Depression in the Church
Depression is common in its various forms; it can range from a mild, self limiting illness ( though it may not seem mild to the sufferer), to a very serious and severe condition lasting months if not years. It is a cause of great suffering and affects not just the patient but their family, their friends and their church.
I was one of those with a severe illness. It started when I was working as a doctor, happily married with four children. Though I was a Christian for many years, it still happened to me – I became suicidal and had to be admitted to hospital where I was given life saving ECT treatment. The illness persisted for seven long years during which time I was unable to work, unable to manage housework, at times unable to look after the children and in hospital. I was given drugs, psychotherapy and finally the last resort I had neurosurgery. This brought about a miraculous recovery!
During all this time, our family received support from our church friends in practical ways as well as in prayer. However at the beginning there were some who could not cope and others who gave well meaning advice – pray more, read the bible more, get closer to God, repent – that will be the key. Not knowing that in fact it all served to isolate me as I already believed that I was an awful person, useless, a bad Christian - negative thoughts that are characteristic of depression as well as the terrible feelings of despair, blackness, deep despondency and sadness, accompanied by lack of energy, overwhelming tiredness and very little ability to concentrate. As time went on the thoughts drove me to harm myself and eventually try to end my life, but that was not what God wanted for me and I survived – praise God.
I returned to my family after my recovery and also went back to work after eight years’ absence. I did not hide what I had been through as I am determined that the stigma of mental illness needs to be beaten. We should not be treated as modern day lepers. But some are not so fortunate. I had Christian friends also with severe mental illness who died by suicide. Their deaths are absolutely tragic and it should be remembered that depression can be a life threatening illness.
We moved up to Scotland in 2006 and not long after I had a relapse and was amazed at the response from our new church. While I was in hospital I was sent cards and gifts from people I hardly knew. It was such a blessing. My recovery was slow and I needed to retire from medicine. I wrote my second book ‘A Thorn In My Mind’, this time on my spiritual journey with mental illness, stigma and answering questions which Christians want to know.
Not just on World Suicide Prevention Day, but every day we as Christians should take the lead in supporting those who suffer such utter despair. Let us have warm, open, comforting hearts that accept people without judgement, loving and praying for those whoever they are - mentally well or mentally ill, able bodied or disabled, brother or sister in Christ or yet to know Him.
If you know of someone who is depressed, encourage them to be assessed by a doctor. If they are suicidal, it is vital that they get help either from their GP or A&E, or phone the Samaritans but above all provide loving, understanding support - it may save a life.
Cathy Wield's new book depression, A Thorn In My Mind, is available from Amazon