Monthly Archives: September 2014

Let’s Talk About Depression


Let’s talk about Depression. I’ve been doing some prep work for a workshop I’m doing about Spirituality and Depression, and I must admit: I’ve been really struggling. I struggle because in the church, we send so many mixed messages to people. On the one hand, we tell people that God is a provider, a protector, a sustainer, and we should cast all our cares on God. On the other hand, we sometimes shame people when they actually admit that it can sometimes be hard to see and feel that! I want to talk about two different types of depression- situational and clinical. Most (if not all) of us have experienced symptoms of depression related to a specific incident (a loss, a death, a break-up, a stressful work situation). If you won’t admit it, I will. I’ve been sad, lonely, frustrated, confused, and unsure about God’s place in my life. In these situations, sometimes a change of perspective, a reminder of scriptures of explaining God’s promises, prayer, and a good cry are just what we need to feel better. But, all depression (or maybe a better word is sadness) isn’t like that!

Sometimes, you are depressed and you don’t know why. You can’t get out of bed. You don’t feel motivated. You don’t feel God’s presence. You can’t seem to enjoy the things that once drove you. You can’t concentrate. You can’t rest. Your body hurts. This is clinical depression. This is not depression that can be prayed away. This depression is not about a failure of faith. This is a brain disease that makes even the simplest of tasks seem like great battles. Here’s the problem- we treat these people, as if they are the people dealing with situational distress. We say things like:

Just pray.

Just trust God.

Believe it will get better.

Fake it ’til you make it.

But what if my mind is so clouded that I can’t see any of that? What if my heart is so heavy that I can’t find the words to pray? For some folks, depression is not something that you can just pray or praise your way out of. For some folks, a professional therapist is needed to help them find ways to cope and to heal. For others, medication is needed to correct a chemical imbalance in the brain. Take a look at this photo from a WebMD Slideshow about Depression:

depressed brain scan

For people who experience clinical depression, the brain functions less efficiently (the bright colors indicate levels of activity) and is less able to handle every day demands- that why people who are depressed may have difficulty getting work done, making decisions, taking care of life tasks, or being in relationships. So, when you tell someone with clinical depression to snap out of it, you are asking them to do something that they are physically (emotionally, spiritually) unable to do. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s not a personal failure, it’s a treatable health problem. There is so much stigma attached to mental illness that people are often afraid to share their struggles. Imagine the hurt we cause when people muster up the bravery to talk about it, and their concerns are not taken seriously or they are given the message that they should just pray it away.

As the church, we have a responsibility to stop shaming people for their “lack of faith” and start guiding people to wellness. Here are some simple things you can do:

  1. Just listen. You can bet that much of the advice you try to give, the person has already tried, possibly without success. Try listening without developing a response other than: “I’m sorry, what can I do?”
  2. Connect them with resources. We are great for providing a listening ear, but if you’re not a professional mental health care provider, don’t try to do it! Offer to be with the person while they make an appointment, or even go with them to the first one. Help them to look up therapists their insurance company will cover. If you don’t know where to start, check out my Find a Therapist page for help.
  3. Pray. Acknowledging that professional help is needed  does not negate everything we know about the power of prayer. We pray before surgeries, flights, road trips, and first days at school. This is no different. Pray that the person will begin to feel God’s love and power. Pray that they connect well with the therapist and/or psychiatrist treating them. Pray for healing!
  4. Don’t stop checking in. Often, people who are depressed feel that they are alone in the world. Your call, text, or email can mean all the world. Show them that you care and that you are there for them. You can be the physical manifestation of God’s love for a person who is suffering. While we don’t always understand why we go through things, we do not that God loves us, God cares, and God never leaves. Check out these promises:

Psalms 145:14- The LORD upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down.

Psalms 34:18- The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.

Psalm 3:3:You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and lifter up of my head.

Romans 8:37-38: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rules, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

My hope is that we will begin to provide a space where we can talk about this without fear of shame. My hope is that we can truly be the hospital for all kinds of ailments, that we can instill hope, and that we can honestly admit when we need to call others for help. The only way people can get the help they need is if they are able to admit they are hurting!

If you are in the Richmond area (or willing to travel) check out the Upcoming Events section for an awesome conference on this very issue being held in a few weeks!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

The Power of Relationship

I recently came across an article describing a Baylor University study on the effects of prayer on mental health outcomes. They found that the extent to which people experience positive outcomes from prayer is related to their perception of their relationship with God. People who had a secure attachment  (my words, not theirs) with God were more likely to experience positive outcomes than those who didn’t. “Secure attachment” is a psychological term that describes a care giving relationship where one expects (counts on, believes in) support and protection from the other. This term is often used to describe parental relationships but can be used for other types of relationships at well. So, the bottom line was that people who didn’t believe God would be there in times of need, didn’t feel better when they prayed regularly. Well that makes perfect sense! How many of us pray about something, all the time working on a “plan B” because we don’t really trust that God will act in our situation. We take our burdens to the altar, and then pick them right back up after the “amen.”   I’m guilty of this too, so no accusation here. During these times, doubt and uncertainty (and maybe control issues!) get in the way of our faith walk.  This pattern causes us stress and distress and it doesn’t match God’s promises to us. Stress is the cause of so many of the mental and emotional challenges we face. As a believer, not trusting your relationship with God can lead to loneliness, hopelessness,  anxiety, and depression. None of us wants to feel that we are in it alone.

You know that best friend that you can tell anything to and you know will always be there for you? That’s the kind of relationship God desires with you- and guess what- it’s reciprocal! Imagine what would happen if you actually STOPPED stressing about the stuff you prayed about. Now that’s freedom! That is also the Power of Relationship. When you trust the promise of God’s protection and provision,  you are free to do what you’ve been called to do without the burden of worldly stressors. Here’s a reminder of what we’ve been promised:

Matthew 6:25- Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ?

Psalm 55:2- Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.

Proverbs 3:5-6- Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Hebrews 13:5b- God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

1 John 5:14-15- Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

Here’s the bottom line- relationship is essential! We can’t truly live in the promises if we aren’t close to the One who makes them!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!