Depression is a complex illness. Scientists don’t know the full biological story of what causes it. It can be triggered by one upsetting event or by a combination of factors. It could be genetic. Some people have personality traits which make them more vulnerable to depression such as low self-worth or a tendency to be very self-critical. Depression can affect anyone, whether they have a religious faith or not.
Christians speak of their faith giving them peace and joy but it does not make them immune from depression. Suffering from depression is not a sign of spiritual failure or punishment for wrongdoing. It is not a sign that God has stopped loving someone.
Depression can affect anyone, whether they have a religious faith or not.
Struggling with issues such as depression is nothing new. The Bible book, 2 Corinthians, describes the difficulties faced by Christians in the very early days of the Church, 2,000 years ago: ‘we are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed…’. A number of significant figures in the Bible were prone to depression. One was Elijah, one of the most revered people in Jewish history. The Bible book, 1 Kings, describes how after a time of exhilarating success, he had slumped again and felt he could not go on, ‘He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough Lord,” he said. “Take my life…..”’ But the Bible shows that God had not finished with Elijah. After a time of rest, he was restored and continued the work God had for him to do.
The key for Christians is the knowledge that they are not alone as they face depression: they believe that God is with them in their struggles and hears their prayers. God’s love for them is unchanging. And, through being part of a church family, he puts people around sufferers to love and support them.
...we are not just physical beings but we have a spirit too.
Christian attitudes to mental illness have changed over the centuries. The attitude to illness in Bible times 2,000 years ago and earlier was shaped and limited by the medical knowledge of the times. Conditions described in the Bible as needing evil spirits to be removed now have a different range of treatments. The vast majority of Christians now would not make a connection between depression and evil spirits as described in the Bible. But Christianity teaches that people are made ‘in God’s image’. That means we are not just physical beings but we have a spirit too. Health issues can have a spiritual side as well as a physical one. That’s why Christians include prayer and trust in God among the ways to address depression.
For most people, depression is an illness which comes to an end. Christians believe that therapy, medicine and prayer are all good means of healing which God has placed in the world. Successful treatments are available.