by Stephen Rigdon
Jehovah’s Witnesses, United States of America
Shortly after giving birth to her second child in September 2019, Laura McKeown felt something was very wrong. Her life had become overwhelming, a marathon filled with exhaustion, dread and what she described as an irrational fear for her baby’s safety that sent her heart racing.
“You just feel like you’re fighting to keep your head above water,” she said, describing a feeling that many with postpartum depression understand. “The most minute of tasks just feel overwhelming.”
Such mental and emotional distress haunts millions. A recent government survey showed a doubling since 2019 in the proportion of Americans reporting anxiety or depressive disorder symptoms.
During this time, an increased number have turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as alcohol and substance abuse. As McKeown faced growing feelings of isolation and distress, this Orcas Island resident turned to her faith for help coping.
“I appreciated so much going to jw.org and being able to type the word ‘isolation’ into the search bar,” McKeown said, referring to the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “That alone provided such a wealth of articles and videos that I could just read over and over again.”
Receiving a medical diagnosis of postpartum depression gave McKeown an added sense of relief. “I finally felt like I had a jumping off point now for things getting better,” she said.
Sticking to a consistent routine has been vital for McKeown while dealing with her depression and the pandemic, as has the warm support she receives from her family of faith. Her routine includes joining fellow believers virtually to share her Bible-based hope with others in the community and enjoy positive association.
“I know I’ll see happy faces,” she said. “I know there will be encouraging things to talk about, to think about.”
McKeown’s journey from despair to hope is no isolated phenomenon. Faith and the support of a congregation have helped many others cope with severe depression or turn the corner in their recovery.
“While the Bible does not indicate that spirituality cures medical problems, many have derived comfort and strength from what the Bible teaches and the practical guidance it provides,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Hope, support and positive coping skills aid mental health — whether these are built up by professional or faith-based sources, noted Lawrence Onoda, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist based in Mission Hills, California.
Even those with serious mental health conditions may find some aspects of religious participation help them cope with their symptoms, he said.
This has proved true for McKeown, whose hope means more than ever before. “I’m looking forward very much to the day when I can enjoy my family from the state mentally and emotionally that I know I need to be in.”
More information on the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including resources for coping with mental illness and emotional distress, can be found on their official website, www.jw.org.