Engaging Ignorance: What Depression and Diabetes Have in Common and How We Respond

People are talking about mental illness, depression, and anxiety right now, and that’s a good thing.

Unfortunately, people simply don’t understand mental struggles like depression and panic attacks unless they or someone in their family experience them. Each one of us in my family deal with depression, anxiety, or both. I’m no expert, but I believe this is hereditary. Both my wife’s parents have dealt with these issues. My mom would never have admitted to having depression or anxiety, but I clearly remember her taking her “nerve pills.” Several of my cousins on my dad’s side of the family have also suffered.

A high-profile leader’s son recently committed suicide, and I feel compassion for this man; I relate to his pain. When your own children face any kind of suffering, whether its related to diabetes or depression, you tend to exhibit more understanding and empathy toward others.

How I treat people who deal with mental or emotional disorders says a lot about me. Do I treat them differently than those who have physical disease? When people tell me to “just get over” my Type-1 diabetes, which I’ve had for more than 40 years, or when they give me the latest cure-all (eat cinnamon!), or when they tell me I just need to have more faith, I realize they are simply ignorant. Yes, my attitude, diet, and faith are vital for how I holistically care for my diabetes, but those things are not cures for beta cells that have been killed by my own body.

Perhaps my attitude needs to change as much as the people who speak ignorantly. Those of us who suffer from any number of afflictions, including the suffering that comes from others’ words, get to practice grace. We get to accept people “as is” rather than with judgment. We get the opportunity to love unconditionally, even when people act like idiots.