Years ago, I stared into the empty eyes of my mom—a woman who had never stopped praying for her four wayward sons—and saw no recognition, no love, no anything. Mental illness temporarily took her life from her and made her forget she had a youngest child. To her, I was a lie.
So, you could say that when it comes to Christians dealing with the ravages of mental disorders, I have a vested interest. Depression, bipolar episodes, and anxiety attacks have dogged my family for generations—even those who followed Jesus. It’s ugly. It’s painful. But often, it’s the issue we just don’t want to discuss.
In a trending article on the RELEVANT magazine website, Brandon W. Peach hopes to change that. He realizes that this elephant hiding in the closet won’t be addressed by a single article, but there are five things this depression sufferer wants Christians to know:
1. Depression isn’t what the Church sometimes makes it out to be.
Because depression isn’t often discussed in churches, a great deal of misunderstanding has popped up. The first step is realizing what this disorder isn’t: “It's not a character defect, a spiritual disorder or an emotional dysfunction. And chief of all, it's not a choice.”
2. Mental illness is not a sin.
Past sins can contribute to the pain, and sufferers may cope with mental disorders with sinful actions. But sometimes Christians can hurt their brothers and sisters by treating the malady itself as sinful.
3. The Bible doesn’t provide “easy answers.”
The Bible is certainly our guide for life. But the answer for mental illness is not a verse or two taken out of context. After all, people in Scripture likely suffered from depression themselves, such as David and Jeremiah. “Rather than prescribing a bit of a verse divorced from its context, a better strategy is to look at those instances of mental suffering along with the Church body and to offer comfort in the fact that even the saints struggled.”
4. Anxiety and depression don’t look how we often think.
Just because someone seems “happy,” that doesn’t mean they’re healthy. Those who suffer from mental illnesses often try to hide the symptoms because of the stigma. What’s needed is a loving community where people are encouraged to speak up and get help.
5. Strong churches don’t “fix” depression.
Even large churches may not have the framework currently in place to deal with mental disorders. So, what’s needed? “Healing comes from a prayerful, loving community that seeks to truly understand major depressive disorder and related conditions, and one that develops a positive response.”
Depression can feel like a huge weight that keeps pulling a Christian down again and again. Breaking free from the clutches of this disorder may seem impossible, but Margaret Ashmore (of the Association of Biblical Counselors) says that one of the most important things a sufferer can do is “the next thing”:
“So ‘doing the next thing’ might mean getting right with someone you’ve wronged, making restitution on outstanding payments, putting away once for all that website or magazine which feeds a monstrous, lustful appetite, taking back a purchase of self indulgence whose only outcome was more debt – you will have your own list. I certainly have mine. But be assured, this principle alone can take you from a shrugging Atlas with the weight of the world on your shoulders to that of renewed vigor and reviving refreshment….”
“The choices we make to obey despite our feelings or to give in to the downward pull of a fallen world filled with fallen people – mean everything.”
What are your thoughts? If you or someone you know suffers from depression or anxiety, how have you or they found hope and encouragement?
John UpChurch, former senior editor of BibleStudyTools.com and Jesus.org, is a pastor, leadership catalyst, team builder, communication planner, & strategy developer. He coaches nonprofits, businesses, & religious organizations toward health.