Depression in Christians: Essay by a Teen

(I originally wrote this essay in a fit of frustration and also because I needed a subject for my Psychology final exam paper. Needless to say, I think I pretty much fulfilled both needs in that respect. Also, if you’d like to learn more about the connections between faith and depression check out the “Depression and Religion” section of www.depressionforums.com.)

Depression in Christians

By Meagan Gann

There is something uncanny about the medical condition called depression, namely in that it is inherently indiscriminate and respects no persons, afflicting the very greatest individuals as well as the most humble. Teenagers, senior citizens, and even small children can be affected at any moment by what is commonly referred to as “the dark night of the soul.” This, naturally, would also include ardent believers in Jesus Christ. As a Christian who suffers from depression herself, I hope to dispel the stigma, myths, and misunderstandings surrounding this disease. I hope to communicate to others that it is not a disease in the conventional sense, one that can be effectively treated with pills and then forgotten about. Depression is simultaneously a spiritual, biological, emotional, and physical disorder, characterized by intensely complex psychological issues. It is not, as the authors of A New Light on Depression would put it, merely a “case of negative self-talk,” or a “spiritual weakness,” or “unresolved anger.” I intend to bring others to adequate awareness of depression by highlighting its most fundamental definition, its myths and misunderstandings, and its spiritual gifts and benefits.

What depression actually happens to be is often confused by believers and nonbelievers alike. According to its most common definition, it is a “down” period in which an otherwise healthy person is feeling glum or unhappy. Positive external events often improve their moods, however; and they quickly forget whatever it was that made them unhappy. In a case of clinical depression, however, a person continues to suffer no matter how many good things come his or her way. Other symptoms include undereating (or overeating), feelings of worthlessness, inability to enjoy formerly pursued activities, recurring thoughts of suicide, lack of energy, and/or existential anxiety. Depression.com outlines the four types of depression: dysthymic/developmental depression, situational depression (also called adjustment disorder), spiritual/existential depression, and clinical/biological depression.

According to several articles on the christianteens.about.com website, “sometimes the Christian view of mental illness is distressing.” A New Light on Depression’s Harold Koenig and David Biebel agree, going on to add that “most Christians don’t want to be reminded that life isn’t one long, long climb up Sunshine Mountain, faces all aglow, with God handing out smiley-face stickers along the way.”Because of this many Christians will deny that their depressed brethren really have anything wrong with them. They often hold the suffering person at arm’s length and refuse to acknowledge his or her pain, as evidenced by such remarks as “How can you be this way when you have so much going for you?” and “Well, listen to everything that’s happened to me this month”; and I’m not depressed!” Obviously, these people “aren’t projecting their own self-pity onto the depressed person or they really don’t care about that person’s needs,” write Koenig and Biebel. To that end, many myths and misunderstandings concerning depression among believers have been proliferating for the last several years. Most prominent among them is the erroneous assumption that depressed Christians “have weak faith” or “have not properly repented of their sins.” This could not be farther from the truth; as many whom are depressed have confessed sins both real and imaginary to God many times, to no avail. Because they are unable to feel God’s reassuring presence, they think that they are failures as Christians; and similar accusations from undepressed believers only serve to expound upon their guilt. On the other end of the spectrum, non-religious people tend to accuse their depressed brethren of “feeling sorry for yourself” and that “you’re just depressed because you want to be depressed.” These beliefs, too, are false, and probably only serve to worsen the situation because they suggest that mental illness is simply a “mood” that one can “snap out of.” The webmaster of Wing of Madness could not have put it better when she said: “Depression is an illness” would you ask someone to ‘snap out of’ high blood pressure or diabetes?” To that end, she warns, “Platitudes do not cure depression.”

What does cure depression is a combination of psychotherapy (talk therapy) and antidepressant medication. There is absolutely no shame in all in treating yourself this way, as the Bible does not forbid medicine use of any kind (and, moreover, encourages people to keep themselves both mentally and physically healthy). And while depression is a terribly debilitating disease that prevents others from walking through life with confidence and joy, it does have its benefits, especially in regards to one’s religious life. Joanne Blum, a Ph.D. who struggled with depression for years, affirms this point in her article “Food for New Thought – Spiritual Gifts of Depression”: “Despair has been my greatest teacher. As I think back on the serious depressions of my life, which for me have come in 5- to 7-year cycles, I realize that all the big growth spurts of my spiritual life have come from those dark sojourns – and the grace that brought me through them.” In one of her worst periods of depression, “I found myself at a Religious Science church where a healing meditation was in progress… and I made a life decision, once and for all, to try God. Such is the tentative beginning of faith.” She concludes that, “Perhaps it is especially in hell that we lea God’s grace is with us because we must dive deep for it. Because we are motivated to raise our voices and ask for it. And because we finally have enough empty space within, vacated by our egotistical all-knowingness, to receive it.” In other words, depression renders a person into such an empty shell of his or her former self that God can finally come along and fill the vacuum with Himself.

I wish that no one ever had to experience the “slough of despond” (as John Bunyan describes depression in Pilgrim’s Progress); but the fact remains that people do, and that the rest of us must work to be compassionate and understanding while searching for an effective treatment. Depression is such a complex disease that no two people will ever respond in the exact same way to such medication as Zoloft or Prozac. It primarily stems from spiritual, biological, emotional, and physical issues (as evidenced by the many different types of depression out there).

Hopefully I have brought Christians to a better understanding of depression by outlining its basic definition, its ever-prevalent myths, and its religious benefits.

Depression in Christians

By Meagan Gann

There is something uncanny about the medical condition called depression, namely in that it is inherently indiscriminate and respects no persons, afflicting the very greatest individuals as well as the most humble. Teenagers, senior citizens, and even small children can be affected at any moment by what is commonly referred to as “the dark night of the soul.” This, naturally, would also include ardent believers in Jesus Christ. As a Christian who suffers from depression herself, I hope to dispel the stigma, myths, and misunderstandings surrounding this disease. I hope to communicate to others that it is not a disease in the conventional sense, one that can be effectively treated with pills and then forgotten about. Depression is simultaneously a spiritual, biological, emotional, and physical disorder, characterized by intensely complex psychological issues. It is not, as the authors of A New Light on Depression would put it, merely a “case of negative self-talk,” or a “spiritual weakness,” or “unresolved anger.” I intend to bring others to adequate awareness of depression by highlighting its most fundamental definition, its myths and misunderstandings, and its spiritual gifts and benefits.

What depression actually happens to be is often confused by believers and nonbelievers alike. According to its most common definition, it is a “down” period in which an otherwise healthy person is feeling glum or unhappy. Positive external events often improve their moods, however; and they quickly forget whatever it was that made them unhappy. In a case of clinical depression, however, a person continues to suffer no matter how many good things come his or her way. Other symptoms include undereating (or overeating), feelings of worthlessness, inability to enjoy formerly pursued activities, recurring thoughts of suicide, lack of energy, and/or existential anxiety. Depression.com outlines the four types of depression: dysthymic/developmental depression, situational depression (also called adjustment disorder), spiritual/existential depression, and clinical/biological depression.

According to several articles on the christianteens.about.com website, “sometimes the Christian view of mental illness is distressing.” A New Light on Depression’s Harold Koenig and David Biebel agree, going on to add that “most Christians don’t want to be reminded that life isn’t one long, long climb up Sunshine Mountain, faces all aglow, with God handing out smiley-face stickers along the way.”Because of this many Christians will deny that their depressed brethren really have anything wrong with them. They often hold the suffering person at arm’s length and refuse to acknowledge his or her pain, as evidenced by such remarks as “How can you be this way when you have so much going for you?” and “Well, listen to everything that’s happened to me this month”; and I’m not depressed!” Obviously, these people “aren’t projecting their own self-pity onto the depressed person or they really don’t care about that person’s needs,” write Koenig and Biebel. To that end, many myths and misunderstandings concerning depression among believers have been proliferating for the last several years. Most prominent among them is the erroneous assumption that depressed Christians “have weak faith” or “have not properly repented of their sins.” This could not be farther from the truth; as many whom are depressed have confessed sins both real and imaginary to God many times, to no avail. Because they are unable to feel God’s reassuring presence, they think that they are failures as Christians; and similar accusations from undepressed believers only serve to expound upon their guilt. On the other end of the spectrum, non-religious people tend to accuse their depressed brethren of “feeling sorry for yourself” and that “you’re just depressed because you want to be depressed.” These beliefs, too, are false, and probably only serve to worsen the situation because they suggest that mental illness is simply a “mood” that one can “snap out of.” The webmaster of Wing of Madness could not have put it better when she said: “Depression is an illness” would you ask someone to ‘snap out of’ high blood pressure or diabetes?” To that end, she warns, “Platitudes do not cure depression.”

What does cure depression is a combination of psychotherapy (talk therapy) and antidepressant medication. There is absolutely no shame in all in treating yourself this way, as the Bible does not forbid medicine use of any kind (and, moreover, encourages people to keep themselves both mentally and physically healthy). And while depression is a terribly debilitating disease that prevents others from walking through life with confidence and joy, it does have its benefits, especially in regards to one’s religious life. Joanne Blum, a Ph.D. who struggled with depression for years, affirms this point in her article “Food for New Thought – Spiritual Gifts of Depression”: “Despair has been my greatest teacher. As I think back on the serious depressions of my life, which for me have come in 5- to 7-year cycles, I realize that all the big growth spurts of my spiritual life have come from those dark sojourns – and the grace that brought me through them.” In one of her worst periods of depression, “I found myself at a Religious Science church where a healing meditation was in progress… and I made a life decision, once and for all, to try God. Such is the tentative beginning of faith.” She concludes that, “Perhaps it is especially in hell that we lea God’s grace is with us because we must dive deep for it. Because we are motivated to raise our voices and ask for it. And because we finally have enough empty space within, vacated by our egotistical all-knowingness, to receive it.” In other words, depression renders a person into such an empty shell of his or her former self that God can finally come along and fill the vacuum with Himself.

I wish that no one ever had to experience the “slough of despond” (as John Bunyan describes depression in Pilgrim’s Progress); but the fact remains that people do, and that the rest of us must work to be compassionate and understanding while searching for an effective treatment. Depression is such a complex disease that no two people will ever respond in the exact same way to such medication as Zoloft or Prozac. It primarily stems from spiritual, biological, emotional, and physical issues (as evidenced by the many different types of depression out there).

Hopefully I have brought Christians to a better understanding of depression by outlining its basic definition, its ever-prevalent myths, and its religious benefits.

One Reply to “Depression in Christians: Essay by a Teen”

  1. Thanks for posting this article. It’s a topic that Christians don’t talk about enough. A friend of mine was commenting to me recently, how many Christians she knew that were depressed. And I was reading somewhere, probably in “Healing for Damaged Emotions”, about how various ‘big names’ in Christianity struggled with depression throughout their lives, and yet people admire them for their faith and what God did through them.

    As it’s so common, it’s strange that Christians aren’t more aware of depression, and how some Christians respond by saying things like “You’re sinning, because the Bible says ‘Do everything without complaining’.”

    I suppose that, as well as the new idea that Christianity makes life fun, people have lost touch with all the writers in the past who talked about their struggles and emotions and ‘dark times’.

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