What I wish Christians understood about depression

“Maybe the World would just be better off without me.”

As I sat and heard the sentiment, my heart broke. Of course, this wasn’t the first breaking. Nor would it be the last. My friend was expressing the deepest reality of a soul tortured and unable to break free.

Immediately, I tried to call out the lie. “This isn’t truth. This is the depression speaking.”

It’s the hideous beast that grows and wanes but never seems to go away.

But for Christians, well, depression is one of those that we think they need to “get over it,” “snap out of it,” “move on,” “let it go.”

Numbers do lie. But they also tell a story. According to various sources, between 15 and 16 million people in the United States, and 121 million around the world suffer some sort of major depressive episode every year. During COVID, that number has exploded.

My son has a form of muscular dystrophy called Duchene’s Muscular Dystrophy. It is a progressive, deteriorative genetic condition. We are 7 years into our journey. The MDA community is organized and beautiful. The grace shown these kids, mostly boys, is incredible. And fortunately for us and him, my son’s beautiful spirit has never slowed down even as the disease has taken his ability of walk, and his ability to care for his basic needs.

Only a few fools have dared to suggest “if these boys would only try harder…” No one says that, because these boys try hard. My son tries to dress himself. He’s figured out how to pull up his pants by scooting back and forth on his seat. He no longer uses the toilet but a urinal because it gives him some privacy and independence.

The genetic factors are clear. Sure I’ve had people suggest that if I had more faith, my son would be healed. Only one person has dared to actually tell me that to my faith. I’ve developed a standard response. “Feel free to heal Joshua since you have more faith than me.”

What does this have to do with depression?

Sick people can not usually “snap out of it.” Cancer, DMD, all the way to the common cold, no one expects these to go away just with will power. Depression strikes the spiritual and the unspiritual. The wealthy and the poor. The highly educated and the unluckily poorly educated. Depression does seem to be more prevalent in certain ethnic communities. Hopelessness is difficult to swallow year after year.

But for Christians, well, depression is one of those that we think they need to “get over it,” “snap out of it,” “move on,” “let it go.”

This is akin to telling a person with a broken leg to snap out of it, heal yourself, and “just walk it off.”

No one who is depressed wants to be. But for those with chronic depression, the spiral is a self defeating cycle into extreme isolation. They want more friends, but can’t bring themselves to reach out. They want to respond to invitations but don’t have the energy. They want to be engaged, to make friends, to be… but wanting is rarely enough.

What Dreams May Come- staring Robin Williams

One of the stupidest movies of all time was “what dreams may come.” (My opinion only, because of the reincarnational themes introduced. And in a very sad way, strangely prescient, since the main actor, Robin Williams, ended up taking his own life and he lost his battle with depression.) The lead character, played by Williams, must go down to hell, a place of colorless depression where his wife Ann is trapped because she committed suicide.

Here’s my take away. Chris goes down into the hell, which for Ann is a lifeless void. When he can’t bring her out, he decides to stay with her. The redemptive analogy is there, though marred by dubious ending.

As Christians who use Christ as our example, should we not descend down into the private hell of the broken around us, even it’s the depressed? If the light in us is truly strong, then shouldn’t that light shine in the darkness where, forgive the mixing of metaphors, a broken reed is almost broken? Even if there is no solution, today, tomorrow or next year?

Don’t give up!

Would be the cry of the soul of the depressed

Don’t believe me!

Would be the hope of the depressed pushing you away with their word. 

Love me!

Would the lonely depressed insecure depressed cry

Don’t leave me!

Would be the honest craving of the soul of the depressed

So to the Christian who believes that depression is a spiritual issue, I would agree with you.

And to the one who believes it’s a chemical issue, I would agree with you.

And to those who believe it’s an emotional issue, I would agree with you.

But after 20 years of this journey, what I can tell you is the solution is sometimes a drug (anti-depressants help only 60% of the clients). Sometimes a counselor. Sometimes a supernatural visitation. Sometimes more sunlight and exercise. Often a combination of all of these.

And sometimes, the solution is not a quick fix, but a fellow believer who agrees that they will walk and love and live with a broken soul until such a time as God chooses to bring deliverance. Today, tomorrow, 20 years from now, or eternity.

Ask yourself- if a friend or family member battled cancer for years, how would you act towards them? How about depression?

Because our depressed loved ones, friends and family, are worth it.



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