Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Depression is Not a Symptom of Faithlessness

Depression hurts. Deeply. If you suffer with it, you know that firsthand. And nobody is immune, not even Christians.

It’s a widespread mental health problem in our nation with 14.8 million of the adult population being diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Depression is twice as prevalent in women as men. It is the leading cause of disability in America for ages 15-44 and often co-occurs with anxiety disorders and substance abuse. More than 350 million people worldwide suffer with depression. The medical community has long recognized it as a huge health risk, especially when it results in suicide.

Christians who suffer with depression often question the validity of their faith. They feel spiritually weak for relying on antidepressants. This is fueled by shame, guilt, confusion, and hopelessness. Believers may hold the mistaken idea that God is angry with them for some reason and must be punishing them for their sins. Indeed, depression can rob Christians of their spiritual peace and joy. Proverbs 17:22 (ESV) says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Suffering with depression ought not be viewed as a symptom of faithlessness. It’s a medical condition resulting from an altered brain structure and chemical imbalance. Brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters cease to function properly and thus affect mood. The disorder may be passed down genetically from one generation to the next. Symptoms of depression should never be ignored or minimized. It requires proper medical treatment along with competent professional counseling.

It doesn’t matter how spiritually minded someone is, depression is no respecter of persons and impacts individuals at all levels of spiritual maturity. To get down on oneself for feeling depressed, or to criticize those who struggle with it, is tantamount to blaming victims for a problem over which they have little control. It’s both unloving and unfair.

Everyday tasks like getting out of bed in the morning, taking care of personal hygiene, grooming and getting dressed, preparing meals, or performing simple chores around the house become seemingly insurmountable challenges. Sleep patterns are erratic—either too much or not enough. Energy levels plummet. Depression also can take a toll on our relationships, negatively impacting marriages and friendships.

In the past, I’ve counseled godly leaders who have told me that they were thinking about resigning their ministries due to their losing battle with depression. Their self-esteem and confidence has taken a big hit. But, in my opinion, these church leaders possess tremendous insight, wisdom, and empathy because of their personal experience with depression, which they wouldn’t have otherwise. They are, therefore, a valuable resource to others who suffer with depression.

David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; 16:7), yet he seems to have dealt with depression. In Psalm 31:9-10, 12 (ESV) he cries out, “Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away ... I have been forgotten like one who is dead. I have become like a broken vessel.” David’s melancholic language reveals that he was clearly not in a good place in his life.

However, with God’s help he survived his painful ordeal. David trusted that God would strengthen and sustain him. He states in Psalm 30:5 (ESV), “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” This beautiful scripture is infused with thankfulness, hope, and joy at the steadfast love of our God.

Depressed persons often feel bogged down emotionally, but the Great Physician is able to bind up their broken hearts (Psalm 147:3; Isaiah 61:1). God is aware of your needs and hears your cries for help. He cares about you. Psalm 34:18 (ESV) promises, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

So never give up! Take hold of God’s loving hand. He won't let go of you. Seek godly counsel, professional care, and support from others. You’re not alone!