Depression is a topic that isn't often mentioned or discussed in churches today. But if the Church is going to sufficiently address the issue of depression, here are a few things that should be considered:
Depression isn't what the Church sometimes makes it out to be.
It's not a character defect, a spiritual disorder or an emotional dysfunction. And most importantly, it's not a choice. Asking someone to “try” not being depressed is similar to asking someone who's been shot to try and stop bleeding. Such an attitude can dangerously appear in the Church as, “if only you had enough faith.” Having faith in God's ability to heal is extremely important, and personal faith can help ease depression. But to deny medical or psychiatric treatment to someone suffering from mental illness is really no different than denying them to someone with a physical illness.
Mental illness is not a sin.
Sins in the past like physical abuse, substance abuse, and neglect often contribute to depression, and these sins often continue as coping mechanisms to those suffering from mental illnesses. Yet this doesn't make the sufferer of depression a sinner simply for experiencing the effects of their condition. Viewing depression as a sin in and of itself prevents individuals from seeking treatment. Many Christians may respond to depression in unhealthy ways if the root cause is ignored or misunderstood.
The Bible doesn't provide “easy answers.”
The Word is full of wisdom and encouragement for those suffering from depression, but it doesn't come with easy answers. An examination of depression in the Bible shows the darkness that accompanies the illness, but doesn't provide a quick solution to a way out. God's hand isn't always apparent. As Dan Blazer pointed out in Christianity Today, “most of us have no idea what David meant when he further lamented, 'I am forgotten by them as though I were dead.' Severe depression is often beyond description.” .
Depression doesn't always look how we often think.
Depressed people can become really good at hiding their symptoms because of the stigma attached to the illness. Churches often don't address mental illness, often causing an active church member or leader even more incentive to keep it hidden away. The symptoms of depression can sometimes seem to contradict each other , which can make it difficult for a person suffering from depression to recognize it for what it is—let alone for the Church to recognize it.
If churches begin responding to mental illnesses as a community willing to offer encouragement and support, people suffering from those illnesses may be more willing to seek and accept help. It's easy to understand how the stigma related to depression, even in the Church, will prevent people from seeking Christian guidance and support. The most Christ-loving and helpful church community might not have the appropriate framework for dealing with such serious issues. Pastoral staff can often be ill-equipped to deal with depression, and often error toward seeking only a spiritual solution, rather than seeking psychological or medical treatment.
Even churches that seek to provide a safe environment for those suffering in their midst might not have a judgment-free place to discuss their struggles. Programs like Celebrate Recovery can provide a great place for people to interact with others who experience hurts, habits, and struggles, and can help some people deal with the self-medication many who suffer with depression use to numb themselves. However, without a carefully planned strategy to deal with mental illness, “all are welcome” often is not enough.
Most churches probably have the very best intentions when dealing with issues of mental illness. However, the Church may misinterpret or misunderstand these clinical conditions, and respond to them in ways that may cause more harm than good. That is where a Christian mental health professional can be a vital instrument for God to use in the coping and healing process for those struggling with depression.
Adopted from 5 Things Christians Should Know About Depression and Anxiety by Brandon Peach.