Depression, once rarely talked about is now advancing against the stigmas that surround it. Unfortunately, Christian depression remains a spiritual battleground among many. Often not recognized as a real disease, it’s labeled as sin rather than a condition in need of treatment. As a result, millions of depressed Christians go without needed treatment.
What is depression?
Depression is often described as a chemical imbalance. However, research has shown it’s much more complicated than that. Depression is more than having too much or too little of a particular brain chemical. Multiple factors such as mood regulation, genetics, stress, medications and medical problems can be working together to cause a person’s depression.
Yes, it involves chemicals, but it’s a lot of chemicals that work all around (and in) nerve cells. The chemical reactions and the way they fire in our brains make up an incredibly complex system. All of which is responsible for the way we act, our mood, responses and mental health balance. Outside factors are just as involved as those inside our brains and any one being misaligned can cause depression.
Why is it different for Christians?
Depression itself isn’t different between one group or another. Symptoms can be recognizably similar or vastly different from one person to the next regardless of where they’re from, their personal beliefs or any other identifying factor. For Christians however, depression (mental health as a whole) is often dismissed.
Some Christians told me my “down in the dumps” was due to my lack of faith. I’ve been told in order to “snap out of it” I should pray more, read my Bible, and figure out what sin in my life was bringing me down. The attitude that depression isn’t real was the spark of a spiritual battle. One I was not prepared to fight. I believe it’s the same for other Christians as well.
Depression isn’t something a lot of churches talk about. Church-goers label it as weakness rather than a disease. It is seen as a character flaw. Early on was even treated as a demonic attack. Even those in authority positions, who also suffer, are encouraged to do so silently to be stronger examples to the rest of the church.
It’s hard for Christians to explain situations that don’t have clear answers from the Bible.
Instead, the simple answer for everything that can’t be explained is that “Jesus is enough.” Regardless of the situation, Jesus was enough to solve every problem. I struggled to understand the concept because, if Jesus was enough, then I shouldn’t have felt some of the things I did. Clearly something was wrong with me. I questioned if I was really even a Christian.
Missing the signs
Some days I struggled to get out of bed. Not because I had stayed up too late but because fatigue had crippled me. I lost interest in the things I loved the most and had no control over my emotions. Anxiety built within me and I felt hopeless. All of which, I know now to be signs of depression.
Even the thoughts of suicide weren’t enough to make me realize there was something wrong with my mind. Other Christians gave me scripture that only made me feel worse about myself. Instead of it helping, I just I wasn’t good enough for God. I determined I had disappointed everyone in my life including Him.
They said my faith was weak. I needed to immerse myself in scripture, rebuke the sin in my life that kept me down. Christians, after all, should be positive! Filled with the Holy Spirit! Basking always in the love of Christ!
But the love of Christ didn’t feel like enough.
What I felt wasn’t a matter of being lazy. I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself. Trapped in a mindset I couldn’t escape, I constantly questioned my relationship with Christ. Certain about my beliefs, yet embarrassed to feel like such a weak follower.
Instead of opening up and talking about it, I isolated. I was ashamed and became even more depressed that God would never be able to use someone as broken as me.
It wasn’t until decades after my depression began that I secretly met with a counselor. I didn’t want anyone to know. It felt like there was a clash between spiritual guidance from the church and secular treatment from a therapist. There, I had a revelation about my condition.
Experiences in my past had contributed to my depression. Childhood trauma, rape, abuse, neglect were just a few of the factors. Depression was explained in a way that made me understand spiritual battles won’t heal until I am able to mentally think clearly.
I feared God couldn’t use me because of my brokenness. Then I realized, if God couldn’t use broken people, He couldn’t use any of us. We’re all broken, just in different ways.
Medication is forever
Finally able to eliminate the ridiculous notion of demonic possession (or being of weak-minded faith) my next concern was about medication. I didn’t want to have to take a pill for the rest of my life for my brain to work.
I learned the brain is dependent on the neurotransmitter pathways. Those that involve serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, it doesn’t function like a bank of neurotransmitters. Instead, it has an intricate design. It stores information within its neurocircuitry and, it continually adapts and changes.
My depression is a problem with the way my brain is wired. Genetics, traumatic events, negative self-talk and even my thoughts about God have all played a role. My rewiring process started with medication but there are other methods and strategies I’ll eventually adapt to. Treatments vary from person to person but, even if I do have to take a pill, thinking clearly is more important than hiding from the judgements of others.
Christians being happy all the time is a myth. It’s not even Biblical. Christ himself said we would have troubles. Paul had his moments of being down. Even King David gets accused of being bi-polar because of radical changes in the tone of his words
Depression is not something to hide in shame about. It’s something to get help with to heal, function…live! If reaching out to others in your church isn’t an option you’re comfortable doing, reach out to a qualified counselor (hint, there are even Christian counselors). You can also reach out to a multitude of online communities for resources.
There’s a reason the Bible says over 100 times to seek counsel from others. Not counsel from just anyone but wise counsel. If someone is continually giving you advice that isn’t working, that’s not wise. Keep looking.
Above all, don’t let your depression determine your relationship with Jesus. He won’t forget you and you will never too broken for Him to love. Every relationship requires clear thinking and mental processing to be strong, including one with Him. He’s waiting for you to start that process.