Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2013 Nancy Virden
To many, Isn’t depression a spiritual problem? may seem a moot question because they do not equate mental or biological diseases with spiritual ones. Some people reject the brain chemistry aspect of mental disorders for a similar reason; they believe anything cognitive or emotional is spiritually based.
Comments from either of these groups repeatedly do not help those who are struggling with depression.
Our existence is three-in-one. Spirit, mind, and body are so interlaced that any illness of any one part affects the rest. Depression is a physical, spiritual, and treatable mental challenge.
Stigma ignores depression’s complexities. The idea that depression is not “as” medical as other illnesses has created barriers to treatment and recovery. In christian churches, stigma can translate into judgment which actually prevents a hurting person from coming to Christ or to fellowship for support.
(1) Depression is not simple or easy to overcome. It is a multi-faceted health issue. Recovery from depression can be like long-term physical therapy in that the crippling of a brain takes time, teamwork, and effort to overcome.
There is not a “zap” and we go from unhealthy thinking to healthy thinking. Learning to manage a disease, thoughts, behaviors, beliefs, and our environment is not quick.
(2) Depression is not inappropriate for discussion. Sharing human struggles takes courage and faith. It sets an example for others to accept brokenness as part of a healthy spiritual walk, and to be open and encouraged.
(3) Depression is not a ploy for attention. Severe emotional struggles may cause one to be more self-absorbed than usual. All one may see is pain. Imagine someone who has just broken her leg. Without pain relief her thoughts are going to be centered on her suffering.
By far, the worst experience for a depressed individual is that of being ignored or judged when they talk about their need for help.
(4) Depression is not purposeless. Whatever we may suffer can result in renewal. For me, gaining fresh insight into matters of forgiveness, guilt, distorted thinking, healthy relationships, and more is an opportunity to step back from what is false.
As weird as it may sound, major depression and its treatment have ultimately been catalysts for my physical and spiritual healing. The Bible is clearer to me, and the love of God reaches my heart.
(5) Depression is not spiritual failure. Because depression numbs positive emotions and can slow cognitive abilities, a depressed believer may feel spiritually dead. But this is not a fact. To intrinsically align mental struggle with spiritual illness is unfair and incorrect.
I have always known Christ is with me in the throes of depression even as my ill brain has told me all is hopeless. It has remained my desire to honor Him even as I did not know how to function.
I was asked, “Depression can be sin sometimes, right?” Feelings are never sin. We cannot control what feelings we experience, we can only manage them. Depression has a physical component. One would not say these physical issues are sin anymore than one would say the common cold is sin.
Depression by its nature causes self-doubt and distorts reality. Because of this, one’s normal sense of morality and inhibitions can be weakened. Are we responsible at that point for our decisions? Absolutely! However, the sins of specific behaviors should not be confused with depression itself.
Remaining depressed for long periods – even off and on over a lifetime – is also not sin. God teaches us change through our struggles. He has put no time limit on our learning.
My personal challenge is to not remain quiet and ashamed; to allow God to use me and my experiences for the benefit of others, and to ask for support when I need it.
The Church’s challenge is to be open about struggles as well as to love and accept a depressed believer as an equal participant in God’s grace. Let’s be slow to accuse, assume, or accept stigma as truth.
NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, go to your nearest emergency room or call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Help and hope can be yours!
*picture from qualitystockphotos.com