Christianity and the depressed soul

Today, a great entertainer has passed away. 63 years of age, Robin Williams was notably one of the funniest and well verse actors of our time. My personal condolences to the family. I join with others in prayer. Prayer for comfort, peace and understanding. Many reports are coming out that Robin Williams suffered with depression. One may never fully comprehend the depth and struggle he has had with depression. As I mourn with fellow fans at this tragic news, my thoughts are turned toward the many other individuals who are not so famous. Individuals fighting their own silent battle with depression. Even I suffer from depression. It is a struggle for an individual to deal with – and most of the time it is dealt with alone.

As Christians, we understand that everything is based on faith. “Turn to Christ and pray,” is the common answer. However, those who are aware of those struggling through a season of depression do not understand the real internal struggle. This is why it is important for Christians to arm themselves with understanding of those who are afflicted by depression.

According to Relevant Magazine, there are five things Christians ought to know about depression. Part of this understanding is summed up here:

This isn’t to paint the Church with broad strokes. Incorrect beliefs about mental illness are pervasive throughout our culture. However, some of the “church-y” misconceptions about clinical depression and anxiety spring from a genuine desire to understand them scripturally. It’s necessary to generalize a bit to understand these attitudes: there are things well-meaning Christians tend to get wrong.

While there are some well-to do Christians that reach out to help one experiencing depression, the belief and understanding sometimes causes more harm than good for the individual who is suffering. For me, personally, I recall numerous times when I had found myself alone and someone would come by and say something to the effect of, “I don’t envy you.” There is nothing to envy. I do not wish anyone to suffer the way someone who is feeling depressed. The other cliche answer is, “Pray and God will heal you,” or, “Have enough faith and God will care for you.” While all of these statements are scripturally sound, the notion to merely pray is not enough for a person struggling.

In addition, there are some Christians that insist there is some demonic attack going on with the individual and therefore needs to be set from from this demonic oppression. While I personally believe that Satan is real and that there are demons, sometimes we tend to blame these things wrongly. This does not dissolve the reality that the adversary uses our weaknesses to his advantage – because he does. What this means is that we must understand that depression is a very real scientific aspect of those who experience it on various levels.

What then are fellow Christians supposed to do when it comes to helping someone who is dealing with depression?

First, show empathy not sympathy. Depression has many causes and is very complex. A person dealing with depression is not seeking sympathy from others. However, when shown empathy, there is a stronger connection that allows an individual to know there are people who do care. This is where true compassion comes in. Empathy is not wrapped up in warm cliche statements. Empathy is a real depth of reaching out to the other person and recognizing their pain. This is exemplified in the way Christ himself engaged with others. The compassion he had for them during his mortal ministry, and the compassion he has for us is amazing. If anything, Empathy is a Christ-like attribute married with compassion.

Secondly, because depression is a clinical diagnosis (and most who have depression also have anxiety), the last thing a person is not wanting to hear about is criticism and judgment. While most Christians may not willfully engage in judging and criticizing someone, there is the idea that because someone is experiencing depression, they must have some secret sin or are under demonic attack/oppression. On the contrary, making statements that quite possibly may be construed as critical and judgmental will further push an individual deeper into their depression.

Third, as Christians, we must recognize that depression is not necessarily a moral flaw and character defect. Depression happens through a variety of means. For instance, our service men and women are coming back with Post Traumatic Stress Disorders and experience depression because of the traumatic experience. Mothers suffer from Post-Partem Depression. Individuals caring for ailing parents may also suffer from some form of depression. In fact, according to Churchleaders.com, Pastors are prone to experiencing depression:

Most counselors and psychologists interviewed for this article agreed depression among clergy is at least as prevalent as in the general population. As many as 12% of men and 26% of women will experience major depression during their lifetime, according to the American Medical Association. “The likelihood is that one out of every four pastors is depressed,” said Matthew Stanford, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. But anxiety and depression in the pulpit are “markedly higher” in the last five years, said Smoot. “The current economic crisis has caused many of our pastors to go into depression.” Besides the recession’s strain on church budgets, depressed pastors increasingly report frustration over their congregations’ resistance to cultural change.

The Christian Post also states:

Depression and anxiety are caused mainly due to stressful activities pastors are required to undertake, such as grief counseling, fulfilling the competing demands of church members and delivering message every week during the worship service, the study noted.

Pastors work in the social human services field. Many counsel members of their congregations on a variety of issues an individual, family or couple may face. This is no different than those who work as Mental health practitioners, drug and alcohol counselors, where they are exposed to the trials and brokenness of individual clients.

Yes, there are a lot of resources and help out there for those who are suffering depression. Yet, the greatest resource a person experience depression can receive are those fellow Christians coming around and helping them through the season they are experiencing. It is not just about comforting words. It is about being present and being of service to those who are suffering. Being there listening, praying, comforting, and not allowing an individual to feel isolated and alone.

Finally, when a person is so despondent and take their own life, the last thing that is needed is condemnation. Only God himself knows the heart of man – we don’t. This engages in the debate as to whether or not Suicide is morally wrong, sinful and unjustified. To the person who is suffering severe depression, ending their life means ending the darkness they are enveloped in. This does not mean an advocacy for suicide as an answer. It means that when a person may take their own life, those who are left behind struggle to make sense of it all. The only real thing a Christian may be able to do during this time is to mourn with the family, pray with them and for them, and leave it in the hands of a Sovereign loving God. At the end of the day, depression is a struggle for the individual person – regardless of whether or not they are Christian.

As Christians, we are called to reach out with a Christ-like attitude to show forth compassion and empathy and mourn with them who mourn, and through our own humble ministry to reach out to depressed souls, we may bring them back into the compassion of Christ. Not through warm words that we hope make them feel better – only through being present with the spirit and love of Christ, no matter the outcome.

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