Depression: as more of our loved ones fall victim, this is something the church needs to get right.
Depression: what comes to mind when you read or hear this word? Do you think of general sadness, someone in a mental institution, or do you think of it at all? Do you think Christians can be depressed? If no, why?
Many people in this world struggle with depression every day. According to the Huffington Post:
- 1. 350,000,000 people suffer worldwide.
- 2. By the age of 18, 11% of adolescents will have a depressive disorder.
- 3. 16,000,000 Americans suffered at least one major depressive episode in 2012; that is 6.9% of adults in this country, and that was four years ago.
- 4. The amount of college students that reported feeling depressed: 30%.1
The National Foundation for Suicide Prevention believes that half of all Americans with depression never seek treatment. Of this percentage, how many identify as Christians? Many, but it is hard to know for sure, because many Christians do not feel comfortable talking about depression. You may be one, or you may know someone struggling with this dreadful disease. In fact, many Christians suffer silently because to admit they are depressed, is to admit, in their own misguidance, that they do not have enough faith. If they are Christians, then shouldn’t Jesus be enough? There is a stigma regarding depression in the church and I think it is high time we stop the silence and begin to have a conversation about depression and the church. This is so important because in 2013 suicide was the tenth leading cause of death for all ages, resulting in 41,149 deaths that year alone; that is equal to one suicide every 13 minutes, and the numbers are increasing. 2
The first question we must ask ourselves is what is depression? The National Institute for Mental Health defines it as:
- a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. 3
We all face times when sadness is appropriate. For people that suffer with depression, that sadness is unrelenting and they cannot tell you why it is there. It is a feeling of deep despair and darkness, and just like cancer, it does not discriminate. It is a disease, like any other illness; this one however is a sickness that targets the brain. It is caused (in a very simplistic definition) by a chemical imbalance. To tell someone with depression to stop being sad is like trying to stop a flood using only a towel.
So why is there this stigma surrounding depression and the church? I am sure one component is Satan and demon possession. While we know the enemy will exploit any weakness, clinical depression is not a spiritual issue, it is a medical one, and unfortunately many Christians feel guilty about being depressed. A person suffering from depression is not the result of demon possession, but of mental illness. The church must understand this if we are to gain any traction helping our brothers and sisters in Christ. IT IS NOT A SPIRITUAL ISSUE.
That brings us to the second issue, many followers of Christ believe that if they are depressed they do not believe in God’s promises. God is a loving God who died for us, so why should that person feel depressed? As noted above, we believe Jesus should be enough, but what we don’t discuss enough in church, is even biblical characters were not immune from depression. David laments in Psalms 38:68 “I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about in mourning. ….. I groan in anguish of heart”. (NIV). “The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear” (Proverbs 18:14, NIV)? We know that Jesus understands our pain. Matthew 11:28 tells us, “come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”. (NIV). We can rest in Jesus, but we must learn to treat depression as any other illness, and help those suffering from it seek professional help.
Let me ask you a question; if a friend came to you with cancer, would you tell that person that Jesus is enough and to not seek medical attention? Of course not, you would pray for healing but also advise them to get treatment. Jesus is our savior and he understands our pain, but he also understands that sometimes we need professional help to get better. Why should depression be any different?
- Holmes, 11 Statistics That Will Change The Way You Think about Depression (2015)
- Center for Disease Control, Suicide Facts at a Glance (2015), 1
- National Institute for Mental Health, Depression (2016)
Works Cited Holmes, Lindsay. 2015. 11 Statistics That Will Change The Way You Think About Depression. (January 21, 2015). Accessed April 11, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/20/depression-statistics_n_6480412.html. Moring, Mark. 2016. Understanding Depression. Here’s a look at the problem and its symptoms—and how to find hope and healing. Accessed April 11, 2016. http://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/hottopics/selfesteem/understanding-depression.html. NIMH. March. Mental Health Information. (Revised March 2016) Accessed April 11, 2016. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml.