By: Elizabeth Clayton Lee & Mary Keith [condensed]
I close my eyes, turn toward the back of the couch and curl my knees up to my chest.
“Don’t hang up,” I cry softly into the phone. “I’m afraid to be alone.”
My husband’s coming home early. Today’s one of the bad days. If I admit my thoughts to someone, they’ll think I’m crazy. Am I going crazy?
No, you’re not.
For me (Mary), depression came with the winter, though warning signs could be felt and seen much sooner. A born and bred Southern girl, I’d gotten married, started a new job and moved across the country to Minnesota all within two weeks, and just in time for the cold.
I was tired. Really tired. I was edgy and emotional and anxious. I began noticing that I felt exactly like it looked outside — gray and miserable. Numb. I sank further and further until finally breaking down one day at a work conference. I just could not go through the motions anymore. I felt like I was dying inside.
If you’re in the thick of the dark and lonely place that is depression, I wish I could wrap my arms around you and cry with you, because I know how badly you hurt.
I am a Christian, but depression tempted me to distrust God. I was desperately seeking deliverance. He seemed to be withholding it from me.
Facing Depression as a Christian: Beware These Misconceptions
Not only can depression make you question God or feel distant from Him, but it can also make navigating Christian community more difficult. Depression can be even more challenging for Christians because, unfortunately, there are misconceptions and stigmas associated with depression in many Christian communities.
Misconception: Depression is not real.
Reality: Depression is a real illness that impacts the brain’s ability to function as it should.
I (Elizabeth) remember sharing about my depression with a friend. He shared that he had similar experiences. He even felt so bad in high school that his mother took him to the doctor. The doctor diagnosed him with major depression and prescribed antidepressants. When they got home, his mother threw the medication sample in the trash and said that depression was not real. They never went back to the doctor or mentioned the diagnosis again.
My friend’s mother is a strong Christian who cares deeply for her son, but she bought into the myth that depression is not real.
Misconception: Depression is a sin.
Reality: Depression is an illness, not a sin.
If you get a cold or suffer from back pain or any physical illness, does anyone ever tell you that you’re being sinful or failing to trust God because you are in pain? It sounds unreasonable because it is. It’s just as unreasonable to say suffering from depression or any other mental illness is a sin.
God created a perfect world, but when evil entered, perfection was shattered and the world was never the same. We all suffer in some ways from the results of evil breaking into God’s perfect creation. Illness, whether it be physical or mental, is one of the many ways we see how broken our world truly is.
Misconception: Depression will go away if you pray hard enough or have enough faith.
Reality: Depression usually needs to be treated with more than prayer.
As with any illness, someone with depression should seek professional medical treatment. While God is capable of divinely healing mental or physical illness, He does not always intervene in that way. He provides other ways to heal. God gave people like doctors and mental health professionals the understanding and skills to help those who are suffering.
There is no shame in needing medication for depression if you are a Christian.
Misconception: Depression is a punishment from God because you have unconfessed sin.
Reality: Depression is not the fault of the person who is suffering. It is a difficult trial that can refine someone’s faith, but it’s not a punishment for sin.
Even in Jesus’ day, people were eager to ascribe blame for illness and disability, but He challenged their assumptions. We see this in John 9:1-3 (New Living Translation).
As Jesus was walking along, He saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” His disciples asked Him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him."
The assumption that depression or any mental illness is a punishment for sin is just as faulty as the disciples’ assumption that the man’s physical blindness was a result of sin.
Misconception: It’s shameful to discuss mental illness openly.
Reality: Church community should be a safe environment for people to discuss mental health without judgment.
Mental illness is not something you should be made to feel ashamed of or fear sharing with your church community.
A group of religious leaders called the Pharisees were the epitome of religious people who act like they have it all together and judge others who do not. Jesus often called the Pharisees out for their hypocrisy. In contrast, Jesus was gentle and kind with people who were struggling and even sinning but who were open to God changing their lives.
Helpful Things for Christians Walking Through Depression to Remember
1. You are not cut off from God.
The ultimate friend we find in our pain is Jesus Himself. He wept for us. And on the cross, He experienced separation from God in its fullness. Our Savior knows what it means to suffer darkness.
Jesus promised His followers the gift of the Holy Spirit— God within them— as His way of providing peace and guidance to them every day of their lives.
2. You are not alone.
3. God’s love and faithfulness never depend on you.
Depression makes it hard to make some of the “right Christian choices” you might normally.
I (Mary) did not usually trust God, make a gratitude list or even recite prayers and Scripture during my darkest moments.
My shield of faith often lay next to me on the ground, unused.
I wish I had done those things. But in my not doing them, God taught me the most valuable lesson of my life: His love for me is solely dependent on His character, grace and goodness.
4. God can bring good even out of something as painful as depression.
5. There is still hope because your low thoughts and emotions are not the truth.
I (Elizabeth) remember, during one of my lowest times, having an overwhelming feeling that nothing would ever be good again. Rationally, I knew that probably was not true, but my emotions and anxious thoughts were screaming that there was no hope.
The good news is that your relationship with God depends upon His unchanging faithfulness and not on your changeable emotions.
6. It’s OK to seek professional help.
If you are suffering from depression or another mental illness, know this: God cares deeply when you suffer. You are in pain, you may wonder where God is. He is right there with you, just as He always is, whether or not you can feel it.
Even if you are so depressed that you cannot put your prayers into coherent words, God understands. God hears the cries of your heart and is with you.
As Psalm 34:18 (NLT) says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”