7 Feb 2018
As part of my drive for mental health advocacy, I don’t lose sight of the fact that I’m a Christian. I don’t dichotomize my life by saying “this part is Christian, and therefore no depression enters”. Depression is real, hits Christians and non-Christians alike, and is a killer.
So I was pretty excited at first, to know that there’s a resource that actually talks about this from Our Daily Bread Ministries. It’s called “When Hope is Lost – Dealing with Depression“.
Unfortunately, I was pretty upset by the time I finished reading. I’m upset enough that I want to address specific issues raised by the author of this well-meaning pamphlet.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)
If you are a Christian suffering from depression, it’s not your fault, turn your eyes to God and all He has already done for you, and we’ll fight it together. Don’t read this pamphlet.
If you’re not suffering from depression, don’t give this pamphlet to those suffering from depression. Depression is not something that can be “avoided”.
If you feel that you are on the verge of depression, please engage in self-care and rest your heart and mind. Go to God with all your burdens and prayers, and sleep on it. Don’t read this pamphlet.
1. PLEASE don’t blame the sufferer, or make it out that the sufferer could have prevented depression.
I think, first of all, that a person with depression should not be reading the pamphlet. The entire discourse from pages 12 to 18 speak of how depression can hit someone. But what stands out from the pages is the entire focus that depression is avoidable, and that depression is the result of conscious “reasons within our control” (page 17).
I don’t know the author, and I don’t know if he’s had depression before. But the very fact that he puts this in basically makes light of the struggle and pain that all Christian depression sufferers go through – the concrete FEAR that we have failed before God, and are therefore putting ourselves through depression as a result of our sin. The author almost makes it out as a case that it is because of either a refusal to live with deferred hope, or misplaced hopes, that have forced us down the path of depression. He does add in “Without dismissing the role (natural tendencies and biological realities) may have”, as if that would lower the “fault” of the sufferer for committing these two mistakes.
I can’t even begin how small this makes a sufferer feel (and I’m writing as a response to it), and how upset it makes me feel as to how much pain this simple assertion can inflict on a fellow sufferer trying to make sense of God in a sea of pain. It’s pretty simple – we already are in a sea of pain because of what we’ve experienced in our own lives. To be told that the pain is avoidable, and that we could have saved ourselves from that pain by not having misplaced hopes, and learning to live with deferred hope… It’s painful and I daresay a joke to have to hear that from anyone.
I’ll say this for all Christians suffering from depression. You didn’t choose to have depression. Depression chose you.
In essence, the sin of misplaced hopes and not being able to accept deferred hope in things we hope for, isn’t a sin specific to depressives. It’s not cause and effect – if you follow these two sins, or one of them, you are more open to depression. My own personal sin when I crashed, was to take too much upon myself and not trust God. My responsibilities became my shackle and pulled me down. Sin is at the heart of depression, make no mistake. But to say that depression is a result of sin, isn’t catching the whole picture. There are many others who don’t trust God but don’t fall to depression. There are similarly others who don’t have misplaced hopes, or who are not able to accept deferred hope, who steer clear of depression.
In depression, please steer clear of assigning fault unless fault has been assigned by the sufferer themselves. Even therapists don’t do this. Why? Because the mind is already fractured to a point of breaking. Even God didn’t blame Elijah – the first thing He did was to feed and water Elijah, and make sure he rested until he was ready to face God. And even then it wasn’t a condemnation, even if God rebuked him by saying that he had seven thousand left. So when condemned further, to be told, it’s our own fault, well, what will a fractured mind do?
In fact, if someone is approaching depression, getting him or her to start working through their sin and trying to correct their heart problems, is actually a recipe for disaster. Usually the best response? Self-care. If you suspect someone is close to breaking, remind them to engage in self-care. Take a break. Do something they like. Sleep. And then when they’re in a better state of mind, start approaching these problems again.
2. Do sufferers of depression blame others? I’ve not met someone who does.
Another point of contention – that sufferers of depression blame others (page 14). Perhaps it’s anecdotal, but I’ve never met another sufferer who’s in the habit of blaming others. In fact, it’s way more likely that they blame themselves for everything. Usually those who blame others have some other form of mental disorder on top of depression. But I could be wrong here.
3. The Process of Recovery isn’t something to be done alone.
Seeking professional help and/or counselling is left as an additional point on page 30. In essence, there’s a difference between feeling depressed, or being depressed. If you are a Christian suffering from depression, please seek professional help at once. Don’t do all that’s listed from pages 19-28 (Recovering from Depression) on your own. Most times, there are issues that are deep rooted which cause depression which aren’t even obvious. Trying to ferret them out on your own only increases that sense of helplessness and despair that comes with depression because you don’t know where to start. A trained professional’s job is to help you to work out the roots of the problem, through various forms of therapy. Once that has happened, or along the way, the recovery mechanisms of facing the despair, doubts, etc. will start to come into play.
I also take issue with the author’s way of saying that faith can be recovered by facing doubt. Trust me. If I’m not suffering from depression, I would agree wholeheartedly. But a depressed person is filled with doubt that he or she brings before God, and gets no answers for. Why can’t the pain go away now, God? Why do I have to take medicine, God? Why must it be so painful, God?
I take my doubts to God all the time. But sometimes, He doesn’t see fit to answer, and I’m learning to be OK with that. Taking my doubts to God doesn’t solve my depression. But it is a necessary part of being a Christian. Nothing to do with depression whatsoever. It’s true – faith can be recovered by facing doubt. But I didn’t become depressed due to a lack of faith in an unchanging and loving God.
4. And in case you think I’m overstating the case…
“For example, one wife learned that it was loving to give her husband consequences for his involvement in pornography. She still felt despair, at times. But rather than getting depressed in order to hide from hope, her life began to sparkle with a joy that came from giving her husband the kind of honest ultimatums that would get his attention and help him deal with his sin.” – quote from page 27
In this particular quote, if the lady could avoid getting depressed in order to hide from hope, she did not suffer from depression. Despair, yes. Depression, no. Sooo… if we could all sparkle with joy, we would avoid depression. Simple, no?
5. Summary, and why I’m so upset.
I think there’s a need to continue to help Christians with depression to draw the threads of their faith and their condition together, and to hold them tightly intertwined. That it’s not any less Christian or an issue of our faith as to why we’re ill, or why we’re continuing to be stuck in the illness. That particular broken road leads to despair unlike any despair that you and I can put into words, a despair that leads to death by our own hands.
So I applaud, and indeed am happy that there is Christian literature out there. But such literature needs to bring hope to those who need it the most – not the ones who don’t have depression, but those who have depression and are in the midst of the darkness. A pamphlet such as this one not only propagates unfortunate untruths or misconceptions, but further burdens the one who needs hope and help the most.
What should such a pamphlet include? Compassion. Hope. Where to find strength. Where to seek help. Love. All geared at helping someone to claw their way out of the darkness as he/she fix his/her eyes on God, even as He is the one to help him/her out of the pit with the blessings of those around him/her. Explaining gently possible reasons, not stating them categorically. Showing the need to seek God, not purely as a painkiller, but the source of all joy. Stating that there may ultimately be no real reason that we are in pain – but that there is always a way out, but that it takes time.
I found none of these in the pamphlet.
I pray that one day, someone will write something like what I’ve stated. Till then, however well meaning, please don’t give this pamphlet to someone with depression.
You may end up killing them with your kindness.