Somewhere in the house that is my mind is a room, a room in which no one is allowed to see. It lies behind an inconspicuous door that goes undetected on the walking tour. Behind a lock and three deadbolts lies a dark and empty space, no furniture or decoration to be seen. The dull hardwood floors are dirty and warn from years of pacing feet and neglected housekeeping.
The sole window is boarded up and sealed to perfection as to block out any rogue ray of light that may attempt shine a sliver of hope into the clandestine space. A stale musty smell hangs in the air intermingling with the pungent odor of disappointment and heartbreak.
The walls are the color of a restless night and appear smooth to the naked eye. Upon further investigation, raised words can be seen upon their surface like a wallpaper of scars. Stepping back, a lifetime of painful stories reveal themselves on every inch from floor to ceiling. As my hand traces each letter for the millionth time, the words cut through as if someone were carving them deep into my skin. This room is a place I have spent too many hours of my life, it is a room called depression.
Unless you’ve experienced this, I’m not sure there is any way to explain the depths of the despair and hopelessness that can sneak up and invade unannounced. And soon, the enemy starts peaking the imagination about what it would be like to never feel that pain again. Believe me, I’ve been there.[Click here to read "A Letter to Anyone Who Feels Like Giving Up”]
Depression is a persistent little beast that remains on the outside of public discussion and is largely neglected by the church.
I have a weird habit; about once a month I go to Barnes and Noble and stare at the bookshelf where one day my published manuscript will sit. It is an improbable dream with just a third of the book finished and no publisher in sight (okay I also haven’t submitted any proposals, I’m working on it people).
However, as a result of my perusing, I’ve formed some strong opinions about this strange section called, “Christian Living.” My biggest question that hopefully my book will answer: why are there no books about depression or suicide? The dangerous implications are obvious: suicide and depression are not part of Christian Living.
Yet, we know that depression affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older, in a given year.*
What I’ve realized in my almost 5 years since becoming a member of a church for the first time is that Christians, just let every other human, get a lot of things wrong and, how to talk about depression and mental illness, is one of our biggest offenders.
1. Depression Shouldn’t Be Talked About
Could you imagine if a Christian was… gasp! (whispers) depressed?
Who would spread the J-O-Y of C-H-R-I-S-T to every corner of the W-O-R-L-D? *Jazz Hands*
The underlying message is that depression is best discussed in a hushed doctors office and definitely not in a church. Even saying the words “Christian” and “Depressed” together seems… dirty and inappropriate. But let’s think about this, Christians are people. People get depression. Therefore… Yes, you guessed it Bobby, Christians will suffer from depression. I have never once heard the word depression said from the pulpit and that has to change.
Takeaway: Christians should be leading the public dialogue about support for any person who is struggling with anything and depression shouldn’t be any different.
2. Christians Must Be Happy at all Times.
I once worked for a
moderately completely psychotic catering manager who literally said to me, “If you wait to smile until someone looks at you, they’ve already seen you frown.” Sometimes I wonder if she coaches the members of my church.
The joy of Christ does not equal a 24/7 state of euphoria. That, my friends, could only be achieved through acidic type drugs or a Vikings Superbowl Victory. Nowhere in the 10 commandments does it say, “THOU SHALT CEASELESSLY SMILE”
We all need to be more real and vulnerable about where we’re at, especially within the church walls so that those struggling the most, feel safe to share what they’re going through.
Takeaway: You can completely love God and still feel sad. True story.
3. No One in the Bible Ever Suffered From Depression
Yeah okay, so maybe they didn’t have a clinical definition yet, but there are certainly passages that might lead one to wonder if perhaps the speaker might have been in the gripes of the emptiness of depression.
- “He (Elijah) came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.” –1 Kings 19:4-5
- “Hannah wept and would not eat . . . She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly” –1 Samuel 1:7–10
- [Paul] . . .we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” –2 Corinthians 1:8–10
Takeaway: Depression has been part of the human experience for thousands of years. God has compassion and encouragement for ALL his people no matter what they are going through.
4. Depression is an Indication of One’s Relationship with Jesus
Depression and mental illness are struggles much like the flu or food poisoning. You would never say to someone puking their brains out, “you just need to spend more time with God.” No, you’d tell them to hydrate for heaven’s sake. So why is “Jesus time” our go-to answer to someone feeling down and out?
Yes, time with God is never a bad idea but our first response is often over-spiritualized. Instead, what if we asked, “have you ever talked to someone about the way you’re feeling?”
Takeaway: Don’t assume the answer is always more God. It’s easy to say but the implications are extremely destructive. Encourage anyone you notice feeling down consistently, over or under sleeping, eating poorly, or talking a lot about death to seek out some help.
5. __________ is the Obvious Cure
The treatment of depression is complex and emotional in every way. It seems the American way has become synonymous with take a pill. Yet for many those pills are a serious fear of losing who they are (that’s my story). Unless you are a medical professional, don’t try to fix anyone. Just listen and encourage.
Takeaway: *Up to 80% of those treated for depression show an improvement in their symptoms generally within four to six weeks of beginning medication, psychotherapy, attending support groups or a combination of these treatments. (National Institute of Health, 1998)*
I have spent a lot of years learning to find my way out that dark and lifeless room. As many times as I say I will never go back to that place, inevitably I find myself back there at some point during the year. Yet, if you’re on this journey as I am, I can’t even begin to tell you how much hope there is to feel recklessly alive again. It WILL get better.[I[If you are really struggling, check out my post "God, Am I Worthless?”]p>The truth is it takes a lot of work and strength you might not think you have. (don’t worry, you do).
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Phil 4:13 (NKJV)
My battle for life (as chronicled in this crazy blog world I’ve created) has involved counseling, healthy eating, forcing myself to be social, serving other people, going on adventures, trying new things, and consistently meeting friends for coffee and check-ins. (And my strongest sword in the fight has been and continues to be regular exercise).
Christians get a lot of things wrong. We should be leading the change in the world in every single area from poverty to caring for veterans to talking about mental illness. Let’s start now.
So today I challenge you to be brave. If you’re struggling ask for help. If you see someone struggling, don’t shy away from the awkward conversation. Ask the questions. Listen. Love them. That’s how we change the perception. We listen and love them like Jesus.