his lowest point and almost
take his life.
The journey back to wholeness is not easy. As is often the case, there are physical health issues interwoven with mental health ones. But the two things that help this couple the most are two things that I believe are still essential for those struggling with depression today—their faith in God and a strong support system of other believers. For a while, they shut out both, but the people around them don’t give up on them. In that way, this book is as much about how to help someone going through grief and depression as it is about how to deal with it yourself.
Jessy: How does the stigma of depression differ back then from now?
Jennifer: Great question! In Great Waters, Russell, like so many WW1 veterans, suffers from PTSD. Back then, it was called “shell shock” and soldiers’
didn’t talk about it. The prevailing attitude was that it was cowardice, a man trying to get out of doing his duty. And when you
study the history, the men—very young men, some just seventeen or eighteen—were exposed to horrific, unimaginable conditions and senseless losses for a very ambiguous cause. So even those who didn’t experience shell shock often felt a profound disillusionment at the conclusion of the war. Then the influenza pandemic hit, and over 20 million people worldwide died from that in just about a year. So there
follows this “Lost Generation” of the 1920s. They didn’t know how to deal with all that trauma, so a lot of them just turned to hedonism—alcohol, sex, crime, etc.—as well as some twisted spiritual practices like mysticism and occultism.
Psychology was new and very popular but should not be confused with true mental health care. For example, one of the early treatments for shell shock was electric shock therapy. Suffering in silence was better than having your character maligned as being a coward, or
having electricity shot through your brain, or being admitted to a
state-run mental institution that was often like a prison. By the
1930s, lobotomies were being used as treatment for mental illness, even depression. All these terrifying “treatments” kept people from sharing their struggles.
For a long time, there was a mistaken idea in the church that trusting in God meant all your mental health issues went away—that anxiety, depression, etc. were just a lack of faith. I think that stigma is fading, but in its place, I see an equally dangerous idea arising—that psychology is more important than the Bible in treating mental health issues. The intersection between the physical, mental, and spiritual is complex, but God’s power over all three is unlimited.
Jessy: What is some advice you’d give to someone who has a loved one suffering in silence?
Jennifer: One of my favorite scenes in Great Waters shows Russell having a nightmare. His new bride carefully wakes him and asks if he wants to talk about it. In the dark, he dares to tell her a little. When she listens and responds empathetically, he tells her a little more. He’s never talked to anyone about this for over ten years. He’s carried misplaced guilt, shame, tremendous grief, and trauma. She gives him the gift of validating his pain and the wrongness of what he went through and seeing his experiences from outside eyes that don’t condemn the decisions he made under unthinkable circumstances. He can’t tell her everything yet, but it’s the first step.
I think this is one of our most effective tools for depression and
other mental health issues: a safe person listening, empathizing, validating, and gently encouraging them toward helpful action. Create a healing environment for them as much as possible. Encourage them that they will get through this and that they are very important to you. Most of all, pray for them and with them.
Jessy: For anyone suffering today, what word of advice or hope do you have for them?
Jennifer: When you are in a season of depression or anxiety, as I have been at several points in my life, it’s easy to feel that there is no way out and that it will never end. But this is not true! If you are depressed, what is just one positive step you can take today? Can you go for a walk, listen to praise music, talk to a trusted friend, read your Bible (Psalms!), make healthy eating choices, or reach out to a pastor, counselor or physician? Take that baby step, and tomorrow take another.
Jessy: Thank you so much for being with us today! You guys make sure to check out Jennifer on social media and comment below for a chance to win her book!