5 Spiritual Lies Depression Will Tell You..
Depression is a complex illness that impacts the neurochemistry of the brain. It is not primarily a ‘spiritual’ problem but a biological/psychological one that can be treated effectively through the use of medications and talk therapy. At the same time, for Christians, depression can feel distinctively ‘spiritual’ and will provoke significant anxiety around the quality of a person’s faith. Could it be that whilst depression itself isn’t spiritual, like many physical health conditions, that narrative that forms around it is?
Here are 5 common ‘spiritual‘ lies that we see forming in a depressed Christian…
1) ‘God has abandoned me’ –
Depression impacts an area of our brain (The Hippocampus) that enables us to connect feelings to memories, as a result it leaves us feeling isolated or ‘cut off’ from core relationships. Many suffers describe a numbness or silence that is more upsetting that active feelings of distress. Because the ‘feeling’ of faith, is so subtly experienced, it is often the first thing to become cloaked by a depression.Feeling God’s presence and being abandoned by God are two completely different things. If the sun is hidden behind the clouds, you can no longer feel the warmth of the sun, but you can guarantee that the sun is still there. God
2) ‘I am guilty of some terrible sin’-
The bible says that we have ‘all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”(Romans 3:23) On that level we all have need of the forgiveness found through Christ. However, be very wary of strong feelings of guilt that appear in depression, as these usually point to false guilt rather than true. Guilt is a symptom of depression (American Psychiatric Association, 1994), which is very confusing, since Christians have been taught to take it very seriously. This sort of guilt is best ignored! If you are having powerful guilty thoughts about things you have already confessed to God, or over issues that others think are totally insignificant, you can be pretty sure you are dealing with false guilt. (See The Guilt Book, IVP, 2014)
3) ‘My faith is weak’-
Historic stigma around depression has left sufferers believing that recovering from depression was an act of sheer will: That you could ‘decide’ not be depressed and overcome it through the strength of your personal faith. This is very far from the truth: Depression is a real illness with hidden symptoms, it is no less real than a serious physical illness. You cannot ‘just decide’ to recover from diabetes, instead you have to access the medical and psychological threads of recovery. There is absolutely no correlation between ‘weak faith’ and the prevalence of depression. In fact the renowned preacher Charles Spurgeon and Sister of Mercy, Mother Teresa both struggled with decades of depression and neither could be criticised for a lack of faith or motivation. Spurgeon writes, “I have been very ill for more than five weeks, and during that time I have been brought into deep waters of mental depression.” (See Spurgeon.org)
4) ‘I am being spiritually oppressed’-
For anyone who has been depressed, feeling ‘oppressed’ is a pretty good description. Emotions become blunted or absent, energy is sapped, previously easy tasks become hard, everything feels slowed down, apart from your thoughts which seems much faster. Then there is the anxiety, panic, distress and hopelessness… But is it actually ‘spiritual oppression’? Well this depends upon what you mean by ‘spiritual’. In heaven, we believe there will be no illness, therefore to some extent all sickness is a sign negative spiritual agency. At the same time, having the flu does not immediately mean you are being opposed by a spiritual force.
Depression tends to look a lot more ‘actively’ spiritual than it really is. Ultimately if it responds to medication and therapy your depression is largely biological/psychological since you cannot medicate the supernatural! At the same time, in a broader sense does depression impact you spiritually? Yes it does! Therefore supporting the whole person; biological, psychological and spiritual is really important. Ultimately a Christian need not believe their illness is any more spiritual than the next person, but what they do have is the love and power of a compassionate God in their corner.
5) God is disappointed in me-
Depression, amongst other mental health issues, directly impacts your self-esteem. It leaves you with a negative bias against yourself and impacts your ability for a more balanced or objective interpretation of circumstances. This often leads to the generation of a very rejecting internal narrative which supports the idea that you are a disappointment to God and others whom you love. Historic Christian stigma around mental health has reinforced some of these ideas, making this issue harder to deal with. However, the bible is clear that God is not disappointed in or by the depressed Christian. As an example look at how God treats Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Elijah expresses some suicidal thoughts I verse 4, “I have had enough Lord, take my life’. In responses God causes Elijah to rest, be fed, comforted and given water. Far from showing disappointment in him, God empathises, “…the journey is too much for you.” God would go on to walk with Elijah and use him in incredible ways.