Many people are silently suffering from depression. Their suffering is silent because for some reason they feel embarrassed to let others know that they are having times of despair. Why do they feel embarrassed to admit that they have depression? Let me suggest the following four possible reasons:
1. People with depression feel ashamed that they actually have a form of mental illness, as depression is a health issue affecting the mind (what and how we think).
That’s why a depressed person is generally unable to think rationally. But depression also affects the heart (what and how we feel). In short, it can affect the totality of our being—both our body and soul. Interestingly, people with high blood pressure don’t hesitate to tell others that they have some heart issues and are taking beta blockers to treat their hypertension. Yet some depressed people feel somewhat embarrassed to inform others that they have some mental issues and are on an antidepressant. This feeling of shame is unnecessary. If you are on an antidepressant, you don’t need to be embarrassed. When properly taken, antidepressants can be a blessing to you. Just as insulin is God’s blessing to the diabetic, so is an antidepressant to the clinically depressed. Thank God for that medication!
2. People struggling with depression are often misunderstood.
“You have a beautiful house, a wonderful family, and a nice job, and you are depressed?” Misunderstanding: If you are rich, you should never feel depressed.
“You are a Christian and you are depressed?”
Misunderstanding: Christians don’t get depressed.
“You are a church leader and you are depressed?”
Misunderstanding: Spiritual leaders (such as deacons, elders, and pastors) should never feel depressed. Remember Charles Spurgeon, the so-called Prince of Preachers, suffered from depression. William Cowper, the great hymn writer of “There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood,” also struggled with depression.
3. People battling with depression are often treated insensitively. Some heartlessly say to them, “Get over it. Don’t act like a baby. Get up and work!” They may utter these words with a good motive to help, but such remarks will only cause the depressed to feel more discouraged. Sometimes the best thing we can say is this: “I’m sorry to hear about your depression. I will pray for you. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to help you.”
4. People suffering from depression are often accused of something that is not necessarily true. Here’s the accusation: they are suffering from depression because of their personal sin. Sadly some people think that depression is always a result of personal sin. Now, it is true that depression is a consequence of our original sin. If Adam had not sinned, there would be no depression. But depression is not necessarily a result of personal sin.
For example, a mother who is suffering from postpartum depression is not necessarily suffering because of a particular sin. She just gave birth. And now her body is undergoing physical changes. Her hormones are dropping and that can make her feel very tired both mentally and emotionally. Mental and emotional exhaustion may lead to depression. What she thus needs is medical treatment because she is having a medical issue. She needs a medication to treat her postpartum depression.
If you say to this mother that her depression is God’s punishment for her sin, and that she must therefore repent in order to get healed, you will not help her but further harm her. You will only place an unnecessary feeling of guilt in her heart.
Having said this, I’m not suggesting that depression is only a physical problem and that it has nothing to do with our spiritual life. The truth is God created us with body and soul. And our body and soul are so closely united to each other that our physical problems can affect our spiritual condition (and vice versa). That’s why a depressed Christian often struggles with doubts. Therefore when dealing with a depressed person, it is highly advisable to be holistic—to address all aspects of life. Thankfully, today we have Christian counselors who are especially trained to deal with depression from a biblical point of view. Thus, if you are depressed, don’t hesitate to look for professional help.
Note: This post appeared as “Silently Depressed” in The Outlook 69, no. 5 (September/October 2019): 16–17.