Emotions - Blog

To the Depressed Christian

Elizabeth Clayton Lee and Mary Keith


I close my eyes, turn toward the back of the couch and curl my knees up to my chest.

“Don’t hang up,” I cry softly into the phone. “I’m afraid to be alone.”

My husband’s coming home early. Today’s one of the bad days.

If I admit my thoughts to someone, they’ll think I’m crazy. Am I going crazy?

No, you’re not.

For me (Mary), depression came with the winter, though warning signs could be felt and seen much sooner. A born and bred Southern girl, I’d gotten married, started a new job and moved across the country to Minnesota all within two weeks, and just in time for the cold.

I was tired. Really tired. I was edgy and emotional and anxious. I began noticing that I felt exactly like it looked outside — gray and miserable. Numb. I sank further and further until finally breaking down one day at a work conference. I just could not go through the motions anymore. I felt like I was dying inside.

If you’re in the thick of the dark and lonely place that is depression, I wish I could wrap my arms around you and cry with you, because I know how badly you hurt.

I am a Christian, but depression tempted me to distrust God. I was desperately seeking deliverance. He seemed to be withholding it from me.

Why will you not lift me out of this pit? I’d cry. Are you not a deliverer? Why do the voices of despair sound so much louder than yours?

We hope the content we have created on this page will help you find hope and the help you need. We hope it will remind you that you are not alone as a Christian experiencing depression.
 

The hyperlinks below will take you to sections of this page you might want to find right away.


Facing Depression as a Christian: Beware These Misconceptions


Not only can depression make you question God or feel distant from Him, but it can also make navigating Christian community more difficult. Depression can be even more challenging for Christians because, unfortunately, there are misconceptions and stigmas associated with depression in many Christian communities.

When you or the people around you do not understand the reality of depression, it makes seeking help more difficult. Depression can already distort your perception of reality or make you doubt your judgment. It’s crucial to be able to recognize what is and is not true about depression.

Many well-meaning people may actually give you bad advice because they don’t understand depression.

Misconception: Depression is not real.

Reality: Depression is a real illness that impacts the brain’s ability to function as it should.

The idea that depression is not real is a very dangerous misconception that prevents many people from getting help.

I (Elizabeth) remember sharing about my depression with a friend. He shared that he had similar experiences. He even felt so bad in high school that his mother took him to the doctor. The doctor diagnosed him with major depression and prescribed antidepressants. When they got home, his mother threw the medication sample in the trash and said that depression was not real. They never went back to the doctor or mentioned the diagnosis again.

My friend’s mother is a strong Christian who cares deeply for her son, but she bought into the myth that depression is not real. She seemed to think it was something shameful. Sadly, my friend to needlessly suffered from depression for years and even despaired of life itself. He finally got professional help for his depression a few years ago and is now thriving.

Misconception: Depression is a sin.

Variation: Being depressed means you are failing to trust God. Being depressed means you are failing to be joyful in all things or to give thanks to God.

Reality: Depression is an illness, not a sin.

If you get a cold or suffer from back pain or any physical illness, does anyone ever tell you that you’re being sinful or failing to trust God because you are in pain? It sounds unreasonable because it is. It’s just as unreasonable to say suffering from depression or any other mental illness is a sin.

God created a perfect world, but when evil entered, perfection was shattered and the world was never the same. We all suffer in some ways from the results of evil breaking into God’s perfect creation. Illness, whether it be physical or mental, is one of the many ways we see how broken our world truly is.

Yes, mental illness is often triggered by stressors or negative environmental factors, but that does not mean it is not real. Physical illness is also frequently triggered by stressors and negative environmental factors. Stress can cause ulcers and increase the risk of a heart attack, very serious illnesses that, like depression, need treatment, not condemnation.

Misconception: Depression will go away if you pray hard enough or have enough faith.

Reality: Depression usually needs to be treated with more than prayer.

Again, depression is a serious illness. As with any illness, someone with depression should seek professional medical treatment. While God is capable of divinely healing mental or physical illness, He does not always intervene in that way. He provides other ways to heal. God gave people like doctors and mental health professionals the understanding and skills to help those who are suffering.

Because chronic stress and trauma can cause physical and chemical changes in the body and brain, they can trigger or worsen depression. Therapy or counseling can be a crucial part of treatment for many people suffering from depression. Being able to process trauma and come up with strategies to reduce stressors and cope with difficulties can help people heal from depression.

Though there is often an environmental and emotional component to depression, the underlying issue is usually biological. This is one reason two people may be going through the same or similar situations and one may develop depression while the other does not. Depression, as with all things involving the brain, is complex, and not even the most advanced researchers fully understand exactly what causes it.

Doctors have found many biological factors that cause or contribute to depression, including genetics, parts of the brain not functioning as they should, problems with neurotransmitters and neurons (nerve cells), and certain medical conditions. Sometimes medications help correct or lessen these issues and so treat depression. Just as people with high blood pressure take medication to help their circulatory systems function better, you may need to seek out medication to help your brain function better.

There is no shame in needing medication for depression if you are a Christian.

Misconception: Depression is a punishment from God.

Variation: If you feel depressed, it’s because you have unconfessed sin.

Reality: Depression is not the fault of the person who is suffering. It is a difficult trial that can refine someone’s faith, but it’s not a punishment for sin.

Once, after I (Elizabeth) shared my testimony with a group of students at my university, a friend came up to me and said, “When I feel like that, I try to figure out what I’ve done wrong that I need to confess.” The comment, while totally inappropriate, was actually meant to be a helpful piece of advice, not a judgment.

Even in Jesus’ day, people were eager to ascribe blame for illness and disability, but He challenged their assumptions. We see this in John 9:1-3 (New Living Translation).

As Jesus was walking along, He saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” His disciples asked Him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.

The assumption that depression or any mental illness is a punishment for sin is just as faulty as the disciples’ assumption that the man’s physical blindness was a result of sin.

Misconception: Depression is just an excuse for laziness or not doing your “Christian duty.”

Variation: You are letting God and your church down if you are too depressed to serve or minister.

Reality: God loves you however much you do to serve Him.

People who are depressed are already dealing with enough without also being shamed for not doing “enough.”

Churches often rally around people going through physical illness, bringing them meals and showing them grace. Sadly, mental illness is often met with judgment instead of compassion and support.

Not only is this unhelpful, it’s unbiblical. Depressed or not, your relationship with God is more important than doing or serving. We see this in Jesus’ interaction with two sisters named Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42 (NLT):

As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed— or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

God is more concerned with your heart and obedience than how much you serve at church or how many times you can share your testimony. Your service for God is an expression of the change He has brought about in your life rather than a strategy for winning His favor.

But no matter what anyone says, having a relationship with God is not about what you can do for God. He’s already done everything through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, so once you have a relationship with God, you cannot lose it by failing to do religious things.

People who are depressed are already dealing with enough without also being shamed for not doing “enough.”

Depression can make it very difficult to accomplish the tasks of day-to-day life, including ministry. You may be in a season in your life when you need to focus on seeking healing from your mental illness and let some other commitments go. That’s okay.

Even if you cannot serve in your normal roles at church or minister in any way, God still loves you. No one should try to guilt or shame you for not being able to do what you would normally do as your Christian service.

You should be allowed to serve when you are able, trusting God to provide you with opportunities to share your faith even when you’re depressed.

I (Elizabeth) remember that in one season of bad depression, my thoughts spiraled downward until they came to a point where I wondered, What if I feel utterly depressed and unable to do anything every day for the rest of my life? At that moment, God gave me the assurance that He would still love me and have a purpose for my life.

The reality is that God will probably give you many opportunities to serve and minister at a time when your depression is not at its worst. He will give you a new, powerful testimony about His faithfulness during suffering, like He did with me. You can use your story to serve others who are in the midst of suffering.

But even if you can never do anything else “for God” again, He still loves you and would not leave you or forsake you.

Misconception: People with depression are unstable and cannot be trusted with church leadership or responsibilities.

Variation: Depression is an indication of unconfessed sin or weak faith, so people with depression are not fit for leadership.

Reality: Depression and other mental illnesses do not disqualify people from leadership or church roles. Experiencing depression can give people compassion or perspective in a way that actually makes them excellent leaders.

Some people may need to step back from certain roles during times of deep depression, but others who struggle with depression are perfectly capable of serving and even leading in ministry activities.

Radical dependence on God is crucial not only for surviving depression but also for ministry and leadership.

This is especially true when people are seeking treatment or have depression that is well controlled. Though depression, like many medical conditions, may be a lifelong struggle, people often learn to cope well with resources like counseling and medication.

Suffering is a universal experience, so church leaders need to be well-equipped to care for people who are going through hardship. When you’ve walked with God through something as difficult as depression, it gives you a greater ability to walk with others through difficult times.

Not only can depression increase a person’s level of compassion and empathy, it can also provide a new perspective on life that equips them for Christian leadership.

Personally, when I (Elizabeth) was depressed, my prayer life increased. I needed God in a way I never had before. In some moments, all I could do was pray, “God, help everything to be okay.” But I knew He was there, sustaining me when I did not have the ability to sustain myself.

Radical dependence on God is crucial not only for surviving depression but also for ministry and leadership.

Depression also gave me eternal perspective. Eternal perspective is understanding that God and eternal things matter so much more than our present reality.

During times of depression, I really identify with the book of Ecclesiastes. In it, Solomon, a king of Israel and son of King David, talks about the ways he sought fulfillment and meaning in life. He lists temporary things such as pleasure, knowledge and wisdom, possessions, success, hard work and so on.

He declares each of these cravings as “meaningless.” When you experience depression, it’s easier to share Solomon’s perspective because none of these things can lift you out of depression. The things of God begin to matter more. You crave the eternal.

Even when things were really bad, I knew that one day, I would be with God in heaven and I would never have to suffer again. I want everyone to be there with me and get the chance to experience lasting, eternal joy. Depression helped me understand the value of ministry and of helping people start a relationship with God in a new way.

Misconception: It’s shameful to discuss mental illness openly.

Reality: Church community should be a safe environment for people to discuss mental health without judgment.

Sadly, some Christians can be very judgmental about mental illness, but that is not a biblical response. Mental illness is not something you should be made to feel ashamed of or fear sharing with your church community.

Depression and mental illness should receive as kind and gentle a response from Christians, as they do from Jesus.

Jesus made it clear He was not pleased with people who put on a show of being very religious and moral and who judged others.

A group of religious leaders called the Pharisees were the epitome of religious people who act like they have it all together and judge others who do not. Jesus often called the Pharisees out for their hypocrisy. In contrast, Jesus was gentle and kind with people who were struggling and even sinning but who were open to God changing their lives.

The Christian community should never be a place where people feel they need to hide and cover up what they are really going through. In a genuine Christian community, people can share all of their struggles and ask for prayer without fear of shame or judgment. They can testify about how God is working through whatever is happening in their lives.

Depression and mental illness should receive as kind and gentle a response from Christians, as they do from Jesus.

Misconception: You can always tell if someone’s depressed by outward appearances or actions.

Reality: You cannot always tell that someone is depressed from how they look or act.

Many people with depression are so skilled at hiding their condition that you would never know from the outside.

I (Elizabeth) have heard people say something along the lines of, “But you do not look depressed.” I’m not sure what exactly people think depression should look like, but depression can look a lot of different ways.

You can wish you no longer existed but look fine to the people around you. This is especially true for someone struggling with bipolar disorder, which includes high moods, called manic episodes, alternating with deep, severe depression.

Sadly, I’ve had a friend and a teacher who suffered from bipolar disorder die from suicide. Both were very outgoing and fun to be around much of the time. I remember meeting so many people at their funerals who were stunned and confused. I heard comments like, “He’s the last person I would ever have guessed would be suicidal,” or, “But he was always so happy.”

You cannot assume someone is okay based on external appearances.

Misconception: It’s okay to talk about another person’s depression or struggles with mental illness as long as they do not know.

Variation: Sharing someone’s struggles with mental illness without their knowledge lets other people know they need to be sensitive.

Reality: When people share their mental health concerns, those should be respected and kept in confidence. It is gossip to talk about others’ mental health behind their backs.

Talking about someone else’s personal issues when they have not given you permission is never a good idea. But it can be especially painful when you are sharing someone’s struggles with mental illness.

Whether you think you are having a serious conversation about a real issue or you are just sharing gossip, using specific examples from the life of a person you know is a breach of their trust. Prayers and prayer requests for others should be respectful, not thinly veiled opportunities for gossip or judgment.

Helpful Things for Christians Walking Through Depression to Remember


Depression is misunderstood by many, and it often carries a stigma. Unless you’ve gone through depression, it is difficult to comprehend how terrible it is. Finding healing is not easy, and it takes time. No one has all the answers. But these are some helpful things to remember if you are a Christian walking through depression or if you know someone who is.

1. You are not cut off from God.

The ultimate friend we find in our pain is Jesus Himself. He wept for us. And on the cross, He experienced separation from God in its fullness. Our Savior knows what it means to suffer darkness.

But when you are experiencing a mental health crisis and feeling isolated, it’s very easy to forget that God is literally within you. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God Himself, living and active in the life of everyone who trusts in Jesus.

When Jesus was about to be arrested and crucified, He sensed the distress among His closest followers. He knew the crisis they were about to go through. His solution was to reveal to them that their very reality as individual humans was about to be transformed in an unprecedented way.

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is Mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from Me what He will make known to you.” (John 16:12-15, New International Version)

Jesus promised His followers the gift of the Holy Spirit— God within them— as His way of providing peace and guidance to them every day of their lives.

If you have placed your trust in Jesus, that same Spirit lives within you. God literally could not be closer to you in whatever you are experiencing.

2. You are not alone.

When I (Mary) am depressed, I cannot read about God’s promises. It hurts too much. But within the pages of the Bible, I find friends who help me get through these times because of their honest expression of their feelings in dark moments.

Check out these words from Jeremiah, Elijah and David respectively:

O LORD, You misled me, and I allowed myself to be misled. (Jeremiah 20:7, NLT)

“I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life.” (1 Kings 19:4, NLT)

“O God my rock,” I cry, “Why have You forgotten me? Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies?” (Psalm 42:9, NLT)

The Bible provides many examples of people experiencing depression, darkness and frustration with God. He is not angered by your honest words. God wants your relationship with Him to be authentic. His mercy reigns even in your brokenness.

3. God’s love and faithfulness never depend on you.

Depression makes it hard to make some of the “right Christian choices” you might normally. I (Mary) did not usually trust God, make a gratitude list or even recite prayers and Scripture during my darkest moments. My shield of faith often lay next to me on the ground, unused.

I wish I had done those things. But in my not doing them, God taught me the most valuable lesson of my life: His love for me is solely dependent on His character, grace and goodness.

That’s it.

Because I’ve placed my faith in Jesus and He’s paid for all my sin and brokenness on the cross, He will never walk away from me.

4. God can bring good even out of something as painful as depression.

God can handle your doubts, frustrations, failures and darkest moments because He is astoundingly gracious. He loves you through it all because that’s simply who He is.

God will use us to bring hope to others. Hope means the most when it comes, stumbling, out of the dark places.

I (Mary) find myself in tears whenever I hear people say they want to kill themselves because I’ve been there. Empathy is powerful. It enables us to comfort others and know how to pray for them.

As I was healing from a season of deep depression and anxiety, I got to sit next to a young woman who was in the thick of it. I listened. I offered my story. Tears streamed down her face as she whispered, “Me too,” again and again. I put my arm around this woman and prayed for the things I had needed just a few months before.

Ultimately, God will use us to bring hope to others who are hurting because we’ve been where they are and made it to the other side. Hope means the most when it comes, stumbling, out of the dark places.

5. There is still hope because your low thoughts and emotions are not the truth.

One of the hardest things about depression is that it takes away your ability to feel hopeful.

I (Elizabeth) remember, during one of my lowest times, having an overwhelming feeling that nothing would ever be good again. Rationally, I knew that probably was not true, but my emotions and anxious thoughts were screaming that there was no hope.

Depression plays tricks with your thoughts and emotions. Many Christians are used to having an emotional experience of their faith, such as feeling a “spiritual high” on a retreat or feeling close to God during a powerful time of worship. When you’re depressed, you are probably not going to have those emotional experiences.

The good news is that your relationship with God depends upon His unchanging faithfulness and not on your changeable emotions. Counter the lies running through your head with the truth in the Bible.

God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” (Hebrews 13:5, NLT)

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow— not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. (Romans 8:38, NLT)

6. You can find strength by leaning on community.

When you’re depressed, the last thing you usually want to do is be around people. The problem is that being alone with your thoughts is probably the most dangerous thing you can do when you’re really depressed. Depressive thoughts tend to spiral, and because depression overwhelms your emotions, it’s easy to believe the lies that your life is hopeless and no one cares about you.

As much as you do not feel like being around people, it’s crucial to have someone who can just be with you and be a physical reminder that people love you.

If you are at the point where going anywhere or even just getting out of bed seems impossible, ask a trusted friend to come by and spend time with you. Give that person a key if you are at the point where you cannot get out of bed. If you do not feel like talking, watch a movie together or listen to music. (Avoid emotionally draining movies and music that will feed your negative thoughts.)

If you are able, go to places where you can receive support and encouragement, like a church small group or a family gathering. Sadly, sometimes those places are not supportive or encouraging. If that’s the case, it is really important to find at least a few key people who can walk through your depression with you.

If you do not feel like you can muster the initiative to get yourself out and go somewhere on your own, ask a friend to help. Have someone who attends the same church come by and pick you up on their way to church. Have a small group member in the same neighborhood meet you to walk to group with you.

During my sophomore year of college, I (Elizabeth) met with a group of friends every evening to pray. When I became really depressed that year, going to the group as often as I could get myself out the door was the thing that was the most helpful in my recovery. I needed professional help, but medications and therapy take time to work. Having a safe community while I was in process helped me keep going, even at my lowest points.

7. Your friends and family can help you.

When I (Elizabeth) was at one of my really low points of depression, I remember a friend telling (not asking) me that she and another friend were going to come over and clean my apartment. I was hesitant but reluctantly agreed. She knew that I should not be isolating myself and that the chaos around me was not helping my mental health.

Even after they left, the clean, organized space was a reminder that there were people who loved me and cared for me. When my depression tried to tell me I was alone and unloved, there was a physical reminder that that was not true.

If friends send you cards or pictures, hang them in places you can see them so they can be physical reminders of the people who love you.

People often feel at a loss to know how they can support loved ones with depression. One thing anyone can do is pray. Ask friends and family members to pray for God to give you hope and wisdom as you seek treatment and healing. While prayer alone usually is not enough to end someone’s depression, prayer is still powerful and important. God hears and cares.

8. It’s OK to seek professional help.

Seeking help for depression does not mean you do not have enough faith or that you are a bad Christian. In the Bible, we see Jesus heal many people from physical illnesses, but Christians who understand the Bible well would not use that as proof that people with physical illness lack the faith to be healed or are being punished. When Christians are physically unwell, they visit their doctor. The same wisdom holds true for your mental health.

If you want someone to address your depression in the context of your faith, some large churches have counselors on staff, and there are many Christian counselors available to help.

Christians can still benefit from secular counseling. Often, insurance will not cover faith-based counseling services, so secular counseling may be more financially viable for you. Some Christian counselors have the option of a sliding scale for payment based on income.

God Cares About Your Suffering


If you are suffering from depression or another mental illness, know this: God cares deeply when you suffer. You are in pain, you may wonder where God is. He is right there with you, just as He always is, whether or not you can feel it.

Even if you are so depressed that you cannot put your prayers into coherent words, God understands. God hears the cries of your heart and is with you.

As Psalm 34:18 (NLT) says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

Even if you are confident of God’s care in the midst of your suffering, it can still be difficult to navigate Christian community. Sometimes you will have to overcome the stigma and misconceptions that surround depression as you seek support. God can give you the strength to seek the help you need.

No matter what others may tell you, it is not shameful or a sign of weak faith to go to therapy or take prescription medication for a mental illness.

Some people will never fully understand the truth about depression. Seek out people you feel safe with and who can support you without judgment. It is important to have people encourage you, walk beside you, pray for you, and remind you of the truth of God’s love and faithfulness during this difficult season.

With the love and support from God and the people around you, you can get through this time.

If you’re depressed, tell someone. Tell a doctor, friend, family member or counselor. Please do not suffer alone, especially if you feel suicidal.

More Articles on Depression and Mental Health


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About the Authors

 

Elizabeth Clayton Lee

Elizabeth Clayton Lee is a freelance writer in western New York. Her writing covers a wide variety of topics including Christianity, spiritual growth, mental health, foster care, adoption, parenting, and culture. She and her husband are foster and adoptive parents who are passionate about caring for vulnerable children and families.

 

Mary Keith

Mary Keith is a stay-at-home mom and writer currently residing in Alabama. She loves eating good food, cheering on the Crimson Tide, and finding good stories. Contact Mary at marylkeith13@gmail.com.

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