Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dealing with Depression as a Christian

On Thursday morning, a guy came into the church through the front door, and went out in handcuffs. Not because of anything he did... but because he was actively suicidal, and Pastor Becky believed that he needed to be protected from himself. She called the police to escort him to the hospital, and when they arrived, he thought they were taking him to jail and tried to hit them (hence the cuffs).

His last words to us were 'I trusted you! I thought you were going to help me!' It was a cry that wrenched my heart. He might not have understood it, but we WERE helping him. Just talking to him wasn't going to change anything. All the prayers and reassurance in the world weren't going to make him feel better for more than a few minutes or hours. Then he'd be alone again without anybody to keep him safe.

Just this weekend I came across a woman asking for prayer for her suicidally depressed, atheist friend. She  was convinced that if this poor woman 'found Jesus' all of her problems would be solved. This is extremely scary thinking to me, but I've seen it actively encouraged by many Christians. It's the same thought process that says that when you are baptised God will magically make you an entirely new creation and you won't be a drug addict or an alcoholic any more, or you won't be mentally ill (and if you are, it's a sign that your faith was too weak so you just need to pray harder.) I can't say it often enough. BAPTISM IS NOT THE MAGIC CURE FOR MENTAL ILLNESS. You can be a card-carrying, deeply faithful, church-going Christian for 25 years, and still fall into the pit of depression if the circumstances in your life and your genetic makeup conspire against you.

Depression is a deep, dark, well that sucks all of your rational thought processes out of your brain. When things get bad, the effect your actions will have on other people is the very last thing you are thinking about, because your world has narrowed to the ocean of pain and darkness around you, and the ever-more-tempting ways you can make it all just go away forever. Even your faith is no lifeline - God will make all things better, but they aren't improving no matter how long you spend on your knees, so either you have been rejected by God as the lowly worm you are, He doesn't exist, or He must want you to suffer. And there is only so much suffering that any one person can bear before they break.Things that were utterly unthinkable a few days or weeks before suddenly seem perfectly logical and rational. You are a burden that your friends and family don't need to care for, your loved ones will be better off without you, nobody on earth will even notice that you are gone, and somehow removing yourself from the world will make things better for everyone else. This is so far from truth it's unthinkable in itself... but it doesn't seem that way to you at the time.

If somebody you know is deeply depressed and you are worried about them, pray for them and with them by all means... but getting them immediate and concrete professional help is just as important. If they're under a doctor's care and they seem to be getting worse over time instead of better, the same rule applies. The first line of defense for a suicidally depressed or otherwise obviously mentally disturbed person is the hospital emergency room. If they won't go with you, an immediate danger to self or others justifies a call to 911 and the professionals who can MAKE them go. In the meantime, do not leave them alone, no matter how 'okay' they say they are. They do not know what they are doing, and they do not really understand what the consequences will be if they succeed - or if they fail.

But the time that they will REALLY need your love and care is afterwards. If you find it hard to think of suicidal depression from the outside, it's a thousand times worse from the inside, especially after the crisis is over and you are restored to a more normal state of mind. You have to live not only with the knowledge that your own brain betrayed you... but with the full knowledge and understanding of what you were doing to everyone else you cared about. And for a Christian, especially one brought up with the idea that suicide is a sin, how you betrayed your own faith and failed your God. It's not something that anybody finds easy to talk about - mental illness carries a huge burden of stigma with it. But it can happen to anyone. Your teacher, friend, pastor, co-worker, child... even me.


  1. Suicide is difficult to "treat." Many years ago my SIL committed suicide. She tried a few times and finally succeeded. I was told once a person tries they will eventually succeed/.

    1. There isn't any way for somebody to look at you from outside, no matter how well they know you, and reliably say this person is (or isn't) going to try again. Depression is an invisible illness and there's no way to measure the progress and response to treatment other than self-report. It takes long-term followup from skilled medical professionals, and even then there are no guarantees. Many people recover entirely... others don't. I'm very sorry that you lost your SIL to this illness.

  2. suicide is so difficult. i'm glad he's getting the help he needs. you can never be sure when they will succeed. it's difficult to treat. prayers for him. take care,