Help! I am Christian, and I am Depressed!
The recent suicides of celebrities have rattled people and has brought attention to the reality and seriousness of mental health issues. Many people were surprised that people who were successful in their careers and seemed to have it all would get to a place where they would end their lives. The reality is that mental health challenges have no respect for fame, affluence, race, ethnicity, age, gender, nationality, religion, or any other dimension of difference you can think of. However, we live in a society where talking about mental health is widely considered to be taboo. There is stigma associated with admitting that we are struggling with managing our psychological and emotional functioning. For those like me who work in the mental health field, learning about people attempting suicide or dying by suicide is sad, but not shocking.
I would like to briefly tackle the issue of mental health issues among Christians. As tempting as it is to delve into a discussion of mental health issues among my fellow African immigrants, I will defer that discussion for a separate post. As Christians, we ascribe to a belief, nay, the truth that God has all the answers to our issues in His word. Indeed, the word of God is the answer to the things that confound us. However, God has also given us wisdom to decipher various ways of addressing the issues that we face. This wisdom may not necessarily be spelled out verbatim in the Bible but is available to us within the household of faith and in our interactions and networks outside the church.
Some Christians do not believe that anyone who has given their lives to Christ can suffer from depression, anxiety, or any other mental health condition. With this perspective, they tend to minimize the impact of difficult experiences on mental health and ignore psychological and behavioral symptoms when they arise in their lives or their loved one. Super-spiritual Christians are quick to blame the devil for all their struggles and bind the devil whenever they are stuck and unable to resolve their life issues. The manifestation of mental health problems may not necessarily be from the devil and may in fact be an indicator that we do not have the right tools to manage the challenges we are facing. We ought to remember that although we are not of this world we are still in this world. It is unrealistic to think that just because we are saved we are exempt from mental health challenges. Christians are prone to the same life experiences that non-believers go through. Even though they have been redeemed by Christ, they will still experience heart-break, disappointment, pain, loneliness, sadness, helplessness, and lots of other shifts in their emotions. Mental health issues are real!
Depression results from a variety of life issues with one factor being the inability to cope with the stress of the fast-paced society we live in. From the outside most people appear to be busy building successful careers, exceling in school, raising beautiful families, travelling the world, and living the dream. However, the reality is that a majority are frantically trying to keep up with the demands of their lives. Most people are like swans on the water – they appear graceful and perked up as they glide across the water whereas underneath they are paddling like crazy just to stay afloat!
So, how do you know that you are depressed or that a loved one is battling depression? Change in sleep patterns is a common symptom to look out for. This includes sleeping for longer hours than usual, difficulty getting out of bed, as well as trouble falling or staying asleep. Changes in appetite or weight may also signal depression. Excessive tearfulness and overwhelming feelings of sadness are also indicators of depression. When depressed, some people are irritable and overly sensitive to even small issues. People suffering from depression may also lose interest in activities they would normally enjoy and may repeatedly turn down invitations to spend time with loved ones. As they lose interest in pleasurable activities, people battling depression may isolate themselves socially and avoid interacting with others. Other indicators of depression are lack of motivation and loss of concentration in even simple tasks. Individuals who are depressed also tend to have low energy and report being tired all the time even when they have not engaged in any activity that would exhaust them. Feelings of worthlessness, emptiness and low self-esteem may be signs of depression.
One important symptom of depression is thoughts of suicide. Warning signs that someone is considering suicide include: giving away of valuable items, talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose, talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain, talking about death and dying, researching different ways of dying, farewell messages in writing or on social media, talking about feeling like a burden to others, and excessive use of alcohol and drugs.
So, what can you do if you or are loved one are struggling with depression? Some individuals may discreetly share with someone about their struggles with depression. In as much as there is stigma associated with seeking help for mental health issues, it is important to talk to someone about getting help. If you are experiencing depressive symptoms talk to someone you trust such as a parent, mentor, friend, pastor, or school counselor. When someone shares with you that they are struggling with depression or other mental health issues you don’t have to fix their issues. Point the person to someone who is equipped to help them. This may be a pastor or even a referral to a professional counselor.
For Christians the first course of action when we learn of someone having trouble is usually to pray about the issue. This is an important step that should then be followed by connecting to a professional counselor. Talking to a pastor may be a good step to take. If the issues you are facing are beyond the skillset of the pastor, they will likely find a Christian counselor in your community. Seeking professional help does not mean that you do not have faith in God. It means that you recognize that God has provided wisdom among us and equipped other people with the skills to help us handle challenging mental health issues.
It is important to avoid passing judgement on people who are suffering from mental health issues or have attempted suicide. I would recommend that we refrain from speaking negatively about people who have died by suicide. This is painful to their loved ones who are dealing with the loss of someone dear to them. When we pass judgement on people who are experiencing mental health symptoms we essentially shame them and blame them for their challenges when they are dealing with legitimate mental health issues. When people are shamed by others they are less likely to speak up and seek help. Let us be our brothers and sisters keepers! May we extend love and compassion to those among us who are struggling with mental health issues and step up to help them find the help that they need to get back on their feet.
If you are experiencing the depressive symptoms I described above or know someone who is struggling with depression or considering suicide, please know that you are not alone. Reach out for help. God loves you unconditionally! Within the US you may call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK. You may also use the Crisis Text Line – just text HOME to 741741. Both the hotline and the text line offer free, confidential 24/7 crisis support. You may also call 911 or emergency services in your country.