Faith as Medicine: How ‘Black Panther’ Actress Found God, Then Health

Letitia Wright
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When depression nearly drove “Black Panther” actress Letitia Wright from the field a few years ago, the disease was taking a toll on her sense of self-worth, as it too often does.

“I tried to find all my validation in acting and the world of acting that when I didn’t get it, it led me to a very dark place,” she told ABC News recently.

Depression often causes thoughts of inadequacy that trigger feelings of sadness, says Joe Thorne, LSCSW, a clinical coordinator in the behavioral health department of AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, formerly Shawnee Mission Health. Feeling sad can lead to behaviors — like almost quitting your profession — that only reinforce negative thoughts, he says.

The 25-year-old British actress, who received the Rising Star Award at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards Feb. 10, said she broke that cycle thanks to a newfound relationship with God.

"The only thing that pulled me out of it was God, my belief, my faith and my family," she told the BBC.

Thorne says a relationship with a higher power can provide some of the strongest protections against depression and other mental health struggles. Depression is a physical brain disorder, but treating the whole patient — including their mental and spiritual selves — offers the most effective hope for recovery.

“Often, those with a strong connection to family and friends are at lower risk than those without connections,” he said. When he can, Thorne tries to help patients develop that relationship.

“What I encourage is to be on a journey, because for many folks spirituality is a journey,” he said. When he can, Thorne and his colleagues help set patients on that path.

For example, one woman told him that she had trouble finding transportation to church, so Thorne looked up churches that offered van transportation.

Even as faith can help patients develop a relationship with God, it can strengthen bonds among people, as well.

But some patients who’ve used drugs or alcohol to cope with depression fear going to church for the first time or returning to an old church, because they worry they’re going to be judged. But Thorne says many denominations are welcoming no matter what a person has been through.

Because depression often triggers a cycle beginning with negative thoughts and ending with behaviors that reinforce those thoughts, treatment needs to give people reasons to feel valuable.

Breaking the Cycle

Wright’s experience of feeling worthless due to depression is what Thorne refers to as a “cognitive distortion,” meaning a negative thought with no basis in reality. People with depression often view their imperfections as evidence they’re a total failure.

“It’s either an ‘A’ or an ‘F’, there’s no in-between,” Thorne said. One way to challenge those thoughts is summarized by the BBC as “Catch It, Check It, Change It.”

It involves noting negative thoughts, thinking about whether they’re true and developing new ways of thinking. Because negative feelings and behaviors often flow from thoughts, breaking this cycle can help treat depression.

Wright says finding the truth about herself was wrapped up in finding the truth about God.

“I can easily sleep at night knowing that if tomorrow no one ever speaks about me again, I’m fine because I’m God’s child,” she said. “I have family and friends and people who care about me.”

Therapy alone is sometimes not enough for patients to break this cycle, though. Thorne says antidepressant medication can often be an effective initial treatment to help return balance to a person’s brain chemistry.

“I see that as the catalyst, the first step to healing, followed by talk therapy and taking action,” he says.

Finding Support

Wright also cited her family as a key source of support during depression.

It isn’t always easy for friends and family to remain close to someone in a mental health crisis, Thorne says. But it’s important

“It’s about being an active listener, being a cheerleader who’s also doing things with the person, like going for a walk in the park,” he says.

It’s also OK to ask about suicidal thoughts. Far from planting the idea in a person’s head, asking this question in a calm, non-judgmental way can be a suicide deterrent, Thorne says.

AdventHealth’s CREATION Life philosophy, a faith-based wellness plan, helps patients use their faith as a powerful tool in their recovery. If you’re looking for help to treat a mental health problem in you or a loved one, call Call913-789-3218 or visit our website.

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