Christian counselors often have clients walk into their office when their shame and guilt over experiencing depression has reached an unmanageable level. How could a disorder that affects 1 in 6 individuals at some point during their lifetime result in feelings of judgment and condemnation from the Christian community? Many well meaning brothers and sisters in Christ may misunderstand Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). The stigma that can follow this disorder can be seen in false beliefs that depression always: 1) indicates a need for salvation, 2) points to possible unconfessed sin, 3) signals a lack of being spirit filled, 4) means attention seeking behavior/ excuse for behavior, 4) evidences a stronghold, 5) signifies a resistance to the call of God, or 6) denotes not trusting or depending on God (Lyles, 2013). When the Christian community supports these beliefs, those suffering from MDD can internalize guilt/shame, stop talking and avoid others, begin self-medicating or increase in suicidal thoughts (Lyles). Depression certainly is not always due to spiritual issues but condemnation and judgment certainly can increase MDD symptoms.
Faithful servants of God, such as David, Elijah and Job, suffered from depression. Job’s significant personal losses, David’s guilt following Bathsheba, and Elijah’s stress certainly brought about depression even though they were walking with the Lord. Christian figures, such as C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther, and Charles Spurgeon have been reported to experience bouts of depression. Spurgeon stated in a sermon, “Fits of depression come over the most of us. Cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.” Christians are subject to depression because they are human not because they are bad Christians.
Understanding the causes and symptoms of depression can allow Christians to seek help more readily and to reach out to other’s in the community who may be suffering. MDD can be due to “genetics, gender, age, trauma/grief, stressful life events, medical/medications, nutrition, psychiatric problems as well as spiritual issues” (Lyles, 2013). Emotional symptoms can include, depressed mood, inability to enjoy oneself, hopelessness, low self-esteem, impaired memory, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, and negative thoughts. However, 69% of people with MDD present only with physical symptoms. These symptoms include: headache, fatigue, disturbed sleep, dizziness, chest pain, vague joint pain, vague back/abdominal pain, GI complaints, sexual dysfunction/apathy, and menstrual problems (Lyles, 2013).
Being aware of depression, the prevalence, symptoms and the stigma for the Christian, we may be able to reach out to others and assist them in receiving proper treatment. Consequences of not seeking treatment can be physical distress or illness, family/marital discord, self-medication, financial stress, addictions, and a higher risk of suicide. Treatment includes prayer, diet, exercise, sleep, counseling, hobbies, and medications. Encouraging those suffering from depression to seek professional help as well as encouraging them with scripture could be the action taken by pastors, church leadership and the congregation. Draw close to those suffering and encourage that “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18, NIV).
*Note- LeeAnn used an outside reference, one of our online seminars, for her article. Those are the in-text citations you are seeing.