My cousin died by suicide. She was depressed following her divorce. She never recovered from the rejection and grief.
As a pastor I’ve grieved with too many families whose loved one ended their life because they could find no other way to stop their internal pain.
Those who suffer from depression may feel like the least understood people on the planet.
Too often there is a stigma associated with depression in the Church.
I have to take responsibility to end that stigma.
In November of 2013, I was going about my life as a new dad and speechwriter for the leader of a political party when it hit me.
It presented innocuously enough as panic attacks. Sitting down at my computer brought sudden and paralyzing physiological discomfort. I had experienced the odd panic attack in the past, but they were periodic and easy to shake off.
These were different.
I physically couldn’t work.
My friend, Brenda, gave me permission to share her story:
“As a nurse, I knew what was happening to me, but I thoroughly rejected it. I was about 25 years old. I was a Christian and depression did not happen to Christians. I felt that if I trusted God and prayed, I should be better. Well, I wasn’t. I could not allow myself to believe that it was a chemical imbalance within my body that was causing these symptoms.
I sang in the choir. I went to Bible study, but I never felt I could share with anyone. Depression is like leprosy. No one talks about. It is ignored—especially in the church circles—and the people who are in depression feel even more isolated. Often I would try to make comments about people with depression in order to sound out some of our friends, but the remarks I received in return were about people who ‘couldn’t cope, or should pray more,’ so it underscored my feeling that I was inadequate. I felt more alone and lost.
The only person I felt I could talk to was a lady who had also experienced severe depression after the death of her brother. She was quite open about it and made me feel acceptable. Finally I went to a doctor.
That is one of the reasons I am telling you this today. People who experience depression do not need to hide.
They do not need to feel unloved or unchristian. God loves you. We need to remember that we are not here on earth to see through one another, but to see one another through—through all of the things that happen in life.”
The Bible Never Shies Away From Reality
Job, Elijah, Jeremiah and David are four well know Bible characters who described their lives using terms associated with depression.
Job, the oldest book in the Bible, chronicles the mental anguish of a man who lost everything and fell into despair. “I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest; I hate my life.” (Job 3:23-26, 7:11, 15-16, NLT)
Elijah the prophet was in such despair he asks God to kill him. (1 Kings 19:4)
Jeremiah, a prophet, wishes he had never been born. (Jeremiah 15:10)
David the psalmist writes about his tears “being his food day and night” in Psalm 42 and 43.
These are not “poetic” descriptions of a spiritual condition. These are the desperate declarations of people at the end of their rope. Instead of a one-and-done antidote, the Bible starkly shows the dread that accompanies the ill.
Christians can have the greatest challenge dealing with mental illness because we believe people of faith can do anything with God’s help.
What Christians need to know about depression:
1. People facing depression can be sad, but depression is not sadness.
2. Depression is not something you can will yourself or talk yourself out of.
3. Depression is not a choice.
4. Depression is not a character defect.
5. Depression is not a spiritual disorder.
6. Depression is not an emotional dysfunction.
7. Depression is not demonic.
Can a Christian be oppressed by depressive thoughts? Yes.
Can a Christian be possessed by some demon that stimulates depression? No.
Depression is an illness. Clinical depression, postpartum depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mood disorders, chronic anxiety, are illnesses.
Depression is the only physical illness with spiritual symptoms.
History records strong Christians who experienced depression:
Mental illness does not make you weak, cowardly, faithless, hopeless, joyless.
Mental illness can fill your life with pain.
Mental illness means you’re experiencing sickness and in need of healing. Sick people use medicine, therapy, support, and faith to eventually become well again.
There is healing.
There is hope.
Each of the Bible characters and people from history mentioned above, reached out to God to find their hope and help.
If you or a loved one suffers from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or any other mental illness, it’s NOT your fault. You need help – and asking for it is a sign of strength.
Tomorrow can be better. There is a light in the darkness.
P.A.T.H. – Positive Action for Total Health is an initiative emphasizing mental health as an integral component of total health which includes mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health. PATH is facilitated by Wade Sorochan and Wendy Ryden.
Joanne Goodwin has experienced Depression. Her journey from despair to victory is authentic. She tells it like it is…and does it with self-depreciating humour.
“Breaking the Chains” – Dr. Grant Mullen
“You Mean I Don’t Have to Feel This Way? – Collette Dowling
Sisterhood of the Semi-Colon
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