Depression is a common condition which can affect anybody, including Christians. How can you and your church help? A combination of medical skill, an active faith and a supportive community can make a real difference.
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What is Depression?
Each individual will have different causes and symptoms of depression - try not to make assumptions. Depression causes mental and physical changes. The main symptoms are low mood, loss of enjoyment and low energy. People with depression find it difficult to think positively about the future. It can affect sleep as well as weight and appetite. These symptoms are there most of the day for most days for at least two weeks - some are affected much longer. Depression isn’t just ‘feeling a bit low’.
Some people will have low moods as part of a Bipolar illness - search our website for this too.
What causes Depression?
Depression may be triggered by a one-off event or by long-term unhelpful thought patterns. Others may have a physical problem, such as a hormone imbalance. Occasionally, depression may have a spiritual cause, such as struggling to accept forgiveness. Many people may never know what caused it. If you know two people who have depression, it’s really unlikely the cause is the same. We all differ.
How can it be treated?
Depression doesn’t go away by just ‘pulling yourself together’, but requires a combination of approaches. 'Talking treatments' can help change negative thought patterns or deal with significant life events. Antidepressants increase the ‘feel-good’ chemicals in the brain if these are at low levels. Alongside this, a loving Christian community can help with isolation and loneliness.
What the Bible says
The Bible may use different words, but God has always helped people suffering from depression and other mental illnesses. The church is called to stand alongside those who are suffering and to hold out Jesus as the source of hope for all people. Matthew 5v5 says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Ask yourself why this is 'blessed' and what 'comfort' might look like.
How faith can help?
Depression can cause negative thoughts, including feeling guilty, helpless or hopeless. The Bible and Christianity offer forgiveness, God’s love and the hope of a better future as alternative perspectives. But please remember, depression can make it much harder to believe this. You could ask your friend if this is an issue for them and how you might be able to help them believe?
Being part of a community like the church is very helpful. Because of tiredness and low mood, depression can make it harder to attend services or meet up with friends. A church can help by making sure everyone feels valued, no matter what they can give in return. Regular phone calls and sensitive spiritual support could really assist someone’s recovery. You don’t need to be an expert to help.
How faith can get in the way?
The ‘Good News’ of Christianity is about freedom from sin and guilt, but depression can make guilt seem to hang around. Low mood can make you question everything and few things seem certain. But guilt is often the result of depression, not the cause. If others blame past sin or a weak faith for the depression, this can make things much worse and lead to a negative spiral.
The promise of healing is also difficult. We should always pray, but sometimes God doesn’t heal, just like with physical illness. If healing doesn’t occur, it is never the fault of the individual for ‘not having enough faith’. God uses many different ways to heal, including miracles, counselling and anti-depressants. You can trust God fully at the same time as taking medication or having therapy.
Helpful Articles on this website:
- Mind and Soul have published The Guilt Book
on the problem of persistent guilt which can affect many who struggle with depression.
- A Thorn in the Mind
is one lady's journey through depression - explaining how she was able to benefit from both medical and spiritual approaches and discusses her book
- Mike Bush
tells of how he worked through the depression that followed his fathers suicide.
- Ali Martin
shows how Christian leaders are not immune from depression.