Christians are promised many things as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work, and many people are taken back when life is hard and they don’t feel these things all of the time.
Those who struggle with anxiety and depression may feel that something is wrong spiritually when month after month goes by and the weight upon the soul does not lift. It can seem that a dark cloud taints every part of the depressed person’s life, and what should be joy-filled moments are often followed by thoughts of “Why am I still feeling down? Nothing in my life changes the way I feel.”
Depression affects more than 15 million adults in the United States, comprising about 6.7 percent of the population, according to statistics from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
In 2013, evangelical pastors of large conservative churches, Joel Hunter and Rick Warren, both lost adult sons to suicide. These events reminded believers that depression, anxiety, and mental illness are not only things that “worldly people” deal with. Those who sit on pews every Sunday may well be teetering on the edge of a mental and emotional breakdown.
Despite research, the medical causes of depression are still a bit murky. According to common theory, depression occurs when a patient’s brain chemicals get out of balance, particularly serotonin. This is an oversimplified view of depression, because researchers have found many additional factors that influence this development.
Depression can be genetic or be induced by life events like trauma, grief, or stress. Common symptoms of depression include sadness, sleeping too little or too much, fatigue, thoughts of suicide, and a general lack of interest in life. In some individuals, depression is displayed in irrational outbursts of anger and frustration at life in general.
Despite mainstream Christianity’s embracing of most medical developments, in many areas, depression and anxiety are looked upon a bit differently. Sufferers may be told that their feelings of darkness are caused by a lack of faith, by Satanic attack, or by unconfessed sin. Some Christians may be able to get victory over these feelings by spending time in prayer and Bible study, but others may be doing all the “right” things and still not be able to overcome depression.
Perry Noble, a conservative Christian pastor who wrote about his struggle with depression in his book Overwhelmed, shared on his blog about his own prejudices toward those who needed medication to treat depression.
“I secretly held this as a badge of honor, that I was somehow a better person because I did not need medication to defeat depression,” he wrote.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, depression is a very treatable illness. Treatments include medication, therapy, and residential treatment. None of these treatments are in opposition to what Scripture recommends. In fact, medication can allow a person to think clearly and enable the depressed person to make progress in therapy dealing with the issues that started the depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches a depressed person to change thinking patterns and better handle trauma, life struggles, and stress that can lead to a depressed mood.
Later in life, Perry Noble’s views on the medication of depression changed.
“The brain, just like the liver, is an organ in the body. And scientific research has proved over and over again that chemical imbalances in the brain can lead to cases of anxiety and depression,” he said. “If you would take a pill to cure the liver then why would you not do the same for the brain?”
He goes on to discuss that many Christians’ problem with anti-depressants is that others abuse them. Noble counters this argument by comparing mental health medications with other good things that Christians enjoy with a clean conscience.
“If the rule for keeping things around and making them available is based solely on whether or not people abuse them then the first things we are going to have to get rid of are ice cream, cupcakes, and buffets!”
Christians should understand that a pill will not make them happy, nor will it cure the stresses of everyday life. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, most people only take anti-depressants for 6-12 months. After that time, they are able to stop taking them and use things like exercise, diet, cognitive behavioral therapies, and good self-care to stay in a healthy place.
The medication often allows the dark mood to lift long enough to begin developing those healthy habits. It is not sinful to struggle with the feelings of worthlessness and helplessness. If the feelings continue for longer than two weeks, a medical doctor can be of assistance in finding the proper treatment for depression.
~ 1776 Christian