Recently, I was reading of a Christian who was struggling with depression. She e-mailed a Christian organization and asked a very succinct question: “Is depression a sin?” Here is an excerpt from the response she received:
“Depression is a product of being self-centered rather than being Christ centered. When one is depressed it is because their focus is wrong. Depression is not greater than the word of God. Nothing is for that matter. Remember that whatever you think about you make bigger in your mind. So as you think about yourself, that will become bigger. If you think about God, he will become bigger in your thoughts.”
As I read that quote, the first thought that comes to mind is, “What a load of drivel!” Other words that occur to me are nonsense, hogwash, poppycock, claptrap, rubbish, rot, balderdash, malarkey, twaddle, and gibberish. It never ceases to amaze me the degree to which certain Christians can manage to sound so spiritual while spouting drivel (there’s that word again). As I read that quote, I wondered, is an amputee guilty of being self-centered? Is that why he’s an amputee? Is a visually-impaired person guilty of forgetting that blindness “is not greater than the word of God?” Does a paraplegic just need to “think about God” in order to walk? Why then do we put depression (along with anxiety, OCD, and other mental disorders) into a separate category?
You may have sensed by this point a little frustration on my part (I suppose I’m too self-centred as well!). The truth is that I am sick and tired of watching people struggling with debilitating disorders such as depression be further victimized by smug Christians who are too lazy to do proper research or too callous to see the damage they are doing to people already struggling under heavy burdens. The fact is that clinical depression is a medical condition that afflicts millions of people. It can be caused by hormonal imbalances, chemical imbalances in the brain, and other physiological causes. A person who has this disorder has a brain (which, after all, is an organ) which is not functioning as it should. And like other medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, depression needs to be diagnosed and treated by trained professionals.
The worst thing that can happen to a person struggling with depression is to encounter a smug Christian who informs her that her depression is her own fault and, worse yet, is a sin. Let’s just add a healthy dose of guilt to all the other emotions the depressive is feeling. Who would blame such a person for concluding that God must be angry at her for failing to overcome her sin?
Let me plead with my fellow Christians: If you know someone struggling with mental illness, support them—yes—encourage them—definitely—pray for them—absolutely. But please don’t judge them! You’ll only be adding one more burden to a person already staggering under a heavy load. And if you, yourself, are struggling with mental illness and encounter someone who tries to tell you that all you need to do is repent (or pray… or read your Bible… or have faith… or…), run (don’t walk) as far from him as possible. And, whatever you do, don’t judge yourself! You are ill—and help is available!
Finally, remember these words from Psalm 34:18: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”