Depression In My Church Community?
Do you feel that depression and anxiety have a tendency to be one of the more sensitive subjects that are a challenge to analyze from a Christian point of view? If so, than you are not alone, because attitudes about mental disorders vary greatly throughout the Christian community on account of the complexity of the illnesses. Many of the misunderstandings about clinical depression, anxiety and mental illness in our society arise from a genuine desire to understand them, and typically folks within the Christian community try to understand them from a scriptural point of view. However valuable the scripture may be for many things, some well-intentioned Christians seem to get "it" wrong; unintentionally of course.
So, in order for well-intentioned Christians to get "it" right, there are a few things we should discuss. First, depression is not a personal choice. It's not a character flaw, a spiritual disorder or an emotional defect. We would NEVER ask someone who's been shot to "try" and stop bleeding. Therefore, we should never ask someone who's suffering from depression to "try" and stop being depressed. Also, keep in mind that we would never deny someone with a serious physical illness access to medical care. Thus, we should ALSO never deny medical or psychiatric treatment to someone suffering from mental illness if they are interested in pursuing that option. Their treatment goes hand-in-hand with having faith in God's ability to heal. This is hugely important because medical science holds that major depressive disorder is real and the causes are complex. Second, mental illness is not a sin. If we view depression as a sin, it prevents sufferers from seeking professional treatment, and they are left with the only option of "self-treatment" of their illness, which are often in unhealthy ways to numb themselves and worsen their condition. Third, there are no "easy answers" found within the Bible. The Word is full of wisdom and encouragement for those suffering from depression and anxiety disorders, but it can easily be taken out of context, which can be a problem. By doing so, we may fail to appropriately apply the lessons of Scripture and form a false understanding of the origional intent of the passages. A good strategy is to study the instances of mental suffering in the Bible and to offer comfort in the fact that even the saints struggled. Fourth, if someone appears "happy all the time", it doesn't mean they are not suffering from anxiety and depression. Depressed people become really good at hiding their symptoms, even from their family and doctors, because of the shame attached to the illness. Depressed people may just be the people you never expect, so not learning to recognize the signs is often a failing strategy. Finally, even the strongest churches don't always "fix" depression.
The basic message here is that even the most Christ-loving and helpful Church community may not have the appropriate structure for dealing with such clinical disorders, and many churches don't have licensed psychologists on their staff. Pastoral staff are usually ill-equipped to deal with depression and mental illness, so in error they attempt to find a spiritual solution rather than medical treatment. Furthermore, even churches that desire to provide a safe refuge for those among us who suffer, these places are not necessarily a judgment-free place for people to discuss their pains and struggles. Sufferers need programs that can provide a forum for them to interact with each other in a non-accusatory manner. They need to share experience with people who can relate to the same “hurts, habits, and hangups,” and can help deal with some of the self-medication problems that they may be resorting to.
True healing comes from a prayerful, loving community that seeks to honestly understand major depressive disorder and related conditions, and one that develops a positive response. We need to realize that we need a carefully planned strategy to deal with mental illness, and the simple “all are welcome” technique might not be enough.
Like the rest of society, most churches probably have the very best intentions when dealing with issues of mental illness. However, the Church may confuse these clinical conditions and respond to them in ways that aggravate them and inadvertently demoralize those suffering. If churches begin responding to mental disorders as a community willing to offer encouragement and support, people suffering from those illnesses may just be able to accept the help.
Depression and anxiety are on the rise in our society and this is what we need to keep in the mind for our Church community as well. Remember that Christ, the Great Physician, came to heal the sick. It's time for the Church to lead us in helping to do the same through recognizing the value of advancements in modern medicine, and finding a balance in delivering spiritual guidance and medical referrals when necessary.
- Jeff Stein
5 Things Christians Should Know About Depression and Anxiety.(n.d.).Retrieved January5,2015,fromhttp://wwwrelevantmagazinecom/god/church/5-things-christians-should-know-about-depression-and-anxiety
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