A few days ago, a good friend and I were talking about Christianity and mental health. It was a wide-ranging conversation, covering some of the fairly standard topics, such as: why doesn’t the Church do better in accepting that depression happens/supporting those who are depressed/realising it’s an illness not a sign of sin in a person’s life/realising that any of us could become mentally or emotionally ill at any point and to be mentally ill is not a sign of being a lesser person, that sort of thing.
There aren’t many solid answers to how to deal with these things, apart from showing the love of God that we’re called to show to all, to one another, and we all know how good/bad/indifferent we all are at doing that on a consistent basis. And then my friend Mat dropped what my Nashvillian friends call a “truth-bomb”. He suggested, fairly tentatively, that perhaps Christians are among the most depressed people, in spite of the fact that we’re supposed to be full of joy, happiness and victory all the time, because we spend an inordinate amount of time being made ever more aware of how rubbish we are.
It almost certainly depends on your experience of Church, what kind of teaching and ministry you have received and been part of giving, but it stands to reason that if depression is a mental illness predicated largely on the inability of the brain to properly process thoughts and experiences and gain a healthy perspective on situations and our place within them, then spending a decent portion of time being told that there’s nothing good about us, we kill Jesus again every time we have a naughty thought, we’ll never amount to anything apart from if we let someone else do everything and so on, might well cause us to find it difficult to find any value in anything that we have about us.
So then, before I get accused of denying the importance or impact of sin, and the necessity of forgiveness (forgiveness beats sin, but both are pretty big parts of life, in case you were worried about heresy), my challenge to all of us is this: can we think of ways of presenting Jesus and His faith, today, that are built on positives, such as a loving Creator who pursues those He desires throughout all eternity, regardless of their constant propensity to tell him to naff off? Or that the perfect love of God has the power to cast out fear?
It won’t get rid of depression. Christians will still be depressed. We will struggle, some of us will fall, some of us will be so scared of what people might think that we’ll never own up to how we really feel or what we’ve thought of doing. But I promise you this, we are the people with the best news in the whole world to share. God loves, God gives, God desires. All we’re called to do is share in it, not get in His way and to shine His light of hope into the world. Most of the key characters in the Bible wouldn’t be given a clean bill of mental health. I actually wonder quite often if Jesus was depressed (heresy!).
What we can do as a Church is talk, listen, love, and at the right moment and with the wisdom of the Spirit, challenge, to show the world, which so often lacks hope, that there is another way to live, whether you are depressed or not. Just ask people “how are you?” and actually want to hear the answer. Give people time. Show them value in the way that you are willing to sacrifice your busyness to focus entirely on them. It could transform your life, and theirs.
And if you are struggling this morning, please, know that you’re not alone. It’s time to talk. Don’t waste another moment.
Image credit: JohnONolan via flickr cc