Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses that people deal with. It is also the one that most people can relate to, as everybody feels sadness in their lives at some point. Depression can be rooted in life’s circumstances, grief or a loss of some kind. When this happens, it is usually episodic and clears up with time. As soon as the issues that caused it are taken care of, the depression will go away on its own. This is the type of depression that is commonly felt by the average person.
Major depression, on the other hand, is a medical condition that is caused by biological problems in the brain. It is more severe and longer-lasting than an average person’s situational depression and does not usually go away on its own. Medication is often needed to relieve the condition and it can be a life-long, recurring problem. Statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) show that a little over 7% of adults in the U.S. have had a major depressive episode. That translates to over 17 million people, an exceptionally large amount. Major depression is a major cause of disability in the United States, disabling many and preventing them from working and taking care of themselves in their everyday lives.
These statistics don’t show the religious affiliations of those who suffer. Many Christians, including pastors and those in leadership roles, report dealing with depression at some point in their lives. Many people quietly suffer week after week with the burden of depression in their lives, unable to reach out for help because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues in the church. Seen as a lack of faith or a demonic issue, depression and other mental illnesses are written off and those who suffer are marginalized when they can’t seem to “get it together”. The church, which should be a place of healing for the castaways in society, has become just as cold as, or worse than, the world around us. For those who suffer with depression or other mental illnesses, the help just isn’t always forthcoming.
I recently read a thread on Twitter where a Christian who struggles with depression asked for prayer for their condition. Some people responded in love, while others came at him with the same old tired and ignorant responses that have become almost cliche in church circles. You lack faith, you need to pray more. These things are not helpful when someone is going through a depressive episode and can actually make things worse for them as condemnation is heaped on top of the things they are already dealing with. Isn’t the church supposed to be a place of healing? Doesn’t Scripture say that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? And yet, for those with mental issues, there is no lack of condemnation. What is clearly not anyone’s fault is blamed on the very one who suffers, and their suffering is only multiplied.
My hope in writing this is that people would wake up and get a clue, to put it bluntly. More education is needed in the church. I pray that people would come to understand the nature of mental disorders like depression and accept that they are biologically-based conditions that respond to medication and therapy. Prayer helps, yes, but sometimes more is needed. There is no reason that sincere believers in Christ should have to keep quiet and shoulder the burden of their problems all alone when we are called to be a community of love and faith. I pray that ministers and ministries would rise up to reach out to those who are suffering and offer help to those with this kind of issue. And I pray that those who suffer would find purpose in their lives in spite of their suffering as I have, perhaps even using their experience to reach out to others in the same circumstances.