As with women leading a church, Christian depression, and anxiety, is one of those topics where Christianity is catching up to the secular justice norms. To give you an idea, a quick Google search on “Christian depression” gives you a mixed bag of results.
From squeeze pages trying to sell us something, videos that ask us “Can a true Christian be depressed?”, weird articles about Satan and our soul, and scattered throughout this nonsense, really helpful articles.
These results point to the mixed views Christians have when it comes to depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. I’d like to add my voice to those who say, “Depression isn’t a character flaw, or a lack of faith, it is a mental illness.”
Depression, anxiety, and despair are littered throughout the Bible
And not in the way some Bible readers would like to think. Thoroughly righteous and holy people cried out to God in depression.
Job 3 is titled as “Job Curses the day he was born”.
If you were to read the whole chapter, I believe you would see that even the most faithful, righteous man on earth can fall into the depths of despair:
Job 3: 3 – 5
“I wish the day I was born would be lost forever.
I wish the night they said, ‘It’s a boy!’ had never happened.
I wish that day had remained dark.
I wish God above had forgotten that day
and not let any light shine on it.
I wish that bitter day had remained as dark as death,
covered with the darkest clouds.”
Elijah, the mighty prophet, spent time in the deepest of valleys (1 Kings 19:4).
“Then he sat down under a bush and asked to die. He said, “I have had enough, Lord! Take my life. I am no better than my ancestors.””
The author of Psalm 42 cries out,
“O God my rock,” I cry, “Why have You forgotten me? Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies?”
As the capstone of the examples, the Book of Lamentations is a collection of poems that put the deep distress of the nation of Israel on display.
Our faith isn’t afraid to look into the abyss of our emotions, it is the people of our faith who often are.
Fallacies about Christian depression
There are so many misconceptions that Christians hold on to, but I’ll only highlight those that impacted my life.
Depression is a sin
Depression is not something you are choosing to live with. It is an emotional state, made by an imbalance of hormones in your brain. What you feel, and experience, isn’t a sin because these feelings and emotions are outside the realm of your control. Much in the same way that a person born with a physical disability didn’t choose it.
Depression goes away with prayer and praise
This is a nope in the strictest sense. Depression is an illness. One that we don’t fully understand, but we are getting better at understanding it while medical professionals research it and how to treat it. Can God take it away? Absolutely. Does He take it away? Not always.
Jesus’s request to have “this cup taken from me” was denied. Did God love Him any less? Nope. Was His faith lacking? Again, no.
Depression is punishment from God
I’d like to point to the Book of Job again, which starts with a heavenly proclamation of Job’s righteousness. Illness, suffering, and pain can’t be attributed to God’s displeasure in us.
Before Jesus heals the man, who was born blind in John 9, the disciples ask:
“Who sinned, this man or his parents?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Jesus’s reply, and Job’s last words to God points us in the opposite direction of God’s displeasure and punishment. It gives us the hope that depression may lead us to the glory of God.
It’s shameful to discuss depression and anxiety openly
This misconception is born from the previous assumptions, and it isn’t enforced by the church community. But it is rare that you’ll hear someone speak of their current battle with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. It is always a battle that has been won. A prayer that has been answered.
This shame, and our inability to discuss it openly, is a burden carried by the person suffering from depression. I believe this indicates that the church can do better to create a safe space for the mentally ill.
How to walk with depression as a Christian
Again, there are so many tips and pieces of advice, I will only share what has helped me.
Remember, God is with you amid the pain
I know, it doesn’t feel like it. I know that feeling of abandonment when the heavens seem shut and all that is supposedly good about God is intangible. The thing about God is, He is known to come down to meet us where we are at. This is what Jesus was all about.
A very helpful book I read, whilst battling one of my darker bouts of depression, was “Where is God when it hurts” by Philip Yancey. It gave me hope in a time where I could only see ashes. It was also the catalyst to bear the cross of mental illness well. Which brings me to the next point.
God can bring good things out of your depression
This is hard to hear, because the first prize is to be rid of depression and be done with it. But, for me, I can see God’s fingerprints all over my darkest hours. There was a time where I didn’t have the emotional energy to be “super Christian Suzie”, serving in church, and “being part of community”.
In that time, I ruthlessly cut out the things I thought I had to be because “they were what people who love Jesus do”. After that season of depression, I didn’t pick any of those things up again, because I learned that what I was trying to do, was someone else’s authentic self. Not mine.
Coincidentally, I met my husband in that season of cutting out the “must dos”, which is also a win.
It’s OK to seek medical help
If you remind yourself, constantly, that depression is a mental illness, then seeking medical help is obvious. Much in the same way that you would seek medical advice if you were a Type 1 Diabetic, or if you had problems with your thyroid, or a club foot.
You would not think less of Christians with these health problems if they were to seek out medical advice, so why should you think less of yourself if you do the same for your illness?
Lean on your friends or community
This is likely the hardest thing you’ll do, because many people don’t understand the weight of emotions you’re trying to deal with. It is also difficult for them to help because of this. What I’ve found helpful is to guide the people I love on how they can help me.
Communicating your needs will leave you feeling vulnerable, but in a loving community you will be loved on and they will help you as you walk with depression. Whether you need help cleaning your house, cooking a few wholesome meals, or just a space where you can rest, voicing your needs will make the burden lighter.