Kay Warren on Depression, Grief, and Hope
Choosing joy "even if my worst nightmare came true"
Interview by Amy Simpson
Kay Warren is intimately familiar with depression. This cofounder of Saddleback Church, wife of senior pastor Rick Warren, beloved Christian communicator, and advocate for people in need knows what darkness looks like. Through her own lifelong emotional battle, parenting a child in tremendous pain, and losing a son to suicide, depression has left deep marks on her soul. Yet she chooses joy—the kind of joy that can live right alongside sorrow. TCW talked with her about her experiences and what she's learning.
How has depression affected you and your family?
Depression has been a part of our family's life since our son Matthew was very young. He was clinically depressed at seven. We moved from the place where he was born and where his friends were, just across town. It wasn't that far, but it was far enough that he didn't get to keep playing with those kids. He started coming home from school pretty subdued and quiet, and I'd ask,
"Who did you play with today?"
He would say, "Oh, nobody."
And I'd ask, "Did anything happen?"
When he started saying, "I'm sad," I attributed it at first to the fact that we had moved and he was just having a hard time dealing with that. It continued and began to affect his schoolwork, and he lost interest in playing with his own toys, playing with his siblings. He just was different.
Eventually I knew we were dealing with something beyond the normal sadness from a transition. There was something very deep going on in this little boy, and I didn't know what to do. I didn't even realize children could be depressed. It wasn't long until he began to experience panic attacks. He couldn't stand up in front of his classmates at school. He couldn't play sports because he couldn't take the pressure of performing. Then he was diagnosed with ADHD. The initials just kept stacking up. By 12 he was diagnosed with early-onset bipolar disorder. Then it was obsessive-compulsive disorder and major depressive disorder. Depression was ever-present. And then—just a year-and-a-half before he passed away—finally the diagnosis that made it all come together and make sense was borderline personality disorder. Almost all of his life, Matthew struggled with very intense depression.
You know, if you live with a depressed person, it's catching. Our whole family struggled with watching him suffer, feeling the sadness for his suffering. I think we all had a little bit of depression ourselves because his suffering was so intense.