Imagine your favorite activity in grayscale. No color. No vibrancy. No passion. Now, imagine that same disparity, and apply that to life. Apply it to the way you look at your favorite hobby. Maybe you love cooking, sports or just being with friends. That cheesecake you used to bake, the game of basketball that ignited the fire of competition, or the community that let you experience love; all of those things now exist as mere motions. They just exist. They just are.
When asked to describe my struggle with depression, this is just one of the experiences that comes to mind. Depression robs so many of us of joy, fellowship and contentment. Depression (along with other mental-health disorders) has impacted the culture and the church, creating stigmas about those who may walk in it. As Christians, we must speak into this struggle with clarity and unity. We must give thoughtful, biblical responses to those who are suffering and those who are serving those in the struggle.
I’ve struggled with depression since high school, but it reached its peak in 2015, going into my senior year of college. I’m the kind of person who wants to understand things. I want to know what makes different things tick, how to take machines apart, and also, I longed to know what was going on inside my head.
Depression is not always a head problem.
Notice I said, “I longed to know what was going on inside my head.” The head is where most of us think depression and other mental disorders are. But, maybe this assumption is part of the problem. Minds are not depressed, people are. Human people are extremely complex and intricate creations. We are a unity of physical and immaterial, body and mind (or soul). Depression, however, does not just attack the soul. We tend to think that because we can’t run a blood test and locate depression in the body, that depression must be a mental issue. It absolutely is mental, but that’s not all it is.
The human person’s mind is shaped by what he or she does. Our actions shape our beliefs and our affections. When I told people I struggled with depression, much of the help I got from well-meaning friends was “go lookup this verse!” or “read this book!” Don’t get me wrong; the Bible and books were absolutely essential in me understanding and eventually being brought out of depression, but that’s not all. Being around friends, family and my church community let me feel the love that Christ intended for us to experience, and this was also deeply impactful for me. While depression may manifest as a problem for the way we think, it really affects us as a whole.
There is a stigma around mental disorders and depression.
Depression is not always spiritual weakness.
There is a stigma around mental disorders and depression, whether we, as the church, realize it or not. Just imagine if your hero of the faith – your pastor, your small group leader, your parents – came to you and said they struggled with depression. Most people would not know how to deal with this. Most people see depression as a spiritual flaw. “Just have more faith.” “What do you have to be depressed about?” “Have you been living in unrepentant sin?”
Don’t get me wrong. All of these factors have an impact on depression and our spiritual vitality. But let’s look at the Fall. The Fall did not just affect our minds or our bodies. We tend to think that it’s one or the other. We get this idea that we are either purified souls in sinful bodies or that the Fall only affected our souls. Either way, we often don’t have a full view of what the Fall did. The Fall impacted every aspect of our existence – material and immaterial. Why do we want to compartmentalize depression and other struggles to just mentality or spirituality? Again, souls are not depressed, people are. And we are not merely a soul but a body as well.
Someone in your church or your family is struggling with depression or anxiety. Pray for them. Fellowship with them.
Depression must be overcome in community.
We, as humans, are a unity of body and soul made for community. The only way we are going to overcome depression is through community and communion. We must embrace the family that God has created for us in the Church, and we must commune with both the saints and the Savior. This is the way that we nourish both body and soul – by doing what we were created to do, love God and love people. There is a freedom for all of us, and especially those who struggle with depression, that comes with communing with whom we were created for. We were created to be in community.
Most of us will struggle with a mental disorder at some point in our lives. Anecdotally, I can say that since being open about my struggle with depression, others have told me they or someone close to them struggles with it as well. Maybe it’s not depression; maybe it’s anxiety, insecurity or an eating disorder. Thus someone in your church or your family is most likely struggling with depression or anxiety. Pray for them. Fellowship with them.
I’m a philosopher-theologian in training, not a psychologist, and I can’t explain the intricacies of cognitive-behavioral therapy. What I can say is this: As humans, we are a deeply complicated but beautiful creation that God has placed on Earth to love him and to love each other. As we are both body and soul, material and immaterial, both actions and decisions form us and shape us physically and spiritually.
Depression is an effect of the Fall that can thwart the mission that God has given to us. No matter how much we don’t feel like being with one another or how much our brain tells us that we don’t need God or one another, we must fight to believe the truth that God loves us and has created a community for us to love and to be loved.