We’ve come through—and many of us are still in—a species-level trauma, the likes of which the global human population has not experienced for one hundred years.
In normal times, 1 in 4 American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder—including depression and anxiety. The studies that occur in the next few years will show us the true impact of lockdowns and pandemic isolation. In time, we will understand how prolonged social and physical isolation affects the mental-emotional health of populations worldwide.
We humans are made as relational beings. We are made for each other, we are made for God, we are made for the earth, we are made for ourselves. Our relationality exists in four directions: to God, self, others, and nature (Genesis 1:26-31, Genesis 2:18, 20b-22).
Our relationship to ourselves, namely our mental and emotional health, ultimately affects the way we relate to everything else.
Perhaps you or someone you love struggles with mental health. Depression is a mental disorder that has become more recognizable in the cultural lexicon when discussing mental wellness. Depression can include two types: clinical depression and situational depression.
Working with a professional mental health worker such as a psychologist, psychotherapist, psychiatrist, or licensed counselor can help you determine what you may be experiencing.
Perhaps you or someone you love has struggled with listlessness, a deep-seated restlessness that can’t be attributed to anything in particular. Perhaps you feel a persistent sense of hopelessness, being unable to see a vision for the future. Maybe you’ve noticed you cry a lot and regularly. Maybe sleeping is hard, whether getting to sleep or staying asleep. Or maybe it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning and you’re still in bed late into the afternoon. Maybe you’ve lost interest in daily activities and things you used to enjoy. Perhaps you’ve felt physical pain in your body that isn’t caused by anything in particular, such as stomach pain, headaches, or back pain. Perhaps you’ve struggled with anxiety or had suicidal thoughts. If this is your experience, you might be suffering from depression.
Situational depression can be triggered by a life event, like the loss of a job, loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or any other major transition in life. Clinical depression is more severe and may impact your ability to do life's daily activities. Neither type of depression is more ‘real’ than the other; any depression can affect a person’s life and should be taken seriously. It is not you being ‘weak’ or dramatic or even just sad. Depression is a mood disorder that requires treatment, just like any other illness in your body that requires care and treatment. In fact, talking with a medical physician can be place to start. Your counselor or therapist can help determine whether your depression is situational or clinical and work with you on a plan for moving forward.
If we break a leg, we generally know we need to go to the doctor, get it x-rayed, be diagnosed with a broken leg, and then receive treatment. We have a cast put on, use crutches for walking, take prescribed medicine for pain, establish a resting and exercise regimen, and schedule future doctor visits.
When we suffer from a mental health issue however, somehow we hesitate to seek treatment. Perhaps because chemical imbalances are ‘unseen’ or do not manifest as physically obvious as a broken leg. A stigma often surrounds mental health concerns. We resist accepting depression as a condition that is as serious as a broken leg, requiring professional medical attention and treatment.
We tell ourselves that "tomorrow will be better." But tomorrow comes, and getting out of bed is not easier. Or it's worse, and we tell ourselves or others that there must be something wrong or ‘weak’ or unspiritual about us if we cannot force ourselves to get up and feel better. But that’s the same thing as telling that broken leg to stop hurting or heal itself tomorrow. It doesn’t work like that.
There is a growing cultural awareness of the reality and importance of mental health and wellness, but taboos around discussing, addressing, and getting support for mental wellness still linger.
Christians have depression, both clinical and situational depression. Being Christian does not make us a special kind of human that is exempt from general human experiences, including getting depression. Having a relationship with Jesus will not keep you from being depressed. Those struggling with mental health are not less spiritual, not less strong, not less emotionally mature.
It’s false (and awful) to communicate or teach that depression can be cured by just having more faith. It’s absolutely not true. When people suggest that depression can be cured with more faith, they cause further emotional injury. Those who are hurting then feel like they have failed somehow because they suffer from mental illness. That’s akin to telling someone they are unspiritual for having cancer. We know that’s absurd and an awful thing to imply.
Why would it ever make sense to discourage someone experiencing mental and emotional anguish from seeking professional mental health support to determine what it is they are suffering from and how to treat it?
Mental health struggles are as old as time for human beings. David, the poet of the psalms, recorded many a depressive poem expressing his pain and anguish to God. Almost 1/3 of the psalms in the Bible are lament psalms; they are grief poems, pain prayers, and anguished cries to God by a writer in despair.
Most of the psalms have a turn from lament to faith. They spend a great deal of time complaining or naming pain until the writer comes back around to reminding themselves of who God is and why they can hope.
The only psalm that does not do this is Psalm 88. It lets the psalmist stay in the darkness. In this psalm the writer and reader feel the depths of despair the person is experiencing. "You have taken from me friend and neighbor— darkness is my closest friend." (Psalm 88:18). Depression is not unspiritual. It is part of being human, and even Jesus experienced it. We hear the anguished cry of Jesus on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1).
Depression is not new. Only our naming of it is.
The brain and our mental-physical-emotional connection is still mysterious; science is always learning more and more. But what we do know: mental health is as important as physical health. In fact, the two cannot be separated. Mental health is part of good health itself, period. If your mind is not well, it is difficult for your body to be well.
If you or someone you love has been struggling with ongoing feelings of sadness, anxiety, worry, loss of appetite, ongoing tiredness, lack of energy, or frequent crying, please seek help. If you persistent feelings of hopelessness or suicidal thoughts please contact the national suicide hotline at 800-273-8255. It’s so important and so helpful to seek professional help to navigate back to health.
God blesses us through the work of trained professionals and seeking help is imperative. Consider working with a counselor who has a Christian worldview, so that your licensed mental health professional can integrate faith into the therapy they provide for you.
Many options for tele-health have arisen: Better Health is an online platform that with a few simple questions can connect you with a mental health professional to support you from your home. When searching for a counselor, you can set your search preferences to include Christian counselors. Nami is another resource for seeking individual or group support with a helpline available.
If you have medical insurance, check your provider directory online for licensed therapists. You can search by zip code or by what you are seeking care for (e.g. depression, anxiety, identity, addiction, etc.). Don't let a lack of funds keep you from seeking treatment as many organizations have financial assistance available.
If you have it in you, ask someone you know and trust about mental health professionals; who is their therapist? Where do they go?
You do not have to suffer alone. You do not have to keep suffering. Your suffering is not shameful. God is with you. Even in the silence. Even in the pain. There is help for you. Please don’t give up. And please don’t stay silent.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster
Rev. Deb Koster
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster