One of my Evangelical friends once said, “The Christian church has done a crap-tastic job at reaching out to those who suffer mental health issues.” It sounds harsh, but I have to say it couldn’t be further from the truth.
In the past, my struggle with loneliness and depression has often caused me to feel disconnected from people and reality. Oftentimes, this has led me to make countless mistakes in my daily work and home life, and experiencing the consequences of my mistakes would lead me to think even less of my own self-worth. Being constantly bullied in my school years certainly did not help either. It was especially evident when I first moved away from home after high school while trying to meet new friends. Breaking through social barriers was never an easy task. And even after finding a group of friends to spend time with, there were always the default cliques that would often make me feel like I’m just an afterthought or only present for the convenience of others. For me, depression is like drowning in a deep, dark abyss and continually sinking deeper without any hope of escaping.
On one occasion, I remember someone from my previous church blatantly saying, “If you have the joy of Jesus in your heart, you should not feel depressed.” I even had a former employer, who was a strong advocate of the KJV-only movement, reprimand me by saying, “You’re making so many mistakes because you probably don’t have something right with God!” After hearing such ignorant, misguided and rhetorical statements I felt like my internal struggles were invalid and reflected myself to be an unholy and undesirable person to associate with. I know if it weren’t for the Christian friends I do have who also struggle with anxiety and depression, I probably wouldn’t have anything to do with church whatsoever.
First of all, since when did becoming a Christian exempt people from experiencing emotions other than happiness? Since when did struggling with emotions and self-worth become a reflection of whether or not a person has a healthy relationship with God? Loving Christ certainly does not mean being happy all of the time.
Secondly, did Jesus (being fully God and fully human) not experience agony in the garden before being arrested? Did the prophet Elijah not experience depression and suicidal thoughts as mentioned in 1 Kings 19:3-4? If these highly regarded biblical figures were not immune to anxiety or depression, doesn’t it reflect their human qualities? How is it that people in our church circles can justify emotional and mental suffering as being sinful?
If anxiety and depression is considered a form of sin and having the love of God in our hearts prevents us from experiencing them, then how are we not exempt from physical injury, disease, disability or even death? As long as I’ve had faith, I have never felt like my struggles have disappeared, nor do I expect them to go away as long as I am still alive. In fact, I’ve found my struggles even greater than before while studying moral absolutes makes me even more aware of my own shortcomings.
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it is okay to suffer. It is okay to not always feel okay. There is no shame in feeling pain. However, it is not okay to shame those who are experiencing suffering of any form, and that includes people with anxiety or depression. The last thing people need to be told is their suffering is the result of a lack of faith. Rather than informing where others are falling short, why not consider asking them these questions?
- How are they doing?
- What is causing their emotional distress?
- What would help ease their pain?
- Or, if you don’t know what to do, ask them if you could pray for them.
Aside from my own experiences, I’m not claiming to know it all or have a solution. But I do know something needs to change in the way the subject is being treated within our circles of faith. If it is our duty as Christians to reach out to people who are broken in mind and spirit, creating a safe haven for them should be a priority.