December 14, 2017

Another Look: Depression, the Bible, and the Perils of Being Too Spiritual

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Originally posted in 2011.

The other day I was reading a blog that will remain unnamed. I’m not interested in interacting personally with the author or “answering” his post. I simply want to use his take on a particular subject as an illustration to make a point here today.

That point is: The Bible simply does not speak to many aspects of our lives.

Even when we think it does. Even when we can take verses and passages and apply them to certain situations and conditions in our lives, the bottom line is that they were not written for that purpose. The fact that we think the Bible is God’s detailed instruction manual for life, containing information, counsel, and specific advice for every bit of need and mystery in life can lead us astray in many ways.

Today I want to talk about one of those ways — about how this view of God’s involvement in our lives and the nature of the Bible’s counsel can lead us to be way too hard on ourselves and to seek “spiritual” answers when in reality, all we may need is a bit of common sense and simple attention to earthly and human realities.

The subject is depression.

The post I read was about battling depression. It got off to a good start, first giving two sensible disclaimers in its counsel to people, especially Christians, who suffer from this malady: (1) See your doctor, (2) Go talk to your pastor.

The blogger rightly notes that there may be physical causes of depression that a doctor could diagnose and treat (an observation that he unfortunately dismisses later, calling all anti-depressant drugs “happy pills”).

His advice to see one’s pastor is helpful in the sense that it is wise to seek out counsel from someone known and trusted. Unfortunately, I suspect this blogger is recommending the pastor and not a counselor because he views depression as primarily “spiritual” and because he advocates a “Biblical counseling” approach, with its heavy emphasis on Bible verses as the cure for all that ails us.

He makes one more helpful point. Depression can get comfortable for many people and start feeling like a friend that embraces us, when in reality it is draining all our strength. So we must be aggressive and determined in battling it. This is wise and helpful advice.

But from that point on, the writer’s emphasis is all “spiritual” all the time.

The blogger starts by saying that if you’re not a Christian, you should be depressed. He has no good news whatsoever for the nonbeliever until he/she gets right with God.

Really? Is this where we have to start every conversation?

I’m in full agreement with sharing the good news about Jesus with people, but is it right to say to someone, “You can have no relief from debilitating depression until you embrace saving faith in Christ”?

Have I no comfort and support to offer this person as a friend and companion on the human journey? Aren’t I implying that faith (and faith alone?) will solve the problem; that as a Christian my friend will be able to overcome this life-controlling disorder?

Would it not be better to listen to her complaint, to sit in silence as Job’s friends did, and let her know that someone cares and will not abandon her? Are there no words of encouragement I can share? No simple deeds of love and support that I can perform? No practical ideas, no counsel about ordinary means that I may share? No common grace I may extend? No cup of water for the thirsty?

The piece then addresses Christians, and says it is our Lord’s clear word, revealed in the Bible, that God’s gift to us is joy, and that God’s will for us is to rejoice. Because we are in Christ, we have every reason to be the happiest we could ever be, right now. He then says straight out: if we are not experiencing this joy, it is possible that we do not want it. He goes on to question whether we are really believing Jesus if we say we don’t or can’t seem to find joy. The remedy he suggests is repentance. Of course, he has Bible verses to go along with all of these points.

This author next pinpoints another potential spiritual problem — perhaps we are bargaining: demanding that God change things first so we can then receive his gift of joy. This will not do, and to make his point he brings out Scriptures that condemn “testing” God. He warns that staying in unbelief will lead to more depression, as it did for the Israelites in the wilderness.

Then our blogger has the reader examine himself, realize and “own” various sins that accompany depression: laziness, stubbornness, pride, wanting to see ourselves as “noble sufferers” or victims, and, the ultimate sin: trusting in our own perceptions and feelings rather than in the Word of God and what it says. All these things are sins, plain and simple, to be repented of and mortified. We must stop embracing them and coddling them.

Bottom line? Depression is the result of lazy, stubborn, habitual unbelief. The Bible says so.

 

And I say…

It may be.

Certainly a person’s relationship with God can affect one’s mood, emotions, and ability to participate in life with energy, purpose, and optimism.

But it may not be.

I object to the idea that all or even most depression is a “spiritual” problem and that the Bible specifically deals with it and provides remedies for it.

It does not.

The Bible does not directly address our moods and feelings and tell us how to straighten them out. When Paul wrote churches and encouraged them to “rejoice in the Lord,” he was not speaking of personal depression and how to overcome it. When Jesus told his disciples that he had told them certain truths so that their “joy might be full,” he was not saying that if they ever found themselves depressed, all they had to do was go over their memory verses, believe really hard, fight the devil, and everything would be alright. The Scriptures are not a therapeutic handbook.

The story and teachings of the Bible speak to something deeper than the emotional vicissitudes of our human experience, whether we find ourselves happy or sad, or whether we struggle with clinical depression or some other psychological malady. The “emotion” words of Scripture evoke eschatological realities. “Joy” is a “kingdom” word, not the opposite of “depression.” Joy is ours in Christ no matter how we feel. It speaks to God’s ultimate reign in Jesus that has begun to take root in our hearts through the Spirit, to be consummated in the new creation. I can be depressed and still have ultimate joy. I can be depressed and still believe.

The article I read represents a superficial “Biblical” approach that I find does much more harm than good.

  • First, it robs me of being a real human being, shrinking my humanity to my “spiritual condition.”
  • For another thing, claiming to be “spiritual,” it actually takes my eyes off God, off Jesus, off the power of the Gospel, off the newness the Holy Spirit brings, off the promises of God’s Word, and puts them on myself. In focusing on “spiritual answers” to my therapeutic needs, it turns my attention away from God’s story and the acts of God which bring me the deepest assurance and hope.
  • It calls me to self-examination, to a microscopic focus on my own sins, weaknesses, failures, and flaws. It enrolls me in SMI — ”the school of morbid introspection” — and puts the onus on me to learn my lessons, repent, and get right.
  • It enlists me to “battle depression” as some dread spiritual enemy, thus raising the stakes for any setbacks or defeats.
  • It intensifies my fear of spiritual failure and bases the way I grade myself on my feelings.
  • It takes the real Bible away from me: it takes the Psalms away from me, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and a thousand passages that portray faithful people coming to God in bothdepression and faith.

This approach is ultimately docetic and world-denying. There are so many things the Bible doesn’t directly address in life.

Now to be sure, the good book sometimes speaks of our daily lives and experiences through its Wisdom literature. Scriptures like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and so on contain ground level observations about life, people, family, finances, character qualities, decision-making, and other aspects of living in this world. Wisdom has a overall “spiritual” context: there is a good God who created us and the world in which we live, and there are ways by which that life works best. Wisdom passes along observations that arise from “great discernment and breadth of mind” like Solomon had (1Kings 4:29). That means it draws understanding from the entire world of experience — the experiences of all people who share in the human condition — not just from “religious” teaching or special revelation concerning “spiritual” matters. Wisdom literature reflects “secular” as well as “sacred” perspectives.

So, let’s deal with matters like depression from the perspective of this earthy, recognized wisdom. Take a person’s full humanity and life in this world into account. If someone should come to us to ask about how to overcome the depression that is disabling her, ask a different set of questions:

  • What support do you have? The first and main thing I always want to find out is whether you have good help from other people in your life. My primary fear is that someone feels completely alone and without resources. And guess what? I can be part of the answer to that.
  • Have you seen your doctor? I recommend getting a full physical and talking with your doctor about your symptoms. There may be a physical cause or causes, and if so, this should be treated, including the treatment of chemical imbalances through anti-depressant drugs.
  • Tell me about your eating, sleeping, and exercise habits. Our daily routine and taking good care of ourselves has a lot to do with our mindset and how we feel.
  • Talk to me about the stressors in your life and how you deal with them. The way we handle pressure can contribute to depression and anxiety.
  • What losses or changes are you grieving over? Grief is our natural reaction to losing something or someone important to us. Even normal life changes involve loss. We may not even recognize the sadness we feel and how it inhibits us from full engagement with life.
  • What makes you angry? In many cases, depression involves anger turned in on oneself. Helping people find healthy ways of dealing with anger and conflict can help.
  • What’s happening in your key relationships? Do you have someone to talk to regularly about what you are thinking and feeling? Are there people in your life you can simply relax and “hang” with? Withdrawal from this kind of companionship can deepen depression.
  • What do you do for fun? People who are depressed can have a hard time enjoying life’s pleasures. It may be just as “spiritual” to prescribe pleasure as some spiritual practice for the depressed.
  • What are you looking forward to in your future? Hopelessness is one key feature of depression, and helping people find hope in a better tomorrow is a key part of relieving it.
  • Tell me about your faith background and how you practice your faith. A general question like this gives people permission to talk about God and spiritual matters without feeling like you have identified their problem as failure of faith from the start. If they reveal spiritual problems that are contributing to their depression, by all means point them to Jesus and God’s promises. Pray for them and let them know you will walk with them on their journey.

 

Can we please just learn to be human beings with our neighbors?

Can we please discard this semi-gnostic notion that the Bible holds the secret keys to overcoming life’s mysterious and intractable problems?

Can we please stop blaming those who are hurting?

Can we stop putting the burden on them to make things right?

I can’t think of any approach more antithetical to the Gospel. There may, of course, be times when we confront stubbornness and pride, and will need to do so directly with a strong word.

But most of the time, I would think we are called to be like Jesus. When he dealt with the afflicted, it was said of him, “He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.”(Matthew 12:20, NLT)

Now there’s a Bible verse that speaks to us.

Comments

  1. Both Christians and Non-Christians Can and Do Suffer Depression and Attempt/Commit Suicide.

    Here are some examples from the lives of Christians:

    https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/08/christians-or-non-christians-who-suffer.html

  2. Mike- this is simply one of your best blog posts, thank you. To those of you who may read this and be sceptical that he is being “Biblical” or “Christian” enough, please, I beg of you, listen to what he is saying. I have two family members that suffer from mental illness and it took us long and very difficult times to come to the realization that what he is speaking is true. Get medical help, don’t put it off, do it now. And I will also say that medical competentcy in the treatment of mental illness unfortunately can vary widely. So if the first doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist doesn’t seem to be helping, keep looking till you find one that does. Of all the health care “industries” the mental health category is in the worst shape. So you have to have persistence, keep at it, hopefully it will get better.

    • senecagriggs says:

      “. And I will also say that medical competence in the treatment of mental illness unfortunately can vary widely.”

      In my opinion, too many times the “discernment blogs” in their rage against conservative evangelicals have IGNORED the stupendous failures of the medical establishment as they have blasted Christian or Biblical based counseling.

      BOTTOM LINE: You’d best be careful when seeking out psychologists/counselors/psychiatrists etc. NONE of them have magic at their fingertips. The honest ones will admit that; the dishonest ones will show you statistics that APPEAR to buttress the effectiveness of their treatment. They want your money.

      There are some EXCELLENT secular psychologists but they may be hard to find.
      *
      There are some EXCELLENT Biblical counselors, but surely not all of them.
      *
      FINALLY, sooner or later Life will Kick Your Butt. It’s good to have Godly friends in times of trouble.

      • FINALLY, sooner or later Life will Kick Your Butt. It’s good to have Godly friends in times of trouble…

        And maybe “sooner AND later…..” Thanks , Seneca, for your words, and may GOD give us both the friends and support we desperately need in good times and not so great.

      • I would just insert that it’s good to have “godly” friends who know their limitations and don’t think doing “spiritual ” things is the answer to every problem.

        • +1

        • Perhaps my best friend leans towards the eat a great steak and cheer on our Chiefs, while working on the honey-do list…. he is handy and cheerful, where I am usually neither. His sweet wife is the counselor type. I love , sometimes , talking theology with her/them, but it’s her “git-er-done” , love me as I am, husband who has helped me thru countless projects…. and a few depressive seasons also.

          A super bowl win would help…….

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I would just insert that it’s good to have “godly” friends who know their limitations and don’t think doing “spiritual ” things is the answer to every problem.

          But then how can *I* be More Spiritual Than Thou, Fleshly?
          So Spiritual I cease to be human (like a Gnostic Pneumatic or Singularity Personality Upload).

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        BOTTOM LINE: You’d best be careful when seeking out psychologists/counselors/psychiatrists etc.

        You’d also best be careful when seeking out churches and preachers.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > I have two family members that suffer from mental illness

      Friends and family here too. I have had those who struggle with mental illness live in my home for various durations… I have learned so much, and been humbled.

      > Get medical help, don’t put it off, do it now

      +1,000

      > …keep looking till you find one that does….

      +1,000

    • There are many great psychologists, both Christian and non-Christian. But I say from personal experience (a family member suffers from mental illness), do your best to find a psychologist who can at least acknowledge the importance that faith and religion have in your life. My family member tried to work with a psychologist who could not understand how their church community was so important to them and thus missed the important connections that existed to my family member between her illness and her church community.

  3. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    “””It enlists me to “battle depression” as some….”””

    The entire notion of “Battling” disease bugs me. We “Struggle” with disease. Eventually there is a disease to which everyone will lose. Getting a clean cancer scan is not “Triumph”, and being given a terminal diagnosis is not “Failure”. Dropping this Victor/Failure model onto Mental Illness is doubly wicked, IMO; these can be souls who Struggle to even Struggle.

    Check the warrior culture at the door.

    • yes!

    • If anyone writes “lost her battle with ————–” in my obituary, my ghost will haunt them to the end of their own days! I really, really hate that terminology.

    • Yes, yes, and more yes!!! I have chronic migraine (along with depression and a few other tag along diagnoses) and the “fighting disease” metaphor was just exhausting. I posted on my blog about it one day and a friend of mine who is a hospice physician commented that he uses the metaphor of journey with his patients. People with illness are on a journey and everyone’s journey is different. That’s the same with mental illness, too. I don’t fight my depression. I treat it with medication, exercise, and other modalities. Part of my depression journey is that things tend to get worse during the holidays. Using the journey metaphor, I don’t feel like I have to fight. I can take a deep breath and reassess where I am and what steps I need to take to move forward.

  4. Thank you for this. My daughter suffers with some anxiety and has pretty much given up on church. There were a few too many times of people saying that if you worry, you are not trusting God & your faith is weak. But a person who suffers from anxiety, depression, or any other mental problem, that is part of who they are. As you have rightly said, Chaplain Mike, pray, but understand you can’t pray it away anymore than prayer can change your eye color or your height.

    Ugh. I am more and more understanding the rise of the nones. American Christianity has made their own alternate reality which is just great until it runs smack dab into the real world.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > …has made their own alternate reality…

      So efficient has it become in ejecting those who do not fit-the-mold, that many are unaware such a system exists. The disconnect between Said and Heard recently is … I am at a loss for words.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      There were a few too many times of people saying that if you worry, you are not trusting God & your faith is weak.

      Probably from those whose natural personality is such that they have NEVER worried in their entire life, and mistake that personality trait for The Holy Spirit.

      “JUST SPEND TEN MINUTES IN THE WORD EVERY MORNING!!!!!”
      (actual quote I had to put up with)

      • Oh, my yes, HUG!
        You are correct about those people. I’ve often wished I was one of those who blithely go through life, worrying about nothing, completely unaware of the chaos they leave in their wake. And they do leave chaos.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          “””I’ve often wished I was one of those who blithely…”””

          I have lived with a sociopath. It certainly has an allure, it seems easier. But ultimately I would choose fear and anxiety, as that comes with the other good stuff too. The sociopath – and I recognize that is a spectrum – is missing some of the stuff I cherish the most.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “””I’ve often wished I was one of those who blithely…”””
            I have lived with a sociopath. It certainly has an allure, it seems easier.

            I grew up with one.

        • You might like Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Sons of Martha”.

      • I’ve found a lot of those people have just as many problems as anybody else, even the ones they are claiming you shouldn’t have. They just cling to their denial and pretend like everything is fine. But spend any length of time with them, and those problems become quite clear.

        I think a lot of Christians “suffer” from crippling denial, ignoring all the problems in their life. That denial can result in hiding a lot of these mental illnesses they themselves have, or that those in their families have. Many churches encourage this behavior, and even drop people if they become too “needy”, though it might be that’s sometimes the only way the illnesses get dealt with. It’s way more important to protect the image of Christians and the church, than actually deal with a suffering, sick, and broken world, right? (being a little sarcastic)

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > just cling to their denial and pretend like…

          Or the things THEY worry about a legitimate things to worry about or be afraid of – – – but what other people worry about or fear is irrational, they don’t understand something or can’t see clearly – Narcissism vs. Depression.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          One of Rich Buhler’s tag lines was “God lives in the Real World”.

      • Totally agree. This is why those who do not struggle in a particular area are so quick to say that for those who do, it is a “spiritual” issue. By default it makes them (the non-sufferer) appears more righteous. I struggle with a lot of things, but (as an example) never an eating disorder. I have had many patients who have. But I don’t look at them and say, “you should have done things my way and you wouldn’t be in this mess.” But instead, I try to say, “but for the grace of God I would be in the same boat.” We live in real, fallen world. We have broken genes, broken brains (from birth) and broken societies. I think many great saints lining the hall of great Christians in Heaven (no such thing but this is a metaphor) will be those who suffered horribly their whole lives with depression or other mental (not real) demons. They are heroes because they didn’t give up the fight, not because they didn’t suffer.

        • –> “This is why those who do not struggle in a particular area are so quick to say that for those who do, it is a ‘spiritual’ issue.”

          This observation is the same thing with the sins we tend to rail against. The anti-LGBTQ stance comes mostly from folks who don’t have to deal with it, so “IT’S A SIN WE MUST FOCUS ON!!!”

          When is the last time you heard an overweight pastor preach against the sin of gluttony? Oh…never…

          • Ronald Avra says:

            Excellent point.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            The too-fat-to-stand-up preacher SCREAMING from the pulpit about some (usually SEXUAL) sin is so common it’s become a running joke. I remember one blogger long ago (think it may have been “Stuff Fundies Like”) had links to RL preachers on YouTube that were exactly that.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Totally agree. This is why those who do not struggle in a particular area are so quick to say that for those who do, it is a “spiritual” issue

          Opportunity for Counting Coup by the Uber-Spiritual:
          “LOOOOOORD, I THANK THEE THAT I AM NOTHING LIKE THAT WORLDLY FLESHLY DEPRESSO CASE OVER THERE….”

    • “There were a few too many times of people saying that if you worry, you are not trusting God & your faith is weak.”

      Arg. This is unintentionally cruel, because it removes the ability of faith to offer comfort. If you experience pain, you have to drop everything and ask faith questions. Talk about dumping more stress points onto someone’s system. While there may be “work” to do and issues to address, self-flagellation and ruthless introspection are probably not good for someone who already can’t escape from their mind. At least, that’s been my limited experience.

      Also nevermind that the pernicious idea that faith is a magic cure-all, rather than a thing that works itself through the whole self and that suffuses human experience.

      Isn’t faith supposed to be more like a blanket or nourishment than a hill-to-climb?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        According to 300-year-old Puritan Journals, “self-flagellation and ruthless introspection” sin-sniffing was the most common entry. And Wartburg Watch has written about a revival of Massachusetts Puritanism as an Ideal Godly Golden Age.

        • I didn’t know much about Massachusetts Puritans until I listened to an audiobook recently about the Salem witch trials. My goodness were those Puritans contentious people! They were always arguing and suing each other! The background information on some of the families was fascinating because it outlined how much arguing there was among families. It certainly doesn’t sound like an “Ideal Godly Golden Age” like I’ve read so many of the neo-Reformed extol.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “There were a few too many times of people saying that if you worry, you are not trusting God & your faith is weak.”

        Unspoken:
        “Unlike Truly Saved Truly Spiritual Spirit-filled MEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!””

  5. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    “””Tell me about your eating, sleeping, and exercise habits.”””

    This is HUGE. Christians especially seem to have a kind of shame concerning being a biochemical/bioelectric wad of gew. But we need embrace this TRUTH; the results from addressing these simple issues can be astonishing.

    “””What losses or changes are you grieving over?”””

    Do not be ashamed concerning what you grieve: job, project, goal, position, etc… Those who tell you that what you grieve – what you have loved – is unimportant, or worse “stupid”, are not your friends. Ditch people who do that.

    “””What do you do for fun?”””

    +1,000.

    “””What are you looking forward to in your future? Hopelessness is one key feature of depression,”””

    I’ve been there, in the very dark “why bother?” space. Once you are there it is a difficult place to climb out of [and I look around and I see friends with who are now especially vulnerable]. Personally, after that experience, I adapted to not have “all the fish in one basket”. I employ a rule of keeping three spinning plates each in different arenas of life; so a plate can go crashing down [and the future now looks biased towards some crashing] and I’ll still have a remaining reason to go out the door – there will be someone who calls and asks where I am. Maybe not everyone needs that, but I certainly do; … and I suspect that many who deny they need that…

    I wish someone had more pointedly talked with younger-me about how to build an anti-fragile life. I do not recall even once having a conversation along those lines – and I had a grandmother with a wing at a local mental health facility named after her. That is sad. Have those kinds of conversations with them whipper-snappers if you get the chance.

    • Good thoughts, I especially like the idea of building an anti-fragile life! I’m 33, and the biggest thing the last few years have shown me more than working hard at my job, etc., is that it’s important to have fun things to look forward to, and it’s crucial to maintain friendships. Whatever issues you face be it depression or anxiety, I find they get so much worse if you let isolation and boredom creep in.

    • I wish someone had more pointedly talked with younger-me about how to build an anti-fragile life.

      This! Resilience. Important habit to develop in ourselves and instill in our children. If you’re prone to depression, there’s nothing sinful about using healthy means to build up that resilience. A little self compassion and self care can go a long way to help you bring the color back into your life.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I wish someone had more pointedly talked with younger-me about how to build an anti-fragile life.

      “Seventy years ago, 18-year-olds were charging up Omaha Beach into near-certain death. Seventy years later, 18-year-olds require “Safe Spaces” so their Precious Feelings won’t Ever get Hurt.”

      Oh, and the symbol of “Safe Spaces”?
      A safety pin.
      The type you use to secure pre-Pampers diapers.

  6. I saw something a few months ago that has become my favorite counter to anyone complaining about anti-depressants: “If you can’t make your own neurotransmitters using store bought is fine!”

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      +1 Awesome

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        We should apply the same to very common over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs [Motrin, Tylenol, aspirin. …]. I am physically active, commute by transit and bicycle, etc.. and I take none. But my wife uses those kind of drugs regularly [on the advice of a doctor]. That is not taken as Spiritual Weakness or Lack of Grit – it simply that I won the Genetic Lottery, and she did not.

        The neurological system is comprised of tissues and organs the same as every other system.

  7. Good grief. If the bible isn’t a science book it sure as heck isn’t a medical book.

  8. Excellent thoughts. A lot of this arises from the false dichotomy that life in the mundane isn’t spiritually connected. There are hidden spiritual aspects to our normal daily routines. Depression arises from fractures in what should be our wholeness or fulness. When we can’t be whole & it is out of our control, hello depression! This “connectedness” goes beyond quoting scripture verses but that can help alleviate the situation.

  9. It wasn’t until I was approaching fifty that I even began to understand I had been dealing with depression most of my life, so I would call that the big first step. Depression isn’t just about feeling sad and can disguise itself in many ways. It often involves irritability and anger, can be exacerbated by stress, and usually has some kind of addiction attached. If your idea of addiction is a junkie shooting up or a drunk lying in the gutter, you might be missing others hiding in plain sight. When I finally gave up a fifty year dependence on coffee, life got easier, and I didn’t say easy. I self-medicated my way thru most of it, don’t see how I would have made it otherwise at the time, but most self-medication just adds to the problem of chemical imbalance it is trying to relieve.

    Yes, the Bible isn’t much of an answer for most people, may work for some, but in my experience neither are doctors or counselors of much help. I did use anti-depressants in later stages and after finding one that worked better than others it got me thru an intensely stressful time I might not have gotten thru otherwise. Eventually I got to the point of wanting to continue without them and so far have managed to succeed. There is a price to be paid with anti-depressants, as with most chemical solutions, but looking back I would do it again as a better choice than heroin, which thankfully I managed to avoid along the way. A healthy diet probably helps more than anything else, but so does a healthy mental diet.

    Today’s posting doesn’t mention the practice of welcoming prayer or contemplative meditation, which I now regard as key to overcoming depression or any other negative programming. Battling a negative emotion only reinforces it and makes it stronger while making you weaker. If you rescue an abused dog, you don’t turn it around by beating it with a stick, and an ego in thrall to depression is basically an abused critter. It seems counter-intuitive, but with depression or other negative emotional states there is a payoff to the ego involved if you look deeply enough. Some people thrive on being a victim or angry or depressed and don’t want to change. Ultimately it is a choice, but not an easy one, and that black dog is always lying outside the door. Any effort to improve the situation is worth trying. Wish there was a magic button. Oh well.

    • I agree, Charles. Sometimes it’s a matter of opening the door, letting that black dog in, and embracing it, and then letting it go for a nice, long walk.
      I think our extroverted, hyper society makes it worse for those of us who veer toward the introverted, contemplative mindset. Stopping and thinking is seen too often as being lazy or unengaged with the world. Contemplative meditation gets the same reaction I used to get as a kid when I was engrossed in a book. “Why don’t you get off that couch and DO something!?!?”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I think our extroverted, hyper society makes it worse for those of us who veer toward the introverted, contemplative mindset.

        And our extrovered, hyper churches with the ideal being the backslapping gladhanding used car salesman who Saves Souls(TM) don’t help. They’ve just taken the extroverted hyper society and gone “ME, TOO!” Of the World but Not In It.

    • senecagriggs says:

      ..”, and that black dog is always lying outside the door.”

      Nice Charles

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “”” or other negative emotional states there is a payoff to the ego involved … people thrive on being a victim or angry or depressed .. “””

      A mood is a drug cocktail – and correspondingly addictive. And the drug dealer is ourselves.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Wish there was a magic button. Oh well.

      But there IS a Magic Button —
      “JUST MEMORIZE FIVE VERSES OF SCRIPTURE EVERY DAY!”
      “JUST SPEND FIVE MINUTES ALONE WITH THE LOOORD EACH MORNING!”
      “JUST RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT AND SPEAK IN TONGUES!”
      AKA “JUST DO WHAT *I* DO!”

    • I really like the black dog analogy. The black dog is there. I agree to co-exist with it, I try not to excite it too much. I don’t waste all my energy trying to chase it out of the house; that just gets it excited so that it bounces around and knocks things over. In the end, attacking it only makes it hyper, and I get tired.

      Maybe it leaves, maybe it doesn’t. But learning to accept that it “is” and do the best to live with the present circumstance helps a lot.

      That might sound defeatist, but not it’s not really: it’s just saying that life can go on and be meaningful, and God doesn’t disappear.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > That might sound defeatist, but not it’s not really

        It is not defeatist. We all live with a pack of black dogs. And, sometimes you sit down, look around the room, and notice one of them is missing. Did it wander off, will it come back someday? Or did it die? We never know, but on occasion black dogs do disappear.

        It is a beautiful experience when then happens. I used to have some memories/anxieties that haunted me; not a day went by without those memories/emotions snarling at me from the darkness.. And I remember the moment I was sitting on the train staring out the window as buildings whipped by… and it occurred to me: “huh, I haven’t thought about that in months”. I held the memory in my mind – and it was a cold lifeless thing. I went back to peacefully watching the buildings go by. That sounds like nothing happened … but I will never forget the forgetting.

    • –> “It wasn’t until I was approaching fifty that I even began to understand I had been dealing with depression most of my life, so I would call that the big first step. Depression isn’t just about feeling sad and can disguise itself in many ways.”

      True story. I was with my counselor one evening and she drew a line on a whiteboard and asked me to draw a line that showed my moods. I drew a long, wavy line with the line sometimes crossing above her line (meaning I felt good) but most often below the line.

      She said, “Here’s what I think you’re dealing with.” She then proceeded to draw a wavy line that was ALWAYS below her line, never crossing above it!

      It was a profound moment, an epiphany really. My road to semi-recovery began right then.

  10. I really hope that blogger isn’t a pastor…

  11. Ronald Avra says:

    Great post and discussion; very helpful.

  12. so much of post-partum depression is chemical imbalance …… people really suffer a lot because they don’t understand how much brain chemistry affects emotions

    no one should ever suffer depression and not seek medical help . . . . . as for those ‘know-it-alls’ who tell you differently, a curse: they should have it 🙂
    (now I don’t really believe in curses, but these people who poo-poo medical care and psychiatric care are usually pretty screwed up themselves ….. I saw that on another blog

  13. I really want to read the comments on the original post now. To see how far we’ve come…or not come.

  14. I will make this observation also: you cannot be an evangelical pastor who has a mental illness. You must be in denial about it because if you actually seek medical treatment that will be the end of your pastorate.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Or public denial with private/secret attempts to self-treat, often by preaching against it:
      Like Ted Haggard seconding Fred Phelps until he got caught with a rentboy.
      Like Rush Limbaugh, Number-one Fan of the War on Drugs while fighting a secret OxyContin addiction.
      Like Recovering Alcoholic Billy Sunday, preaching Christless sermons against Demon Rum.

      Doubly so if your pastoral career has been built on Name It and Claim It or (like Mark Driscoll) the Hypermasculine Throwing any Defectives Under The Bus.

    • senecagriggs says:

      Mike, not true. My daughter’s pastor had to take a couple of months off to deal with his depression/anxiety. The church knew, they have encouraged him; he’s currently doing better.

      And of course Charles Spurgeon suffered greatly the last few years of his life. At least a couple of times his church sent him to the French Riviera hoping he would get better. Apparently, it was somewhat helpful a time or two.

      Charles Stanley also took time off in the distant past to deal with a breakdown. First Baptist Atlanta did NOT get rid of him.

      So it depends upon the church and the leadership. Many, many conservative Evangelicals are very cognizant of emotional and mental issues. Many, many Evangelical pastors have take time off to deal with mental struggles.

      Some of you have created an Evangelical strawman that has no idea there is mental illness. You’re so wrong if you think that.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        How long ago were Spurgeon and Stanley?
        And was it because they were the Christian Celebrities of their day?

      • I am not a pastor, but have a relative who is. If he needs to go to the Riviera for healing, I will certainly find a reason to accompany him. I am sure it would cure all that ails me!

  15. Thanks again CM! This post speaks directly to me. I have recently moved from one state back to my family in another. Here I get support that I didn’t have before. I knew something was wrong after I began to think in certain ways I knew were self destructive. I hope your post helps many others!

  16. “Can we please discard this … notion that the Bible holds the secret keys to overcoming life’s mysterious and intractable problems?”

    Done.

  17. This spiritualization of mental illness has been with us for centuries. Recently I was attended a meeting in Glasgow and visited the main Cathedral. It was beside a huge and old (pre-victorian age) hospital. Behind the church was the cemetery for the baptized. But another huge cemetery was for the “non-baptized and insane.” I think the sign is from the early 1800s (can’t remember) I took a picture of the marker. But can you imagine having mental illness in those days? You would be automatically assumed to be inferior if not demonic. In many circles, little has changed. An Evangelical relative of mine recently posted on FB a story that answers the question why Robin Williams committed suicide. The answer (by the pastor writing the article quoted) was because he sold his soul to the devil (literally) in order to be funny. It concludes that demonic activity is behind virtually all mental illness. Sad. Thanks for sharing this Mike.

  18. Great article, Mike, and a lot of good comments too.

    Question: does depression ever have a useful purpose? Certainly grieving can be good, after the loss of a loved one for example. But beyond normal grieving?

    You mentioned the danger of getting too comfortable with depression, treating it like an old friend. Others have mentioned letting the black dog in for a time.

    OK, so, assuming grieving is good, how would you compare it with depression? What’s the chief difference? When does a hill become a mountain?

    • Mike Jones says:

      I know that you are not asking me, but I certainly do believe that depression can be good for us. I went through a period of serious depression about 25 years ago and it was one of the most intense times with God I have ever had. It was not fun. But I wrestled with God, and myself for over three years. I came out the other side profoundly changed, for the better I think. I’m glad for it but would not wish in on my worst enemy. I also don’t think it was God punishing me or due to my lack of spirituality.

    • Ted, you may have just given me an idea for tomorrow’s post. Stay tuned…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Question: does depression ever have a useful purpose?

      I have found that some level of it DOES put power behind most types of the creative arts. The Dark and Strong emotions have a lot of energy, as long as the Black Dog doesn’t overwhelm you.

  19. This is such a good post, thank you for expressing these ideas! I think the mindset you are challenging here is one that instigates a lot of hypocrisy in the church. When being “joyful” is the test of spirituality, people will *act* joyful. That doesn’t mean they are joyful or that they are emotionally healthy. You can end up with a community where everyone is living a lie.