Christians: Take Depression Seriously
With prayer, 'all things are possible,' but sometimes depression requires additional action.
Years ago, a student of mine tried to explain that he had been too depressed to study and asked to be excused from a scheduled exam. I blew him off, telling him to get over it. Only hours afterward, he jumped to his death from a high-rise apartment building. The young man left behind a suicide note telling his parents that he just couldn’t endure the sadness that had been torturing his soul.
Never again would I take depression lightly. In religious circles, depression is often deemed to be a spiritual condition that can be cured with prayer. In many situations, those who suffer from depression are criticized for a lack of faith and told that if only they would yield to an infilling of the Holy Spirit, they would know “the joy of the Lord."
I’m not denying that depression can be spiritually induced. Guilt from having wronged and hurt others can bring it on. A sense of having failed to live out the will of God can give rise to depression. Certainly the fear of death and what might follow can sap the joy out of life. In such cases, meditation on scripture (especially the Psalms), prayer, and other spiritual disciplines often can make available what the Bible calls “the balm of Gilead” that heals the sin-sick soul (Jeremiah 8:22).Let's Own Up to Our Responsibility
As we consider the causes of depression, those of us in the church must face the ways we might be responsible for creating it. Supposedly, we offer a gospel that delivers people from guilt, but often, when we think people do not feel guilty enough to take our gospel seriously, we preach to them in a way that makes them feel guilty. Sadly, we do a much better job of making people feel guilty than we do of delivering them from the guilt we create. We need to confess this and change our ways.
I have a special concern about how the church has generated destructive guilt among gay and lesbian young people. Suicide is the second most common cause of death among teenagers, and many suicide victims are young people who hate themselves because of their sexual identities. Whatever else the church does, it certainly is outside the will of God if it is causing teenagers to hate themselves.Depression Is a State of Mind and Body