The tragic death of Academy Award winner Robin Williams on August 11, 2014, took the country by surprise and reignited the conversation of suicide and depression. Unfortunately, the public conversation about depression is slowly fading away yet it needs to continue, especially in the Church. Let’s care enough to keep the conversation going. There’s so much more that needs to be discussed! As Tony Campolo, a Christian sociologist, author and preacher, says, Christians: Take Depression Seriously (Click on the title to read his article)
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression is more than just having a “bad day.” The CDC says depression is characterized by a “depressed or sad mood, diminished interest in activities which used to be pleasurable, weight gain or loss, psychomotor agitation or retardation, fatigue, inappropriate guilt, difficulties concentrating, as well as recurrent thoughts of death.” The CDC further says depression is misunderstood as a “sign of weakness, rather than being recognized as an illness.”
Depression is a topic that is not too often discussed by the Church, even though many Christians suffer from depression. It’s a known fact that Martin Luther, the founder and leader of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, battled depression most of his life. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a well-known 19th Century British preacher, also suffered from depression. In an article titled, When a Preacher is Downcast, Spurgeon saw hope beyond his depression. He held to the belief that he became depressed whenever the Lord was preparing his ministry for a “larger blessing.” He writes, “The cloud is black before it breaks and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy…The Lord is revealed in the backside of the desert, while His servant keeps the sheep and waits in solitary awe…The darkest hour of the night precedes the day-dawn.”
Carl George Austin, a Christian mental health therapist in Orlando, Florida, says many clinically depressed Christians feel like “second-class Christians.” Austin says in his book, The Unwelcome Blessing: A Christian Therapist on Depression and Coping, that many Christians who suffer from depression feel as if they committed some type of sin and their depression is God’s way of punishing them for that sin. So, they repent of their sins yet don’t feel any better. Austin knows about depression first-hand because he says he is a life-long sufferer of chronic depression and the child of bipolar parents. He went on to say that Christians who suffer from depression do not receive empathy or support from their brothers and sisters who often give such advice as “snap out of it” or “you need to pray more” or “God is punishing you.” Austin believes that God asks more of members of Christ’s Body than “pat answers and simplistic counsel.” According to Austin, sometimes God just wants us to “abide” or be with people who are depressed, just as Jesus asks us to abide with Him.
Besides being with those who are depressed, there are other ways of showing your support:
1. Stay in contact with the person who is depressed. Let the person know that you are thinking about them and care enough to contact them.
2. Don’t offer pat, trite answers. Help them to find reputable professional counselors, if they are seeking help.
3. Pray for them. If you know them well, you may ask them if they wouldn’t mind if you pray with them. If they decline, you can still pray for them on your own.
Heartfelt sympathies flowed out to the family of Robin Williams, who starred in the popular comedy TV series, “Mork and Mindy,” performed on stage and in movies, and won an Oscar for his role in “Good Will Hunting,” and a Golden Globe for playing the lead role in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Williams’ wife, Susan Schneider, issued a statement saying that her husband had been struggling with depression and anxiety and had not made it publicly known that he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease.
In response to Robin Williams’ death, Rick Martin, Senior News Editor for the Affiliate Content Center at CNN, revealed how he overcame his battle with depression. Martin said what was key to helping him was his support network, made up of people who showed how much they cared by walking with him through his pain. Martin said his supporters, which he affectionately referred to as a “village,” helped him to find “hope in the midst of his storm.
If you are suffering from depression, share your pain with people you trust; you don’t have to go through this alone. Know that God is with you even though you may not If you know someone who is depressed, reach out to them and offer your support. Be willing to walk with them through their tough times. As the saying goes, “They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
To review the book, The Unwelcome Blessing A Christian Therapist on Depression and Coping, by Carl George Austin, click on the title or the book image.