I’ve been putting off writing a response to how depression is handled within the context of the church because it’s a topic close to my heart. But in the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide and some of the harsh responses I’ve seen to it around my Facebook feed, I’ve decided that now is the time to speak up.
While I have never personally been diagnosed with depression, nor have I struggled with suicidal ideation, I have been friends with many, many people who have–all Christians. The way in which this matter is often handled between Christians breaks my heart again and again.
Is Depression Physical, Emotional or Spiritual?
This question comes up a lot. There is the camp that argues all depression is a fact of chemical imbalances and sin has nothing to do with it, and then there is the camp that argues depression is a sin issue–the depressed person is merely “not having enough faith” and failing to trust God. The third and less commonly discussed option is that depression stems from demonic oppression.
Over the last nine years I have seen people handle their struggle with depression gracefully and selfishly. I’ve seen people who seem to use their depression as an excuse to feed off other people, but I’ve also seen many more people using their depression as a platform to speak of the grace and compassion of God. I’ve seen people own up to it and battle through it without excuse.
Likewise I’ve seen people come alongside those struggling with depression in love and support, and I’ve seen people be antagonistic to depression as if it were a giant hoax or excuse to “just not try.”
I’ve found depression to be placed as this wall you have to just “get over” before being able to connect to God. This breaks my heart, because God’s grace and compassion are too big to be hidden by a wall of our own making.
Throughout the years I’ve heard many sides to the question of whether or not depression is physical, emotional or spiritual. In answer, I ask: should the source of someone’s depression dictate or regulate how much love we are to give them?
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body [a]to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 [b]bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of [c]prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I [d]became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror [e]dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the [f]greatest of these is love.” — 1 Corinthians 13
To belittle someone’s struggle with depression to the point that they just need to “get over it” is to devalue that person’s heart. The person struggling with depression was just as lovingly crafted by God as you or I, and God in His infinite creativity made each person beautifully diverse. Sometimes we do not always understand each other’s struggles, but that should not make them any less worthy of care and compassion.
Robin Williams was a man that brought joy to many peoples’ lives. He always had a smile, and was an encouragement to those around him. As a little girl I adored Robin Williams. I adored Hook and I adored Aladdin. His roles always made me giggle. While his life is not worth more than someone else’s, neither is his life worth less. I wish that there had been hope for him. Any time someone takes their own life it is a tragedy, whether it be a nameless teenager or a famous actor surrounded by those who knew his name.
I’ve noticed that oftentimes those struggling with depression are the ones who seem the most charismatic or the most gentle or the most caring. They’re the people that seem like they’re okay and like they don’t need us, as such it’s easy to not be there for them since they already seem to have it all together. But it’s important to care for the hearts of the joyful and the loving just as we should care for the hearts of the fainthearted and hopeless.
“12 But we request of you, brethren, that you [i]appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you [j]instruction, 13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. 14 We urge you, brethren, admonish the [k]unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. 16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18
If you have a depressed friend and you’re not quite sure what to do with her, here are some wonderful thoughts from Blogos: Walking with a Friend Through the Valley of Depression
For more information on depression and to encourage awareness, check out To Write Love on Her Arms.