Christianity and Depression

posted in: Being Human, Mental Health | 1

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Depression, according to recent statistics, is the common cold of the mental illness world.

Depression affects a huge number of people – around 10% of the United States Population – and probably many more people who are unaware that they have it.

Depression is an incredibly debilitating disease.

Thats right.

Depression is a disease.

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Depression is often seen by people – particularly by the “stiff upper lip” English, as something you can snap out of, something that is not a true illness, and something that really needs to be dealt with. These are all real misconceptions – it is an illness. One that can take many forms. And have a wide variety of symptoms. It is a potentially life-threatening problem – around 3/4% of adults diagnosed with depression end up ending their lives in this way. If you are reading this and this could be you – please, talk to someone. Check out TWOLHA – “To Write Love on Her Arms” – a non-profit organisation with a stunningly simple vision. They are great guys and girls – hope is real. Depression is a medical condition with medical effects, which can be treated medically.

Christians often get the wrong end of the stick about depression.

Several years ago I read the post that inspired this blog – from a Pastor, Stephen Altrogge’s blog (The post was actually written by Stephen’s father) – who quoted another pastor, David Murray. Murray points out that there are a huge number of misconceptions about depression in the Christian world – with one major problem being that much of the Christian approach, pastorally at least, is based on a faulty, 20-30 year old understanding of the issue. Murray gives 5 good reasons why Christians are bad at talking about depression, dealing with depression, and coping with depression. Some are well beyond my scope – I’m not a doctor! Others I believe I can speak into. I suffered clinical depression in serious ways in my past, and its effects have blighted my life in serious ways more recently. In several long episodes. Its an incredibly complex subject.

I survived, in my opinion, by the grace of God – poured out in the form of a wise GP who prescribed pills, a loving and supportive (insanely so) family, a wonderful and prayerful church, and the best small group of close friends anyone could ever have. I want to write and discuss this issue because it is personal to me – and I know its something that God can overcome. John Piper has written a very useful – thought not perfect – book on the subject; “When the Darkness Will Not Lift” – I reviewed it.

There are stories in the news, especially on the web, at the moment, which imply that Christians are stupid regarding health. Often, that can be true. But our health is something we have to thoughtful about. So I’m going to put it simply – and I don’t intend to offend anyone. Depression is a real mental illness, that can affect anyone, that is not directly caused by spiritual attack, is not something to be ashamed of, and is something that can be dealt with. As David Murray says in his post I link to above;

It’s actually amazing how much the church has gone backwards in its understanding of how the physical and the spiritual interact. I often hear the Puritans being promoted as models of men who used only Scripture to deal with depression. However, Puritans like William Perkins, Richard Baxter, Timothy Rogers, and Jonathan Edwards all understood and taught that there was often a physical or bodily element to many depressions, that needed to be treated with medicine, crude though their own solutions were at that time. For example, Richard Baxter wrote The Cure of Melancholy and Overmuch Sorrow by Faith and Physic (Medicine)

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Are we too quick call a spade a fork?

If the spade is depression, why not call it a spade?

I believe firmly that as Christians we are called to use every part of the body that God has given us, to do everything. Which means that when we do our work, we don’t forget the spiritual element. And it means that when we are dealing with emotions, we don’t forget what science and medicine – by God’s gracious design – has taught us about the human mind. This includes things like counselling, mentoring, retreats, CBT and other things – these can be massively useful, and on a very simple level, incredibly biblical in aim. The basic premise of counselling – at least in my experience – echoes Romans 12:2; “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. It can be done. There is hope.

Prayer is of paramount importance.

Medical opinion – if not medical input is of paramount importance.

Focusing on the good grace of God’s Gospel is of paramount importance.

Depression is an incredibly complex issue. It is a huge problem. But Jesus gives us the means to deal with it. Prayer, medicine, fellowship, love. Maybe even miraculous healing.

I’d love to engage with anyone on this issue. To learn, talk and be challenged.

Thanks for reading. 

If you’d like to delve deeper into this, then I’d heartily recommend John Piper’s book, which I’ve reviewed, and you can get free from Desiring God.

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