Arguably some of the most touchy subjects to tackle from a Christian perspective are depression and anxiety. It’s bad enough that depression and anxiety are in and of themselves complex illnesses, but there are varying perspectives within the church about them. Sometimes some of these views are from people who try to genuinely understand depression from a biblical perspective, while other people just have incorrect information regarding mental illnesses. However, in my experience, there are things that even the most well-meaning Christians get wrong.
Basically, depression is not what the church can sometimes make it out to be.
Recently, I’ve learned that depression and anxiety are not character defects, spiritual disorders or emotional dysfunctions, and even more importantly, they are not a choice. Mental illness is just as important as physical illness, and asking someone to try not being depressed is like asking a wounded person not to bleed. But yet so many Christians are so quick to express their opinions and judgments, and I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard the phrase, “if only you had enough faith.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I of course believe that God is all-powerful, and yes, it is important to pray, have faith and believe that we can be healed because His Word says that we can be. Faith in His ability to heal is tremendously important, and it does help to ease the burden of depression and anxiety. But again, to deny someone medical care for mental illness is not any different from denying medical care to a physically ill person. The only difference between mental illness and physical illness is that we cannot visibly see mental illness in most cases.
I do also believe that there is a spiritual element to depression, but medical science has also proven that major depressive disorder is real and has many causes.
I have only recently come to accept my own depression and anxiety, and I’ve begun to seek treatment for both, both medically and spiritually. I have only opened up to a few people at this point, mainly because of the responses that I’m sure will inevitable occur, such as:
- “But you look so good!”
- “You always seem so happy!”
- “You have so much faith!”
I have learned that many depressed people like myself are extremely good at hiding their symptoms because of the stigma that is associated with mental illness. Many churches don’t even address mental illness, which only gives us as believers who are going through depression/anxiety even more incentive to hide it. Also, as a good friend of mine said to me the other day, depression isn’t always about “feeling sad.” It can manifest in many ways such as apathy, lethargy, low self-esteem, guilt, fatigue, crying spells, or even difficulty making decisions.
So, I think it is important for us as believers (and non-believers alike) and as people to begin to show more compassion to those around us who might be suffering. Screw the stigma. Let us be people who are willing to offer support and encouragement rather than condemning them or passing judgment on their level of faith. Remember that our God is mighty, and His ability to heal is NOT determined by us, our actions, or lack of faith.