Terry’s Take… June Week 4: Depression
Let’s look at the last three common misconceptions we may have about those who are depressed.
Misconception: It’s shameful to discuss mental illness openly.
Reality: Church community should be a safe environment for people to discuss mental health without judgment.
Sadly, some Christians can be very judgmental about mental illness, but that is not a biblical response. Mental illness is not something you should be made to feel ashamed of or fear sharing with your church community.
Depression and mental illness should receive as kind and gentle a response from Christians as they do from Jesus. Jesus made it clear He was not pleased with people who put on a show of being very religious and moral and who judged others.
A group of religious leaders called the Pharisees were the epitome of religious people who act like they have it all together and judge others who do not. Jesus often called the Pharisees out for their hypocrisy. He called their hearts “white washed tombs.” In contrast, Jesus was gentle and kind with people who were struggling and even sinning but who were open to God changing their lives.
The Christian community should never be a place where people feel they need to hide and cover up what they are really going through. In a genuine Christian community, people can share all of their struggles and ask for prayer without fear of shame or judgment. They can testify about how God is working through whatever is happening in their lives.
Depression and mental illness should receive as kind and gentle a response from Christians as they do from Jesus.
Misconception: You can always tell if someone’s depressed by outward appearances or actions.
Reality: You cannot always tell that someone is depressed from how they look or act.
Many people with depression are so skilled at hiding their condition that you would never know from the outside.
I have been guilty myself at saying something like: “But you do not look depressed.” Well, I’m not sure what exactly people think depression should look like, but depression can look a lot of different ways.
You can wish you no longer existed but look fine to the people around you. This is especially true for someone struggling with bipolar disorder, which includes high moods, called manic episodes, alternating with deep, severe depression.
Sadly, I’ve had a parishioner in another congregation who suffered from bipolar disorder die from suicide. He was very outgoing and fun to be around much of the time. I remember meeting so many people at his funeral who were stunned and confused. I heard comments like, “He’s the last person I would ever have guessed would be suicidal,” or, “But he was always so happy.”
You cannot assume someone is okay based on external appearances.
As I mentioned before…the church should be a safe place for people to share their struggles with depression. But it’s important that THEY share their struggles…and we (who may know their struggles) keep it in confidence, lest we fall into gossip.
Misconception: It’s okay to talk about another person’s depression or struggles with mental illness as long as they do not know.
Variation: Sharing someone’s struggles with mental illness without their knowledge lets other people know they need to be sensitive.
Reality: When people share their mental health concerns, those should be respected and kept in confidence. It is gossip to talk about others’ mental health behind their backs.
Talking about someone else’s personal issues when they have not given you permission is never a good idea. But it can be especially painful when you are sharing someone’s struggles with mental illness.
Whether you think you are having a serious conversation about a real issue or you are just sharing gossip, using specific examples from the life of a person you know is a breach of their trust. Prayers and prayer requests for others should be respectful, not thinly veiled opportunities for gossip or judgment.
unJoy: Hope and Help for 7 Million Christians with Depression by Len Lantz MD.
Available on amazon.ca in paperback or Kindle ebook, and on chapters.indigo.ca in Kobo ebook.