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[TW: depression, suicide, trauma, abuse]
If you are asking this question in response to your own or your loved one's depression, we are so sorry for the pain you're experiencing. The church often treats depression poorly, which doesn't help the depressed person, regardless of the cause of their depression. We hope that we can give your heart some answers that will empower you to reach whatever next step toward management you need.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines depression as "a mood disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.' The American Psychiatric Association makes note that "symptoms must last at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression." There are many branches of depression: major depressive disorder, perinatal and postpartum depression (depression during or after pregnancy), seasonal affective disorder; the list goes on.
While it is common to say, "I was depressed today," that isn't the correct usage of the word "depressed." Depression is different from a bad day or even temporary sadness at moving to a new school or a new town. For those who haven't seen Disney/Pixar's Inside Out, the main character, Riley, starts off as a joy-filled little girl. But after her family moves to a new city, no matter how much Joy tries to maintain control of Riley's other emotions, Sadness slowly colors Riley's old and new memories until the only thing Riley remembers how to feel is sadness. Inside Out is one of the best visualizations for how depression differs from temporary sadness.
The Bible openly records many "heroes of faith" suffering from a modern-day definition of depression. As we explore their stories, we learn that the cause of their depression differs dramatically from person to person.
King David is possibly the best known for his Psalms of grief and agony, written while he fled from his mutinous son, Absalom (2 Samuel 15; Psalm 42-43). Hannah, mother of Samuel, "wept and would not eat" (1 Samuel 1:7) because she couldn't conceive children in a culture where a woman's purpose and joy came from marriage and motherhood.
The entire book of Job chronicles God's bet with Satan that no matter what Satan did to God's servant, Job, Job would not curse God. While Job never curses God—even after his wife tells him to—he becomes incredibly sick, loses all of his property, loses his family, loses his friends, and more. Thus, Job fell into a deep depression so bad that he wished he hadn't been born and even begged God to kill him.
Most of these Old Testament figures experienced recovery from their depressive states and even compensation for their suffering in some cases (see Job 42:10-17). However, in the New Testament, we have the example of Paul stating, "a thorn in the flesh was given to me" (2 Corinthians 12:7). We don't know what exactly this thorn might be, as Paul never verifies the thorn's nature, but we can surmise that despite Paul's repeated requests to be freed from his thorn, he probably carried it for the rest of his life. Sometimes the pain we experience is a lifelong struggle.
The causes for depression can be very diverse, as everyone's story is different. We are all capable of being hurt by different things in different ways. While one situation may not affect certain people negatively, that same thing could easily damage another's mental health. We're listing a few of the common causes of depression here, but this list is by no means exhaustive. If you feel you or a loved one is suffering from depression, please seek advice and diagnosis from a trained professional counselor or health care provider.
Unconfessed Sin vs. False Guilt: While it's true that depression can stem from unconfessed sin, it's far from the only cause. There are times we may feel depressed over something we perceive as sin but that isn't actually sin, rather it is false guilt, which is a result of a misinformed conscience. What's a misinformed conscience? It's when "conviction" from the Holy Spirit, which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:19), gets confused with "condemnation," which stems from Satan's attempts to shame us (Romans 8:1). (For more on this, see: How can I stop feeling guilty?)
Traumatic events or a string of traumatic events: Trauma is defined as "a disordered psychic [mental] or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury." Broken down even further, a traumatic event is something that places severe emotional, mental, or physical stress on a person. If you don't have time to recover from such events, you don't have access to a support system to help you recover or proper resources, or if you are experiencing repeated traumas in close succession, your brain will establish a new baseline for "normal"—which is a hopeless "survival mode."
Living in "survival mode" for extended periods of time: Unfortunately, establishing a "normal" state which focuses solely on surviving from day to day, moment to moment, often leads to depressive symptoms. Our brains physically begin to produce less dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins—all the natural chemicals that make us feel happiness. At that point, even things that normally bring us joy would have little effect.
There is nothing sinful about being sad or depressed or worn down by the world (Romans 8:20-22; Genesis 3:14-19). Life can be tough, and it is OK to be upset and frustrated about it for a time. There is nothing sinful about being born with a chemical imbalance in your brain or developing one later in life due to injury or trauma or any given factors. There is nothing sinful about some of your body parts—like your brain—not functioning as they were intended to.
That said, while we cannot control outside factors that often contribute to depression, our response to those factors is still our responsibility. When we realize we have the flu, we drink lots of liquids, monitor body temperature, take medicine, and rest. It's the same with mental, emotional, and spiritual health. With depression, as soon as we recognize it for what it is, we need to care for ourselves by seeking help and support.
Depression is unlikely to "get better" on its own; it's not like a papercut that we can merely wait out until the immune system fixes it. If left untreated, depression does get worse. Seek counseling. Ask your doctor if medication may help you. Ask God for wisdom, direction, and reminders of your status as His beloved son or daughter.
People suffering from depression are valid and worthy of love and help no matter what the reason behind their pain. We are all beautiful creatures created in the perfect image of God (Psalm 139:14; Genesis 1:27) yet living in a pain-ridden world. Things may come at us from unexpected directions and hurt, but that is not the end our story.
Sometimes depression is a temporary season of life. Sometimes depression will be a lifelong struggle, like Paul's thorn in his flesh. Either way, being discouraged over depression is not sinful. Even Christ wept from anguish before His crucifixion (Luke 22:39-46), and He grieved over Lazarus' death (John 11:35). Sorrow is not sinful. Sometimes we need time to mourn the brokenness of our hearts, our lives, and the world. But the important thing is to not get trapped in the mourning period. The mourning period is not an end. It is a season to live through and live past.
"O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, ‘There is no salvation for him in God.' But you, oh Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill." —Psalm 3:1-3
"Why should I take my flesh in my teeth and put my life in my hand? Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face. This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before him." —Job 13:14-16
Depression is not a sin. People suffering from depression are valid and worthy of love and help no matter what the reason behind their pain. There is nothing sinful about being sad, depressed, or worn down by the world (Romans 8:20-22; Genesis 3:14-19). Life can be tough, and it is OK to be upset and frustrated about it for a time. While we cannot control outside factors that contribute to depression, our response to those factors is still our responsibility. Seek counseling. Ask your doctor if medication may be helpful. Ask God for wisdom, direction, and reminders of your status as His beloved son or daughter.
September is an avid film nerd from growing up on weekend trips to Universal Studios Hollywood. She is passionate about the intersections of Christian spirituality, faith, and storytelling in popular culture. Outside of 412teens and digging up obscure horror flicks from the 2000s, she works as a freelance developmental editor and acquisitions consultant while comforting her clingy feline floof, Faust, from the anxiety of existence.