Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Depressed Christian

Can a Christian be depressed?
This is probably one of the only times I'm going to get up on my soapbox. This is one of those topics that's close to my heart, as I work with adults with mental illness.  Too often I hear from my clients (and sometimes friends and church family) that they have been told that if a Christian is depressed it is because of a lack of faith.  I have a problem with this philosphy, and I will tell you why.
First, though, I want to explore depression a little deeper. NAMI, The National Alliance on Mental Illness published a brief overview of Major Depressive Disorder that I'm going to use. I also looked over my DSM (Diagnositc and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) briefly.

What is its cause?
There is no single cause. Psychological, biological, and environmental factors may all contribute to its development. Whatever the specific causes of depression, scientific research has firmly established that major depression is a biological, medical illness.

What are the symptoms?
I'm just going to go through a few: persistently sad or irritable mood , physical slowing or agitation, and feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, and emptiness.

So, as Christians, how do we treat brothers and sisters who are depressed?
Here's two statements that I have heard often

1.You need to have more faith
2. Don't let Satan steal your joy.
Now, when I say that those are statements that I have heard, I should also emphasize that these are things I have said. It has just been the past couple of years that I have come to a better understanding of depression.

So, regarding number one:
    Hebrews 11:1- "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Depression is a medical illness. We don't tell people with cancer that they need to have more faith! If one of the symptoms of depression is hopelessness, how much faith does it take to hold on if your emotions are screaming at you that there is no hope?  Great faith.  Feelings of guilt are another symptom of depression.  The DSM states: "The sense of worthlessness or guilt may be of delusional proportions."  These people already feel guilty, let's not add to it by telling them their faith isn't good enough.

Regarding number two:
    1 Thessalonians 5:16- "Be joyful always."
Are joy and happiness the same? I think that sometimes we take the idea of what Paul means about joy and twist it a little bit.  Paul isn't saying, "be bouncing-off-the-walls-freaking-out-with-joy always."  We can be joyful even when we are unhappy.
I just want to wrap this up by saying that yes, depression can be a result of sin, but it is not always a result of sin. And who are we to make that judgment anyway?
      James 1:12: "Blessed is the man who perservers under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him."
      Galatians 6:2: Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
I don't beleive that our friends and family should have to wear a mask when they are depressed.  I've always thought that we should be able to be open and honest about our struggles. 
So what are your thoughts on depression and faith?


1 comment:

Jaclyn.... said...

I like this blog, Missy.
I have experience with this topic, from my life, some family members, and from my social work education. Depression is so tricky. You're right...so many different possible causes. I think that to help a person with depression, you have to think holistically. For example, meds for the biology, therapy for the behaviors/emotions, and yes prayer and spiritual guidance for the soul. Saying "Be happy, God loves you" doesn't quite cut it, but helping a person realize/remember who they are in Christ can help.

I'm thankful that God has placed you in this field. So many people in the psychology field are either cooky themselves or so very lost. Depressed people need people like you...someone to understand their condition who also pointing to the Great Physician who is able to heal us completely.

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