Do you know (or attend ) a church where mental health is not spoken of as much as it should be? How does this affect you or your perspective of who God is? Sadly, most people who are suffering from depression or a mental health condition stay away from the Church. Why? Because some churches foster a very judgmental, arrogant, and uncaring atmosphere that can make someone suffering from depression feel ousted, unworthy, and even guilty. Thankfully, not all church or Christian communities are this way, but some are.
This article will discuss 5 things you may not have known about Christians who suffer depression.
About 5 years ago I decided to volunteer at a Church within my community. I took that opportunity to speak with a variety of church members about their experience. Interestingly, I found that many of them suffered silently with depression and vowed not to ever say anything about it. I guess you can say I “interviewed” some of these church members. After meeting and speaking with the members of this church, I learned about the various reasons for their keeping their depression a secret. My heart broke as it became more and more clear to me that the church can sometimes do more harm than good.
You may be asking yourself why I would choose to discuss a very politically charged topic. Well, I believe that in order to break down walls and barriers we must provide truth, knowledge, and a space to freely discuss that which we tend to minimize or overlook. Knowledge truly is power.
Because I have experienced (and have seen others experience) the pressure associated with some churches and religious communities, you can listen to my disclosure of my experience at my website: anchoredinknowledge.com.
Although every experience is different, I found that many of the church members agreed that there are things the majority of society misunderstands about the Christian community. Below I have highlighted 5 main points that members and non-members felt needs to be made in order to bridge the gap between mental health and the church such as :
- Christians should never be unhappy: There is often this unrealistic perspective that Christians do not suffer from depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts because “they are redeemed.” One of my previous clients felt that because she was attending Sunday school, Wednesday service, Friday service, and then summer bible camp that she should not have had suicidal thoughts. I asked her why during a session focused on rebuilding her faith. She reported “because everyone around me is always singing, dancing, or praising God in some way. I could at least lift my hands and thank God for what I do have.” Our work included a lot of re-structuring of her thoughts and beliefs around Christianity. I think that’s exactly what needs to happen with society.
- Christians suffer with depression and doubt too: There is often this unrealistic perspective that Christians do not suffer from depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, etc because “they are always happy.” Although Christians share God’s love, are embracing, and offer their support and kindness to society, that doesn’t mean life doesn’t present itself to Christians in a way that makes them feel helpless, overwhelmed, or even unloved. The Christian walk is a fluctuating one and because Christians are human too, life can be stressful for them too.
- The church can make depression worse: The church is often one of the main reasons Christians keep their depression hidden. A lot of sufferers take in scripture or things other Christians say about depression and shut down. They don’t want to keep hearing scriptures or other people making statements against feeling depressed. As a result, Christian sufferers shut down or go away and “hide.” Isolation and withdrawal is where our thoughts begin to beat us up. Isolation and withdrawal are also emotional states where suicidal thoughts can begin.
- Other Christians can be the very cause of someone’s depression: “Religious” Christians who follow formal practices and strict rules can often be very judgmental and accusatory. When this happens to someone who is suffering from depression including self-doubt, they begin to doubt who they are, hear negative thoughts, have suicidal thoughts, and feel ousted or “unworthy” of the Christian lifestyle.
- Prayer, faith, scripture, and church isn’t always enough: Prayer and my faith have been two of the most constant and important”tools” in my life. My faith in God and my dedication to prayer has been a freeing tool for most of my adult life(even when I felt unworthy or worried about everything). For those suffering from depression, prayer, faith, scripture, and church attendance may not be enough. Therapy or counseling, exercise, holistic health practices, eating healthier, or taking medication are all necessary for feeling stronger. There is nothing wrong with a Christian relying on other means to support themselves. God has made the above things available to us for a purpose. But sometimes in order for depression to diminish, other things are needed.
One of the challenges within the Christian community is lack of knowledge about mental health. The Christian community has been blindsided for years. The Church seems to have always approached mental health by praying or educating people on spiritual battles. While this is absolutely necessary, there are some people who need the church to understand their challenges from a different perspective.
Take a minute and tune into a video that may change your perspective forever. Contemporary Christian music artist and Grammy Winner Mandisa opens up about her depression:
As always, I look forward to your comments, questions, and experience.