Being a Depressed Christian
As someone who has been a Christian for more or less my whole life, has pastors for parents and a brother who holds a degree in theology (though this post is not about them), this post is incredibly hard for me to write. For some, it might be equally hard to read but it’s one of those things that I feel needs to be said. Let’s walk.
Those of you who follow this blog regularly may have seen my series about Inside My Head, where I delve deep into my journey, into my mind, and look at some of the things that constitute me. If you followed that series, you would have come across part 5 where I talk about how my faith affects my mental health. In a nutshell, how being a Christian doesn’t make everything hunky dory, how I will still struggle and how that’s OK. My life isn’t perfect, I’m not perfect and I don’t have to be.
But that doesn’t mean life as a depressed Christian is easy.
Mental Health and the Church
Throughout history, the church has done a lot of good work through it’s charitable actions. That said, it’s also done a lot of negative things. You might immediately think of it’s stance on homosexuality which, up until fairly recently, has been very against it. Female bishops has been another one it is reasonably unpopular for. As with any organisation or religious body, there will be things it does brilliantly and things it does poorly. Well, I want to highlight one of those things.
Mental health has always been stigmatised in churches. It’s one thing that the Christian community, particularly, isn’t so good at talking about. Take depression, for example: for a long time, the attitude towards depression in church has been “if you’re depressed, you don’t believe enough”. In other words, your faith is lacking if you suffer from depression because how can you believe in the Almighty God who created the Heavens and the Earth if you are depressed? From their approach: you can’t. Pure and simple.
Take these for example:
— Victory Worship KZoo (@WordofGodTweets) October 15, 2017
— Roger (@RogerTharpe) July 1, 2017
— www.NewsJim.com (@JamesSager) June 10, 2017
What do you think? Do you read them the same way I do?
Mental Health and My Church
Now, this is a subject that I’ve steered pretty clear of since starting Pushing Back the Shadows, because I’m the type of person who doesn’t want to offend others. I think, however, the time has come to bring it into the light. Yes, it will offend some people but I’m sorry, I have to make others aware.
You already know that churches can sometimes be the worst offenders for mental health stigmatisation, as I’ve already mentioned. When we say this, however, we think of the church as a whole. Christians in their collective. What about the individual churches? Mine is going to remain unnamed and I won’t mention any names of any people but I just want to tell you a little bit about that.
As you know, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety back in August 2016, but I was struggling before then. Part of juggling my full-time job in the bank and managing everything else meant I was exhausted and I reached a stage where I felt as though I had no energy. Consequently, I started missing services because, when it came to the weekends, I was that tired that I couldn’t get myself out of bed. I was absent from a lot of things and it shocked me how long people took to care.
At this stage, I should also point out that at least seven people I can think of in my church have depression. You would think they would understand. Apparently not. It seems that as soon as it became apparent it was a long-term problem, a deep-rooted one that was going to take a lot of fixing, people didn’t want to know. It makes it hard.
Putting the Onus On
When I disappeared, I was shocked by the response I had. Originally I had almost no messages. Then, as the weeks dragged by, I started to get a few messages from people who had noticed my absence. “Hope you’re OK.” “Hope to see you soon.” Those sorts of niceties. As the problem became more long-term, however, those messages dwindled until I only had two people consistently messaging me. Now, as I write this, I only have one person who messages me on a regular basis to check if I’m alright.
When I mention this, the first thing they say is that they don’t hear from me. Those of you struggling with depression and anxiety know how hard it is, sometimes, to reach out and send a message to someone else. You feel like a burden, you feel unwanted, so why would you? But it’s my fault for not messaging, evidently. It links directly into what I said about putting the onus on the person who is struggling. They always say that I know they’re there for me, that they are doing all they can…but are they?
I do get messages occasionally from other people in the church. Most of the time, though, it’s because they want something. Sometimes it comes with the preamble of a “how are you” or something along those lines but, more often than not, it’s straight to brass tacks. Quite frankly, it hurts.
Mental Health and Being Christian
At the end of the day, the church does have a fair amount to improve upon regarding mental health. Whether you have faith as small as that mustard seed or whether you believe wholeheartedly, God will not solve your depression in a heartbeat. It might not be a part of His plan. He may have a different purpose for it. That may sound cruel but think of it in the same way you would an operation. Some live-saving operations will come with pain and perhaps months of rehabilitation, yet they are done for that important reason that, in itself, is positive. Think of it like that.
American Christian Christy Wimber had one of the most refreshing approaches to this that I’ve come across. She said that, in today’s modern age, mental illness was a tool used by the Devil and that this whole notion of “if you are not healed, your faith is not strong enough” was a load of rubbish. I find myself agreeing with that, as depression and anxiety and all the other mental illnesses have absolutely nothing – that’s right ABSOLUTELY NOTHING – to do with your faith.
If you’re a Christian or a member of any other religion struggling with mental illness, let me remind you that it’s OK to struggle. I do everyday and that doesn’t make me any less of a Christian. But my challenge is for any members of churches reading this: step up to the mark. Be the support that the church is meant to be. Designate people to maintain contact with others, instead of leaving it all to the pastor or all to the person struggling. We, as Christians, are called to serve others, to help them and to show the love of Jesus to other people. Personally, I believe this is sorely lacking.
We need to be better.
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