Depression and Personal Faith
For some who suffer with depression, their faith helps them through dark times. Many Christians with depression are sustained by faith in a God who cares, understands and accepts. The church too can be an environment of support, and can also stand as an anchor of hope or a light in the midst of the darkness.
For others however, faith is something that can make their depression feel worse. The negative voices associated with depression can be promoted to divine proportions, and some Christians with depression feel it is God who seems disappointed with them. The church may unintentionally worsen someone's condition by not giving permission to be depressed, denying symptoms and real thought patterns. This can create a sense of isolation for the Christian with depression.
This article is not therapeutic advice, but simply offers a few thoughts and approaches to prayer that may encourage Christians struggling with depression and to help sustain their spiritual lives. The material comes from a depression course run through a local church over a period of four weeks. It was a simple course looking at titles such as ‘what is depression?’ and ‘what help is available?’ but during that time many in the group were encouraged to find the church as a place that could be honest about the reality of depression, as well as a supportive environment for those who are depressed. The final session was ‘depression and personal faith.’ Here are some points that were covered:
The symptoms of depression
Depression affects both the body and the mind. Symptoms often include a depressed mood, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, and trouble with concentration. Christians who are depressed may benefit from accepting these difficulties, amending how they pray and finding new patterns of church-based support.
For those used to rigorous study or wordy Bible notes, they may find that their approach could change and they would instead benefit from repeating a few sentences of scripture or a cherished prayer. Instead of concentrating for long periods of time, holding something like a small cross may provide a sense of strength and support. For some the task of reading becomes difficult, and so they move to listening to messages or music that encourages their faith. The advice often given to all Christians is ‘pray as you can, not as you can’t’. It may be that Christians suffering from depression can change their prayer lives to something that is more simple and comforting. For some, times of depression, though profoundly difficult, have awakened a new experience of faith and a new means to prayer that prove very intimate and enriching.
Images of God
How a Christian perceives God will likely have an impact on how they think about themselves. For someone with depression it may be helpful to deliberately choose to stay with an image of God that is especially comforting and supportive.
There are many images of God that are used by Christians for personal encouragement. These include: Shepherd, Counsellor, Father, Saviour, Rock, Fortress, Light, Rescuer, Comforter, and Lord. A psalm or a few verses of the Bible that speak to one of these images of God may work to increase hope and a sense of divine compassion or nearness. Someone struggling with depression may find that they have different spiritual needs and feelings of peace, security, assurance, and hope may become the new priorities in prayer. This is not to deny any difficult emotions in the mind; it is rather about creating an internal space than allows for more than only the depressive thoughts to operate. This sort of ‘re-imagining’ exercise may work for some but not others, and a Christian need not feel any sense of failure for not being able to pray a particular way during moments of depression.
Mind and Soul have produced a range of articles (such as the access pack)
around how the church can best respond to issues of mental health. For those suffering with depression it is important to stay connected with those providing good care. By being a place of acceptance and compassion, the church can become a safe and strengthening environment for those struggling with depression.
Ron Bushyager is a psychotherapist operating in London and Surrey.