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.