November 15, 2019

Depression Is Selfish

Can someone tell me what a sign in front of a church means that reads “Depression is Selfish”?

–from a Facebook post

This was the “status update,” or whatever it is called, posted by a good friend of mine on his Facebook page the other day. At first I just wanted to chalk it up to this being in Texas where my friend lives, and Texans just being Texans. (You can always tell a Texan. You just can’t tell them much…) My response on his page was: “This means that if you are human and have any kind of problems, you are not welcome in this church.” And while I still think this is true of the church, I am starting to see that there could be some truth to their statement. Especially after what happened here in my town this week.

A young man, a senior in high school, took his own life Tuesday night. It happens that he attended a Christian high school, a strong school with a great headmaster and teachers dedicated to serving their students as best they can. When I heard the news, I wept. I didn’t know the young man, and I don’t think I know his parents. But he is now gone, and I can’t help but think it was a very selfish act. He’s beyond pain now, yes, but what about all those he left behind? His parents, his siblings, his extended family. His friends and classmates. Teachers who gave and gave and gave. I have two Korean boys living with me—Chris and James—who are students at this high school. I now will need to spend a lot of time with them to be sure they are working through their grief in the right way. I would rather be playing catch with them or talking sports or explaining Steinbeck to them than discussing suicide.

And then there is my 17-year-old son who attends a public school here in town. There are no secrets any longer. Before his first bell most of the students at his school would have heard about this tragedy. How many copycat suicides and suicide attempts will we hear of in the coming days? If even one, that is one way too many. So I will sit down with him to talk about what neither of us wants to discuss: the selfishness of suicide.

I can think of very few circumstances where one who takes his own life was not suffering from depression or some other form of mental illness. So, yes, in that way, I suppose the church’s sign is right. Depression is selfish.

Before you start throwing things at me, let me say that I understand depression is a very real illness. I know it quite well. I have suffered through what my doctor called “situational depression” in the past couple of years. It was not something I asked for nor desire to ever experience again. Yet while I was climbing out of that hole I have to admit that I had one main thing in mind: Me. My problems. My struggles. And I don’t think I am alone in that.

(And yes, if you or someone you know is showing symptoms of depression, you need to consult a medical doctor. Now. Not someday, but now. Seek medical assistance for this. It may mean the taking of medicines, at least for a while. Do it. You would take medicine for a sinus infection. Why wouldn’t you for an emotional infection?)

Those suffering depression are consumed with themselves, with their problems, with their faults and failings. This is often caused by a chemical imbalance, but it leads to a downward spiral where self takes center stage and cannot be displaced no matter how hard you try. So, yes, in a way, you can say that depression is selfish. Listen to me carefully again: Depression is an illness. There is no shame or blame being cast here. It would be like me saying that one with leukemia is guilty for her illness. Those who suffer from depression are not guilty. There is something chemically that does not enable them to handle life as it presents itself to us. There are those who take life as it is (read Chaplain Mike’s excellent post from yesterday and tell me how you would hold up under those conditions) and those who, because of the lack of certain reactions or connections in the brain, cannot handle life. There is no shame in this. And yes, those who are depressed are consumed with self, thus, selfish. This is just the way it is. This is not judgement. This is simply fact.

I have three things to say about this. First of all, to those who are not suffering from depression, at least for right now. You still have a responsibility to bear the burdens of others. Look around you. Do you know anyone who is in a state of depression right now? If not, why don’t you? This has been called an epidemic in our time, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. Find someone who is suffering from depression, and bring them to Jesus. Read the Gospel accounts of those whom Jesus healed, and you will find that they were men and women who, because of their ailments, were now outcasts from society. The same holds for those who are depressed. They are no longer connected to the rest of life. They become locked inside of themselves, unable to cope, unable to relate. They stay in their houses and encounter the world through a window called television. They are prisoners in a jail whose door is unlocked. You, the healthy one, need to open that door, pick up your brother or sister, and bring them to Jesus.

Skip the amateur, talk-radio psychological clap-trap. Don’t bother with the self-help books. And please, what ever you do, don’t say something stupid like, “Just get over it” or “It’s all in your head.” This is your brother or sister you are facing, and they are hurting as badly as if they had a knife wound to the gut. Get them to the only one who can truly help them. How do you do this? Spend time with them. Touch them. Pray with them. Go with them to the doctor. Listen to them. Talk to them about Jesus. Read to them from the Gospels of how Jesus touched and healed, and tell them that this same Jesus is touching and healing still today.

(Listen, iMonks, if we don’t believe that Jesus still heals today, then all we are good for is writing papers about the past and talking about a God who is distant at best. But if we believe that Jesus is alive, that he is real, that he IS, then we must believe that he still heals today. And it is our great privilege to be the hands Jesus uses to touch the sick today.)

Next, I want to talk to those who are suffering with depression. This is the great shame of the church today—we don’t like to admit that anyone who has “received Christ as personal savior” and now goes to our church might be depressed. I mean, that might mean that the celebrity pastor or the pastor wanting to be a celebrity isn’t perfect because someone in his church is suffering from depression. And there is still the stigma that mental illnesses are not of the same caliber as physical illnesses. Go forward for prayer for cancer or diabetes or a bad back and you will have people fighting to lay hands on you. Go up and say you need prayer for depression and there is a different reaction.

“Ah, well, brother, you just need to get over that.” Next.

I’m sorry that you have been treated like a leper. Unfortunately, you have good company. Those with leprosy found their only hope was Jesus who was not afraid to touch them in their unclean condition. And he wants to touch you still today. But we need your help. We need you to not be selfish–don’t take that as a judgement, just a fact–with your condition. Don’t stay hidden. Come out where we can see that you are hurting and let us walk on this journey with you. Why can we not be a part of your pain and then a part of your healing? There are many who have two strong hands who will gladly carry you for the time being. We are not going to see you as wrong, just hurting.

I am very serious about this. If you feel you have no one you can turn to in your depression, email me ( and we will find someone in your area to help you. There is no reason for you to be alone at this time. You are our sister, our brother. And we care.

Finally, a word to the church in the hill country of Texas who put up this sign in the first place. Just what were you thinking? Do you really think that someone suffering from depression would drive by, read your sign, and want to then come to your services to learn how to not be selfish? Did you really think you were doing someone good with these words? I’ll just go ahead and say it. You are horribly wrong if you think that. Words matter. And these words are very hurtful for those who are in depression. Just put up your service times on the marque and leave it at that, ok? We don’t care to hear your misguided opinions, especially when they cause additional pain to those already hurting. Would your sign have comforted the young man who took his life Tuesday night, or would they have pushed him over the edge? Would Jesus have spoken those words to one who was crying out in anguish?

Here is a prayer we all should pray on a daily basis. May God give us this hope.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

–Reinhold Niebuhr


  1. From someone who has had major depression for most of their adult life: the most important thing you can do for someone who is suffering depression is to insist they get professional help. I had to hear it about a hundred times before I was ready to take that step. The more people I heard it from, the harder it was to ignore the advice and to believe I was alone.

  2. Thank you for this. The stigma about mental illness in our society, and especially in the church, is really awful. I’m a pastor who has been open with my congregation about my struggles with depression, and though it has blessed some people, others have not received it well and their reaction has simply made things worse. If more people speak up, perhaps people will take this epidemic seriously.

    • Salsapinkkat says

      My father who was a vicar suffered from severe depression for many years & had some grief from a few in the congregation who wanted a vicar without problems (Hah- they’d be looking a long time!).

      He was sent by his bishop for psychotherapy which made him aware of all the reasons he was depressed but didn’t give him any help dealing with it. After some considerable time he went on a retreat to spend time with a vicar he respected and over a two week period of walking & prayer received significant & noticeable healing which has enabled him to live a pretty normal life (irritable personality notwithstanding!)

      I want to encourage you to remain honest- other broken people will be helped (and Jesus is so on your & their side as one who came to those who needed a doctor!) – the alternative has to be much worse- and hope & pray you can find the right support from those near to you…

  3. What is wrong with people who turn on those with depression?
    They must be the very worst of bullies.
    The only worse bullies would be those that torment the handicapped.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Only time I heard Rich Buhler at KBRT-AM use the “cough button” cutoff on the air was when he was interviewing a wheelchair-bound Nam Vet and asked if said vet had gotten the “If You Didn’t Have a Secret Sin in Your Life, God Would Have Healed You” treatment from his church. Dead air on the radio for close to a minute.

      • DreamingWings says

        Isn’t it funny how people who claim to follow the literal Bible continue to do something that Jesus directly stated was wrong and made of nonsense? I don’t seem to recall Jesus’ stand on this point to be at all vague or hard to understand.

  4. Unfortunately so many in our churches just do not understand depression. I have been under professional treatment and medication for the last eight years, but receive next to no support from my church. Unfortunately I am also unable to drive, so I am at home every day with no social interaction while my wife is at work. I can count on one hand the number of visits I’ve had from church ‘friends’ over the last 18 months! If I’d had a cancer operation I’m sure things would be different – but it’s just depression! Profession help is one vital thing, but the depressed nearly always also need large helpings of social, spiritual and emotional support.

    • This is exactly why I wrote this, Gordon. Thank you for your honestly in sharing…

    • I can relate all to well to this post…and when in the article we are being encouraged to step out and to make ourselves vulnerable to others so that they can help us….well, I’ve tried that for over 25 years with repeated distrastrous results! I’ve repeatedly had to go outside the walls of the church for help…I am now too sick to handle the stress of putting myself out there. It is simply too painful…my healing has not come quickly—people lose interest, they go on with their lives—they can’t be bothered or they make unbelievably stupid, hurtful statements. It truly is by the grace of God that I am still here and, yes, a sign like that on a bad day could have pushed me over the edge!!! But thank God for Jesus…I do know Him as my only hope & refuge…I would not wish mental illness on even my worst enemy…it is a hideous, hellish condition, but I cannot deny His faithfulness to me in the midst. I am thankful for this…I don’t understand all the why’s, but I am learning to submit all my ways to Him…I am learning to trust Him regardless of my circumstances.

  5. Did anyone see the American Experience series “God in America”? They really hit on the revivalistic notion of instant change through a “born again” experience. The implication is that any problem is easily overcome once you receive Jesus. Remaining depressed is probably viewed as selfish, that one is not willing to completely surrender to Jesus, to trade your sorrows for the joy of the Lord – as the hip worship song goes. There is something inherently modernistic about it, that the enlightened mind can overcome any obstacle and tame the savage, chaotic world. (Yes, tell a fundamentalist that they teach modernism…just for fun). I posted this once before, but I still highly recommend “I Trust When Dark My Road” by Todd Peperkorn – the story of a Lutheran pastor’s journey through depression.

    • “…any problem is easily overcome once you receive Jesus.”

      Is there a single belief that has caused more grief and disillusionment than that?

      • Possibly, but ain’t that in the top three?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I sent a heads-up about this thread to JMJ/Christian Monist. I’d like him to ring in on this. He’s had experience with both serious depression and the Christian “…any problem is easily overcome once you receive Jeesus.” reactions to it.

      • I know it sure caused me a lot of heartache for a lot of years…

    • I attend a black Pentecostal church, and “Trading My Sorrows” happens to be one of their favorite. I think, though, I’ve learned there that people are not in denial about their problems. They simply believe that God is with them and have hope that He will deliver them. Like Jeff said in His post, if we don’t really believe Jesus can heal us or deliver us, why exactly are we following Him?

      I guess I have seen the Evangelicals who pretend they don’t have problem embrace a fake joy, which seems to be what you’re getting at. But I have also seen people have real joy in the midst of horrible circumstances, and I have seen God truly deliver people. To me that is reason to “get your praise on!” (or even “get your dance on!”)

      It’s not that everything is easy. It’s that God is with us in the midst of our struggle. I’ve found that non-white cultures (and I’m white btw, so I say this as someone who’s learned a lot in the last few years from the people in my church) simply have more of an innate understanding of this.

  6. “Come out where we can see that you are hurting and let us walk on this journey with you. Why can we not be a part of your pain and then a part of your healing? There are many who have two strong hands who will gladly carry you for the time being.”

    Jeff, my experience just isn’t lining up with your sentiment here. This seems to be an exception to the rule. Come out with your problems and people ignore you, or like the blind beggars experienced, tell you to shut up.

    • Yes, absolutely. That’s why I wrote this. But not everyone is like that. I guarantee there are those near you who are willing to help, willing to listen, willing to carry you for a while. If you can’t find them, email me and we will help. I’m sorry that it is so hard for you…

      • I will admit, Jeff, you are a breath of fresh air….I would have like to have found/known someone like you 30 years ago.

    • This was my experience, too. I also heard a lot of “God is faithful” and “God has a plan” when attempting to share about my son’s terminal neuromuscular disorder. Once he was gone, all I heard was “He’s with the Lord.” Church people are no help at all when one is facing depression.

      I know a couple who lost their daughter to suicide. They found her body in their home, and called a couple who were close friends. One of those friends later told me how angry she was with their daughter. “What was she thinking when she did that?” She couldn’t think – not beyond her own pain and bi-polar personality disorder.

      Yes, depression is selfish. Your focus is on yourself and your problems. And I learned to keep quiet about it. Talking, especially at church, just caused further shutdown. No one wants to admit that their god or their church has that trouble. The world does the job of comforting and listening far better than the church, because the world will admit it is a problem.

      • “One of those friends later told me how angry she was with their daughter. “What was she thinking when she did that?” She couldn’t think – not beyond her own pain and bi-polar personality disorder.”

        Here is why we desperately need to educate people…inside and outside the church. When a person who is in their “right mind” asks that kind of question they don’t understand that the person that took such a desperate measure was NOT in their “right mind”…or they wouldn’t have done it!!!!!!! That’s the point….the mind is not working right.

        I have gone so far as to have special talks with those closest to me…both family members and trusted friends. I have told them that should I ever do that to myself I want them to understand that that is not what I wanted or meant to do.. and I would need them to speak on my behalf to others to explain what happened….I don’t want to harm myself and I have fought suicidal thoughts since I was 12 yrs. old—-I am now 47. I have a plan in place so that when my mood drops to that terrible place I let someone know (I am than watched & supported until I come out of it) , but I am convinced that anything is possible in that awful place (in that place I AM NOT IN MY RIGHT MIND) and therefore I will not stand in judgement of another. To do so is to only compound the problem and to hurt all who are invoved.

  7. Let me start by congratulating you on an excellent post, Jeff!

    Like some of the other commentators, I too have experienced major depression, which, in my case, took me seven years to recover from. At the present time I have cancer which is terminal. Despite the fact that the cancer will take my life, if I had to choose between that and the experience of reliving the crushing pain of severe, chronic depression, I would go with the cancer (“The human spirit will endure sickness; but a broken spirit – who can bear?” Prov 19:14).

    While I generally agree with your post, I would like to challenge one point that you made. You wrote that “those who are depressed are consumed with self, thus, selfish.” I don’t think that the moral failing of selfishness follows from being consumed with self as a result of having depression. Of course, I realize that you go on to say that it is only “in a way” that depression is selfish.” You also make it perfectly clear that you accept that depression is an illness. Nevertheless, I believe that the morally culpable condition of selfishness does not necessarily follow from the self-absorption inherent in depression. Here is why: A concern for self is not necessarily selfishness. Here I think we should not be deceived by the linguistic similarities between the phrase “concern for self” and the word “selfishness.” Instead, we should focus on what each concept means. While all selfishness involves a concern with self, not all concern with self is selfishness. In this matter, scripture agrees: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil 2:4)

    You also write, “Those suffering depression are consumed with themselves, with their problems, with their faults and failings.” Yes, indeed. But this is a consequence of their illness not the cause of it. If I were to plunge a knife into your chest, you most certainly would be consumed with yourself and your problem! That is the purpose of pain. But that does not make you selfish; it makes you human. Can depression be caused by repeatedly engaging in selfish behavior and being unwilling to accept the consequences of such behavior? Yes, it can. Is depression always caused by such a moral dynamic? Not at all.

    Now, it may be that case that in the above quotes you did not intend to use the word “selfish” with any moral connotations, e.g., “This is just the way it is. This is not judgement. This is simply fact.” If this is the case then I simply think that you could have chosen a better term than “selfish,” which has an almost unavoidably moral implication in everyday usage. If your use of the term “selfish” here is without moral connotation, then we are in agreement. But even if not, my stated concerns notwithstanding, when it comes to depression, you and I are definitely on the same page! Well done, Sir.

    • Steve–

      First of all, thank you so much for your honesty here. You are showing courage in the face of death that very few have.

      As for my use of the word “selfish,” I used that as a reaction to the church’s sign mentioned at the very beginning of the essay. No, there is no moral failing involved, at least not from my part. That is why I took great pains to say “fact, not judgement.” It was the use of the word by the church that incited this essay in the first place. I cannot tell you why they chose that word. “Depression is selfish” is actually a Buddhist teaching. Maybe this was a Buddhist temple and not a Baptist (or some other denomination) church.

      Well, no–it was in Texas. It was a church.

      But that is why I used that word. If not for the kick-start provided by that sign, I most certainly wouldn’t have brought that word into play.

      Thanks again for sharing, Steve. Our prayers are with you at this time.

      • Where in the world did you get the idea that “Depression is selfish” is Buddhist?

    • Hi Steve, I haven’t read past your post yet but wanted to comment on what you wrote re the word “selfish”. I am so in agreement that the word among Christian circles is so negative that when applied as the church sign indicated…it is a killer for the depressed person. I have struggled with it for probably more of my life than not. We think that we “should” not be this way but as I have learned, many many believers (many of the “greats”) have suffered with it and still trusted Christ. Reading about the lives of others who have struggled in this way has been of far more benefit to me that the efforts of folks who are not familiar with it. And Jeff, I would guess that situational depression is far less debilitating than the chronic variety. And please don’t think I am minimizing YOUR experience because I sure could be wrong.
      Depression is such a complicated illness and I think that sometimes we can invest so much time trying to figure it out that we don’t let Christ minister that which we need…more of Himself to love us IN the slough. One thing I know…Jesus loves me depressed or not. I may be consumed with myself and flogging myself with the whip for my many shortcomings (which is just what the adversary loves) but when the Lord comes into my view and He puts His arms around me with His grace…somehow He lifts me and I look up and EVERYTHING looks different. Nothing has changed and yet everything is different, especially the way I see myself. For me to soak in the thoughts of His great grace is like a medicine.
      Thank you for sharing about the cancer. It has invaded our home too. May the Spirit of Christ continue to be very near you as bless others with your kind words.

  8. I’m a psychologist, which makes me wonder if anything I say will be dismissed as “claptrap”. But thank you for addressing an important topic and for drawing attention to this disgraceful and irresponsible display. Can you give any more details about the whereabouts/identity of the church in question?

    I too had issues with the way you were using the term ‘selfish” and I’m glad that’s been addressed. But I’d also like to add that of the many people I’ve known who were experiencing some form of depressive condition, very few have been “selfish” even superficially. It is simply not the case that people who are depressed are by the same token “consumed with self”. Young people – teenagers – may be more prone to egocentricity; it’s part of their developmental process. It’s also what puts them more at risk, because unlike those of us with more wear and tear, they haven’t yet had the chance to learn that life goes on, that the wheel turns, that love is “perennial as the grass”.

    But for the most part, people with depression are no more prone than anyone else to behave or think in ways that are “selfish”; and to the contrary, many have spent long years trying to please and placate everyone else around them, while those people proceed to heap more and more burdens on them, or even to abuse them emotionally.

    And I fear that giving any head-room whatsoever to this revolting idea that depression is selfish – even in a qualified way – will work together with the overpowering guilt and shame that often accompanies mood disorders, to make a depressed person feel even less deserving of life and love.

    Also – not everyone who commits suicide is depressed. Other causes include unbearable anxiety, emotional trauma (as with the recent well publicized suicide of a young gay man), addictions, personality disorders and more. Unless a note is left behind, it’s often impossible to know exactly what the motivation is or how this choice was made; but when we do know, very often it is not “selfish” at all – even though it may be distorted or wrong headed. In too many cases, the person who takes his or her own life has come to believe that this would be best not only for themselves but also for the ones they love.

    I hope that some mental health advocacy group, if there be such, will take legal action against that church and get the sign removed, if the sponsors refuse a reasonable request to take it down.

    • Riley Kline says

      “In too many cases, the person who takes his or her own life has come to believe that this would be best not only for themselves but also for the ones they love.”

      It’s so nice to hear these words from a psychologist! Depression and suicide are very close to my family, and this is an issue I always have when people try telling me suicide is the ultimate form of selfishness. Spot on!

    • As one who suffered serious clinical depression a number of years ago, I can agree that depression is selfish, that is it causes the sufferer to be self-consumed. That is a natural (and hopefully, God-given) self-defense/preservation mechanism. Would one say that someone who has potentially terminal cancer is ‘selfish’ because they do all they can to get the best treatment possible? If so, the church is full of very selfish people. When one has cancer, the selfish battle literally consumes their life. They would be far more spiritual to just give up and die. (Read lots of sarcasm here.) But the selfishness from depression is of a different kind. As noted in some of these posts, it is a product of the illness itself.

      In my depression, I came very close to suicide at one point. I learned from that experience the reason most people commit suicide. It is not selfishness or a cry for help (at least is most cases where the person succeeds). The reason is that the person simply loses hope, comes to the point where he or she thinks it will never get better. That is the point I reached – every day for the rest of my life was going to be hell so why go on? It was at that point that I told my counselor and he referred me to a phsychiatrist who prescribed anti-depressents. I would like to say that my faith gave me hope, but I’m not sure I passed too many ‘faith tests’ during that period. I think that the anti-depressents actually broke the cycle and I started to get better. I thank God that he brought me to that point, allows us to have effective anti-depressent medications, and then worked in my life to provide hope and healing over time.

      For a church to put up a sign like that shows ignorance at best and heartlessness at worst. I doubt that the Spirit of Christ inspired the church to post that one.

    • Thank you Sally D. I have bipolar disorder, and it hurts to have it characterized as egocentric (possibly a better word than selfish). That shows nothing of the complexity of this illness. Sometimes I am egocentric, but everyone is egocentric. The number of “I”s in this article alone shows that.

      For me, everything is physical. I have never suffered from being more or less egocentric than other people. I simply start to feel too tired and too sad and too scared to do anything. And do you know what I do when I feel that way? I use escapism. I avoid thinking about myself as much as possible, which means that I never address the problems that need to be addressed and things only get worse. I don’t think that characterizing an illness through a huge generalization is fair. Our natural tendency is to think about ourselves when we are sick. It’s our body’s way of ensuring that we don’t neglect ourselves. Most people who are ill with anything, even the flu, tend to think a lot more about themselves than at other times.

    • Kenny Johnson says

      Thank you!

      My wife has had two bouts of depression. She’s currently on medication. The first was likely triggered from both childbirth and the death of her father (6 weeks after our son was born). She was not consumed with self. She was consumed with dread. Pure hoplessness. She didn’t want to exist anymore, never mind being self-centered.

      When I was 17, I went through a period of panic attacks and depression. I wasn’t consumed with myself. I was consumed with depair and fear.

      • DreamingWings says

        Absolutely. I know from life long and painful personal experience that Panic/Anxiety and depression go together and feed each other. Your not thinking about yourself. You’re constantly fearing those outside threats that your brain is telling you are surely coming.

    • Sally, so glad you also mentioned anxiety. For years, I thought my issue was depression when depression was just the “anxiety hangover”. And guess the source of my anxiety? You guessed it, in fact wrote it; PEOPLE PLEASING….well, and also trying to “finish” the work of Christ. I literally drove myself mad trying to make everything easy for everyone around me. Through God’s grace I woke up one day and realized I was a people, too. Why couldn’t I extend the grace to myself that I was extending to others?
      One point I’d like to make for those that do struggle with this stuff: Please get counseling if you have to take medication. They go hand in hand. I’ve taken meds for years and didn’t really ever do much to fix what was really going on till this last year. Once the meds have put out the fire in your head, go to talk to someone to help you figure out why it started in the first place! I know that it’s expensive, but can you put a price on your health? How much do you spend on your car annually? Your house? Those thing aren’t going to be there if you’re not healthy enough to keep a job, etc.

      • DreamingWings says

        Amen. Meds generally can’t fully fix a serious long term problem on their own. They help you manage the problem so you can think clearly enough to get appropriate help. And see it as helpful when it comes.

    • Thank you so much for writing this.

      I have had debilitating fatigue for almost four years. Since severe fatigue does not do wonders for one’s mental health, it was no shock that I developed depression. Existence was exhausting, and every moment was a reminder that I was stuck in this shell of a body. Of course, this was the same time that God decided to give me a Dark Night of the Soul. Lovely.

      J.K. Rowling based the “dementors” on her own experience of depression. They suck every happy thought, every good feeling/memory, every bit of hope out of you, leaving you in a strange limbo between life and death. To me, that is depression.

      The only two feelings I could feel were soul pain and exhaustion. It didn’t help that my already dysfunctional family was being made more dysfunctional by my illnesses. When it seemed like God had abandoned me, my family was being destroyed by me, and existence was horrible, why not commit suicide? It would solve everything, my family would be better, I would be in heaven so God couldn’t ignore me, I would receive a new body and I would finally have rest!

      In the months before I went on antidepressants, I felt as though I was going insane. It felt like I was being dangled over a cliff by my little toe, and if I breathed wrong, moved wrong, thought wrong, I would fall into the pit of insanity. Thank God for antidepressants!

      I agree with Steve L, Concern for self is not the same as selfishness.

    • Legal action?? The solution to this problem is censorship and trampling on the First Amendment?? Talk about a cure that’s worse than the disease.

    • Thank you Sally

  9. When I had my first bout with depression, I was in college and had to withdraw from classes a week before final exams. I told my fundamentalist parents. Their response was that “real Christians don’t get sick!”

    To misquote the TV ads, depression hurts. It isn’t our job to hurt people who are already hurting. We are called to love, hope, and encourage towards healing. Let’s be about our Father’s business.

  10. david carlson says

    Depression causes people to be intensely inwardly focused.

    Christianity is about becoming selfless. Depression is a disease that robs that from people.

    • DreamingWings says

      Actually, its usually the other way around. Most people I know who suffer from depression are very giving and helpful to others; with whatever resources have the energy for.

  11. If I ever have a church again, I’m going to put a sign in front that says, “Hurling condemnation at hurting people is self-righteous and cruel.”

    Great post, Jeff.

    • sarahmorgan says

      thanks for saying that out loud….more people need to say that, and louder, too.

    • Christiane says

      ““Hurling condemnation at hurting people is self-righteous and cruel.”

      Love it. So very true.

  12. Our neighbors friends son killed himself two weeks ago. He had no signs of depression. Great kid. Last night they told me that a family member told them that he was in hell because he took his life and he hadn’t been saved… My heart sunk, my neighbors are close to the parents who are suffering and this had a bitter effect on them, they are not believers. I really don’t get why a Christian would say something like this in such a horrid time or why the church put that stupid sign up… My comment is: Are the folks with this mind set aware of how they are impacting others, do they care, do they really believe that their harsh words wont stir up anger or hurt? Gee, as I recall, it was the message of grace that opened my ears to the gospel…

  13. Unfortunately the advice about getting help isn’t even an option for a lot of people, especially those who are low income and/or have no insurance. Their (our) only option is to suffer in silence until it’s finally over. When it of course doesn’t get better that leaves little other options.

    • This is the correct answer. I was suicidal, but when my insurance for therapy and meds ran out, the therapy and meds stopped. They are both very expensive. But on the other hand, I have the American freedom to blow my brains out if I can’t afford medical care, or maybe just go church to church begging for money. I’m sure they’d pray for me.

      It was my church that saved my life. My pastor got me in therapy and my brothers and sisters gave me so much unconditional love. I found angels. Many of them were gay, too. They could relate to a piece of self-hating garbage that the world would be better off without.

      If your church isn’t sympathetic to depression, you need to go to a church of wounded misfits and outcasts, for that is where grace is found.

      Depression is selfish and totally un-selfish at the same time, because at least in my case I figured that the greatest gift I could give the people who loved me was to stop inflicting them with my presence. I convinced myself that my 12 year old daughter would be better off with a new dad, that everyone would be sad for a while but soon they’d realize that things were great! without me.

      My therapist made me call several of my closest friends and ask them to respond to me when I told them “You’d be better off without me, so I’m going to kill myself.” When you have endured 3 or 4 phone calls of people’s reactions to your suicide, you do realize that your death is not going to have the positive impact you thought it might.

      • Good therapist

        • “If your church isn’t sympathetic to depression, you need to go to a church of wounded misfits and outcasts, for that is where grace is found.”
          ….Wow. Complete and total Amen.
          Fish, if you don’t mind, I’m going to quote that. Absolutely brilliant.

      • 1) In most places MHMR will help the uninsured in this situation.
        2) Generic Zoloft is available for $4 at Wal-Mart.

  14. If the sign means “Depression is selfish” because depression eats away at you, drains you of any energy to do anything, darkens everything, then yes.

    If they mean “You’re not depressed, you’re self-centred!”, then the sign means that the person who put it up needs a good kick up the transom.

    • I don’t know what “up the transom” is……but I’m guessing that it hurts worse than depression; Martha , your words are often funny AND helpful, a rare combination.

  15. May I also add that I have struggled with depression for years, meds have helped a little, therapy a little… It has only been the past few years that I have been able to admit depression to others… Why it is so shameful for me (to admit) is multi-layered. The week my doctor prescribed anti-depressants was on the heels of my (ex) pastor message about why it is sinful that so many Christians are taking medications for depression. There are many contriubuting factors to the shame I feel, so I am not blaming him. It is just so hard to feel like you are worthless and now sinful for using medication instead of God’s word, prayer, fasting (which I did for years before I got help from a doctor)
    I guess what I want to say is Thank-You for writing this, and thank you Steve L for saying the words that I cannot form…

  16. Having and being treated for depression for 20 years, I sympathize with many of the commenters here. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the Evangelical response to depression. I say Evangelical instead of Christian because that’s the tradition I grew up in and lived in for 39 years. I have no experience of how other traditions treat the issue.

    I think the typical Evangelical response comes from the hard substance dualism that Evangelicals are weaned on. There is mind (or spirit), and there is body, and never the twain shall meet. (Usually added to this formula: body = bad; spirit = good. Most Evangelicals are Gnostics and don’t know it). This foundational assumption leads to a simple conclusion: mental problems can’t be physical, therefore they must be spiritual.

    That kind of thinking doesn’t leave much hope for a young Evangelical suffering from Depression. Got depression? Pray harder, have faith. Still have depression? You’re not praying enough or don’t have enough faith. Taking antidepressants alleviates your depression? You have Jesus; you shouldn’t need drugs.

    My “aha” moment came when I realized the brain is an organ just like any other, and it can malfunction just like any other organ. My therapist (a Christian) put it this way: If something’s wrong with your heart, you’ll take heart medicine. If something’s wrong with your brain, why shouldn’t you take brain medicine?

    As deeply ingrained as hard substance dualism is in the Evangelical psyche and worldview, I’m not sure there’s a lot of hope in getting Evangelicals to change the way they view depression and deal with those afflicted with it. But one can hope.

  17. Cedric Klein says

    I’m going out on some pretty thin ice. There is only one thing in the article that I’d question- this statement about the young man who committed suicide “He’s beyond pain now, yes…”

    Now, I may myself say something like that to his friends & family in the immediate aftermath. And I’m sure not going to fall into the other extreme of saying the young man is plunged now into an eternity of pain for rejecting Grace & Faith & Life blah blah blah…

    But if anyone came to me & wanted to seriously discuss this, these thoughts would be some of what I’d want to say~

    This young man picked the second worse way possible to deal with his pain (the worse being something that lashed out at others, like a shooting spree). But he is now in the best place to learn how to deal with his pain- in the Presence of YHWH/Jesus Who is Complete Compassion & Complete Justice. I won’t say he is beyond all pain for “who may abide the Day of His Coming and who shall stand when He appeareth” for He is a Refiner’s Fire and a Consuming Fire. May his pain be blessedly temporal and he be brought through his darkness to be raised into Christ’s Eternal Resurrection Life.

    And if the other person brought up the worse case scenario, I’d have to admit the possibility that if the young man did indeed act in hatred & defiance of the Good that he knew, that he may never want to open in love & trust to YHWH/Jesus- and our best hope for him may for his spark to dwindle out of existence. But it is better for us to think the best of Christ & the best of him and to cling to the hope that in YHWH/Jesus “All Shall Be Well and All Shall Be Well and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well”.

  18. I’ve dealt with bouts of major depression since I was a teenager. I’ve attempted suicide in the past. When I have, my state of mind was such that I wasn’t concerned at all with what killing myself would do to my children, my parents, or my friends. In that sense, I suppose I was being selfish. The pain I was in was so deep, so intense, that I believed it was the only way to get relief. By God’s grace, I’m still here.

    I wish Christians would try harder to understand how this disease changes the way a person sees the world. A few years ago, at my old home church, I shared this struggle with the congregation. I felt God wanted me to do so, to show anyone else there with depression that they weren’t alone. I might have been mistaken, because, with the exception of a handful of people, I suddenly became persona non grata. One person — who had never, ever spoken to me before — went out of their way to tell me it was my sin that caused the depression. It’s attitudes like that that have kept me away from church for over 3 years.

    • You may not have heard from the person God used you to speak to, but that person was there. Don’t let anything or anyone detract from the knowlege you acted on the call of your Lord. “But Jesus, said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.”

    • Don,

      Churches are hospitals in so many ways, and its “patients” have many illnesses such as pride and judgmentalism. There will always be people like the one you described. There are others who will reflect Christ, even just a little bit. Further yet, others will be encouraged by your story, and you might have just done that and don’t know it yet. Come back. We need you.

  19. There are varying degrees of depression – a period of depression after the loss of a loved one or close friend, if one loses their home and entire belongings in a fire one could experience a period of depression.

    It is another thing all together is one suffers from a major depressive disorder – chronic depression as the result of serious trauma and abuse during one’s developmental years. There have been neurological studies done on the brain that actually show – in pictures of actual brains – the damage done by such trauma. Dr. Caroline Leaf has written books about this and how the brain can actually build new pathways over the damaged ones during the healing process( exciting given years in the past we were taught once brain cells die that’s it). This healing process is a true “renewing of one’s mind”, but a very difficult and pain-filled process for the individual involved.

    Telling someone Jesus loves them when in the core of their being they believe themselves to be unlovable, worthless, defective – a belief system with roots going deep due to years of words and experiences planting such beliefs – will not be able to penetrate through to their heart until they can experience in the here and now unconditional authentic love. This in itself can take years due to their inability to trust another person. The reality and world of someone suffering from such depression is not at all black and white – it is very complicated.

    I have known persons suffering from severe depression that want to get moving and just do things around their home but, for all their wanting they are unable to get themselves moving and this just adds to their sense of self. I have known persons who are the most giving and yes, loving, individuals, who will do anything they can to help someone that calls or comes to their door or a friend in need – they can rise to the situation and then, on their own collapse due to the enormous amount of energy it took to be there for someone else while hurting so deeply inside themselves.
    I have known such individuals who have suffered from depression – struggled with it all their lives in varying degrees – and they do not spend their days thinking about themselves and their problems – they struggle to survive – they struggle to get up each day and believe they can make it through the day and accomplish something – they struggle to believe God is with them – that God truly cares about them – that there is value in this life – this cross – that they have been dealt.

  20. Really appreciate this piece, Jeff. Thanks for writing it.

  21. Thank you for writing this. If nothing else, you helped someone avoid an episode of depression by reminding him to take his medication.

    Historically, depression was known as melancholia and was associated with the sin of sloth. I don’t know how much of that has carried over into protestant Christian thinking (or remains in Catholic thinking for that matter), but I know that some of the cultural language around depression does echo this sentiment.

    The author William Styron wrote about his depression in Darkness Visible a book that I recommend to those who suffer from this. It described the feeling of depression so well that it was one of the things that really convinced me that I was not alone in this pain.

    Although your language is loaded, I think I agree with you, that depression is selfish, insofar as all pain is selfish. Pain is the body’s way of focussing us back on it to let us know that there is something wrong. The knife wound of the mind that is depression is similar, focussing us on a problem in the mind. Unfortunately, the pain is much harder to deal with. Fortunately, the medications are not addictive, even if they are less effective. (I’m lucky that it took only 3 different medications to find the one that helped me. I’ve known people to go through 6 or so to find one that was effective for them.)

    At risk of offending those with both conditions, I think depression can be compared to rheumatoid arthritis. I write this after thinking of a friend, who, before her condition was stabilized and managed, had several days where she could not move due to the pain, where she was confined to her bed, something that I’ve both seen and experienced. Her lack of moment those days was selfish, wishing to avoid the mind numbing agony that was her body at the time. Depression’s mental pain is similar.

    As a throw away comment, “depression is selfish” is a horrible, dangerous statement. As part of an engaged discussion, however, it may be useful. However, as I said before, the term is loaded and has potential to cause more harm than help, and so I’d caution others about using that terminology. Thankfully, your post was not one of those examples.

    • DreamingWings says

      Depression as a sort of mental rheumatoid arthritis. That is a most interesting and valid analogy.

  22. Another peeve of mine, pastors and other Christians who are “armchair psychologists” and think they can diagnose depression and other mental illness. We don’t try to do amateur open heart surgery, why diagnose clinical depression?

    • Allen, I’m currently in school to get an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy. I’m amazed at the number of hurting and broken pastors who are permitted to offer therapy unlicensed under the umbrella of being a church employee. The state (48 of them, actually, plus DC) requires a non-church counselor or MFT to be licensed, just as a doctor is. But a pastor? Give it a go – just make sure you have malpractice insurance.

      And the staff counselor (unlicensed) is not required to do all the ethics that licensed folks are. Like proper referrals, documentation, etc.

      There are very few pastors who have been a part of my life that I would trust with providing wisdom for my marriage, let alone my life.

      • Yes, ethics!

        Combine a CEO/Admin pastor who is also trying to diagnose/treat mental illness. The conflicts of interest are incredible! I had two pastors cross ethics lines with me. On one, I was confronting him about a financial issue in the church, and he changed the subject, accusing me of suffering depression.

  23. Depression sucks.

    It sucks the life, energy, and ability to cope out of the person who suffers from it.
    It sucks the happiness and joy from that person’s family.
    It quickly sucks the good intentions of those (few) who want to help. Those who aren’t trained truly aren’t prepared to help depressed people. Honestly, calls and visits from church members who are concerned take what little energy I have carefully set aside to give my children/husband. I would much prefer a card.
    It sucks the money right out of my pocket book, and I have “good” mental health insurance. Meaning, I’m not limited to 10 visits per year, but paying for 20% of a $200 visit once per week sure adds up. Now I have to decide which is more important, groceries or therapy?
    It sucks the freedom to live, to enjoy, to daydream even. I have to employ the “thought police” in my mind, lest my daydreams become nightmares.

    It is a moment to moment struggle to capture my thoughts and turn them over to God. For me that means to consciously state, “I have no control over this, God. I can’t deal with it. It’s yours. Thank you.” It’s forcing myself to recognize when I fall into “what if” thinking and shut the door on it and refocus my mind on what is.

    So, I can go about most days completing pretty much all of my responsibilities. Because of the therapy and meds, I am functional.

    If you ask, my husband and kids will tell you they want much more than “functional”.

    This is the kind of thought that when allowed to take root can become, in a depressed or suicidal person’s mind, the most selfless of gifts: If I “go away” they can be happy again. To a healthy mind, the foolishness of this thought process is obvious. To a mind that hasn’t been healthly in quite some time, it begins to sound like freedom for oneself and ones loved ones.

  24. David Cornwell says

    I’ve never before talked about his in public and very seldom in private because of the mixture if reactions that I receive back. Marge and I adopted a boy who was 11 years of age, in Dallas, Texas, many years ago. He came from a very abusive, terrible background. His father was alcoholic and abusive, and died in an auto accident. The first day he came to live with us, he took Marge’s hand and asked, “Can I call you mom?” He could break your heart and eventually did.

    When he was a senior in High School he played the lead role in Harvey. After this he started developing psychiatric symptoms and made his first suicide attempt. I was in my mid 30’s and going to seminary in Kentucky. We received an outpouring of good help and advice and did what we could.

    After graduating we moved in Indiana where I pastored at my first full time parish. During this time his symptoms grew worse and he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. He was a loving child, by now in his teens, but his illness eventually made him dangerous at times. He was treated at one place after another, with good sound treatment for the most part.

    In spite of all of this he loved God, but he could never find peace. He eventually moved out, found an apartment, worked at some jobs, and was married for a brief period. He started attending a pentecostal store front church. These were good people, with a different style of worship and theology. One Sunday the pastor preached on Heaven. Ray went home, somehow got hold of a shotgun, and killed himself.

    The funeral was absolutely packed, one of the largest I’ve ever attended. Most of those attending were his friends, from that little church and those he met in the mental health community, the other hurting human beings who were lost in depression, suffering and chaos. They mourned deeply because Ray was a brother to them, one who cared and loved them back. But he could never find his way back.

    The last time I was with him he was singing “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop…”, his favorite song. Someday we will meet again when Christ raises the dead and Heaven and Earth are joined in a great renewal of God’s creation. And our tears will be wiped away.

    • David, that’s an incredible story. That you share it takes great courage and grace on your part. I’m sorry for the pain of what you went through. I’ve never known a schizophrenia sufferer, but I know that it can take a serious amount of work on the parts of the family and the sufferer. It is also, perhaps, one of the least understood of the major psychoses, as you probably already know.

      And there’s no telling what the sufferer will do with it.

      I rejoice knowing that you will see him again, fully healed.

    • Thank you for sharing Ray’s story.

    • very moving

    • Thank you so much for sharing this with us, David. It took a lot of courage. Thank you.

  25. Jeff, I think that depression is no more selfish than schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or even dissociative disorder. Heck, let’s get out of mental illness for a second and say that it’s no more selfish than anemia, emphysema, cancer, or gangrene. It’s an ILLNESS, not a choice.

    Suicide? Yeah, that might be selfish. That’s about someone exercising the ultimate act of free will as a solution to remove whatever pain they’re suffering without considering the consequences. Adam and Eve, like other suicidals, chose to listen to the lie that to go there is to be better off.

    It’s not.

  26. Eddie Scizzard says

    perhaps a different word than “selfish” might be usable here. Whatever depression is, it isn’t a moral state. It’s a disease state and the “selfishness” that results is not morally evaluable.

  27. Isn’t the catch-22 about depression (and other mental illnesses) that it disables you from doing something like going to see a doctor? That’s been my experience.

    • Yes. When you’re depressed, pretty much all you want to do is sit around and wish desperately that you wanted to something other than sit around. But the idea of getting up is paralyzing. And I know from experience.

    • Yeah exactly.

  28. Wow!!! Good discussion. Mental illness has touched my family deeply and it changed the way I look at such diseases. When I was in college my sister was admited to the hospital and diagnosed with schziphrenia. My Mom flew cross country to take care of her, and when I got the news I was living in the Pacific NW trying to process it. I wept and was shocked over the situation. The day after my sister went into the hospital I got a phone call from her in the mental health section. She was paranoid,and intense and I didn’t recongize the sister I grew up with. She kept telling me, “They’re going to kill me, they’re going to kill me The doctors and Mom are going to kill me.”

    I was taken back, nothing I could say would change the situation. Later she left a voicemail which scared the hell out of my college roomate. But I didn’t understand mental illness and thought it would be like a cold, flu, etc.. and that the person would recover. 4 years after that I started grad school in the midwest and my family came and visited. My parents pulled me aside and told me what the doctors were telling them, this illness which had afflicted my sister was likely to be long term and we need to get used to the situation. But how could that be I portested? She’ll get better she has to!! I wanted my sister back, the one I grew up with and loved. After this I spoke with the doctors expecting a different opinion and they told me the same thing. I had a huge spiritual crisis in 2001 and I was so full of rage at God for what happened to my sister. I couldn’t deal with the news and left my job for a few days (I asked for personal time off due to a family issue) and drove to St. Louis, Missouri. I couldn’t go to church let alone talk to God becuase of how angry I was. But on a whim I decided to go to an evangelical church. The sermon shocked me, the pastor talked about when God doesn’t make sense in the context of life and hardship. He used the example of a relative who was mentally ill. I lost it, and wept. After the service several people came up to me and introduced themself and I explained what happened. My sister was mentally ill, the doctors’s didn’t think she could recover, and I was trying to make sense of everything because I wanted my sister back and I was so pissed at God. One of the guys actually got the pastor who gave the talk he came up to me and I told him what happened.We talked breifly about mental illness,God,etc.. he then didn’t say much but hugged me while cried in his shoulder. The community I found there was a stark contrast to my later experiences in evangelicalsim.

    Today I am happy to say that my sister rebounded. I got involved in NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) and am thrilled that she responded to the medicine, and therapy, and I am overjoyed. She’s not the sister I grew up with, but in a much better condition without as much psychosis. Today I shower her with cards, text messages and emails. As a brother and sister we have foolish nicknames for each other. I’ve called her Nemo after the Dinsey character in her favorite movie, and in return she has called me Trainboy becuase of my deep love of trains. And given where she was 15 years ago I am so proud of her.

    Due to some really bad church experiences I lost my faith and a beleif in God.but am trying to figure out what to do.Reading this blog and some of the postings here brought back memories of that experience in that church in St.Louis. I’m sure if I was in a grace filled communuity I probably would not have lost my belief in God.

  29. I just wanted to pass this along: I volunteer for an organization called CONTACT We Care, it is a non-profit suicide/crisis hotline. I answer calls for them. It is a great organization for people seeking someone to just listen to them – you might be surprised at how helpful it is for someone suffering from depression to simply have someone – even a stranger – to stay on the phone with them and simply listen.

    Anyway, we are based in NJ, but we get calls from all over and we are hooked into the national suicide prevention hotlines. If you think you know anyone who would benefit from this service, please check out the website and pass along the number. The line is open 24/7 and we are staffed pretty solidly. I don’t mean this as spam.


  30. Randy Thompson says

    There is one gift I received while going through a “mild form, major depression” some years ago. That gift was, and is, faith. I came to see that most of my perceptions about life, myself, and everything else were skewed by the depression. Much of what I thought I knew was wrong–it was the depression. So, I came to set aside my dearly held perceptions and thoughts and learned what faith is, stripped of any and all warm fuzzy emotions, and that was the doorway to healing, or, at least, improvement. In particular, thanks to Brennan Manning, I came to believe that God really did love me. Believing God is good, believing that God loves me, and believing that Jesus died for me, became way more important to me than feeling these things. I went to greater depths in learning what it means to live by faith, and what I believed came to matter more to me than what I felt. New emotions began to grow out of that.

    Another gift that came from my experience of depression: Humility. Knowing that my perceptions and thoughts were skewed by depression meant that I had no reason to take my thoughts and perceptions too seriously. In other words, depression was a crash course in learning that I am often wrong. I am still learning this lesson.

    In depression, God seems more like a star than a sun. But, in a dark night with nothing else to guide you, the star is bright enough, and if you follow it, you find out sooner or later that it is really a sun, and someday, you’ll feel its warmth. When that happens, the whole dark night is worth it, for once you’ve come through it, your life is rooted in faith in God’s love in Christ, not your feelings about it, and you feel (!) more solidly grounded than you ever were before.
    I realize that there may be some who may never get beyond the experience of God as a star on a dark night. I urge you, for now, not to worry about feeling the warmth. Just believe that the star you see at a distance is a sun, and here’s where my metaphor breaks down, trust that that star knows you’re there and is making His way to you. Hang in there. You’re never alone.

  31. I appreciate this post and all the thoughtful comments. While I haven’t experienced serious depression, I have friends who have and the analysis here is spot on with regard to how it is often viewed in the church.

  32. I can remember when we were kids thinking that my father was selfish during his periods of depression. He would sit unmoving in his chair and ignore us. As a child it was easy to think that IF he really cared about us, he would try harder not to be that way. I can imagine that the family who loses a child to suicide might feel that this was a very selfish act.

    Those around the person with depression may see selfishness, but their thoughts may be even more selfish. They think, why does he do that to ME? So keenly they feel the impact on themselves.

    We are all too obsessed with self.

    When we are able to interact with others it may be easier to mask our selfish motives. But we are only deceiving ourselves when we see selfishness only in the actions of others.

    Thank God that he doesn’t give up on us. He keeps trying to steer us away from our selfish natures.

  33. I have somewhat mixed reactions to that sign. There is a little bit of truth in it, but simply throwing it on a sign is likely to cause more harm than good. You’d be better off stating that water is wet.

    The implication that being selfish causes depression is the real evil there, but depression is a disease that can cause something like selfishness. This can create a bit of a feedback loop though in that focusing on how terrible my life is deepens the depression which makes my life seem even more terrible. If you break that feedback loop it can help somewhat.

    I’m not major depressive, but I have occasional minor bouts of depression. In one of my worst bouts in college I was in a course studying spirituality and we happened to be looking at monastic traditions. I stumbled across the desert fathers (and mothers) of the first few centuries who considered the “gift of tears” to be among the greatest of all gifts. That really made me think and gave me the crazy notion that maybe God could even make use of my depression somehow. I decided to subvert the old parental warning of “giving me something to cry about” and find something that was worth being depressed about other than my personal troubles. There’s certainly no lack of genuinely terrible things in this world so it was actually easier than I thought it would be. It wasn’t a cure by any means, but it did take some of the edge of my depression and it made me much less depressed about being depressed. I’m not sure if that would work for someone with major depression though, it could certainly make it worse for some people. It’s a tactic I still use on those occasions when I do get depressed, which are thankfully quite rare.

  34. Mike (the other chaplain) says

    I go through what I refer to as my “quarterly” bouts of depression. I can almost set my clock to it. It’s here for a few days then gone. I’ve come to believe that God uses it to keep my ego in check and to remind me that I am completely dependent on him. My depression drives me to my knees!

  35. Thank you for bringing this up, Jeff. It dredged up many hard emotions from my past, but was also a reminder not to walk in certain paths in my mind.

    In less cryptic language… The ensuing discussion seems to be about that term “selfish”. I remember doing a Redeemer Presbyterian study (Tim Keller) in a small group once that said that there are three concepts of sin in Hebrew (language scholars, please don’t stone me…).

    I remember two offhand, because of the impact they had on me. One was that of a rebel wilfully choosing to do wrong. Of course, we all engage in this, and I think in evangelical culture it’s pretty well assumed that all sin is this type.

    But the second Hebrew concept sees sin as a disease. I think of it as saying, “I didn’t damn well ask to be born broken, but here I am.”

    Now, where does one concept start and the other begin? I’m no expert, but it seems to me that’s a question the Pharisees would have spent their days trying to answer. To my understanding, Jesus says, Who cares? I forgive it all and promise to unbreak the broken parts of you…you won’t sin anymore by default and you won’t desire to choose to sin when I return to remake all things.

    So, I guess to apply to this…who would deny that depression is not a form of brokenness? Sure, you didn’t ask to be born with a tendency toward it (and neither did I), but it is broken and self-centered, and therefore sinful in that concept of the word. But I don’t see where we are given the right to morally judge anyone’s sin. Intentional, unintentional? Who cares? I think calling it self-centered is correct (from my experience anyway), and if it is then let’s not let a correct diagnosis of a problem go unsaid just so the judges among us (and within us) are happy.

  36. “Now, where does one concept start and the other begin? I’m no expert, but it seems to me that’s a question the Pharisees would have spent their days trying to answer. To my understanding, Jesus says, Who cares? I forgive it all and promise to unbreak the broken parts of you…you won’t sin anymore by default and you won’t desire to choose to sin when I return to remake all things.”

    Well said…I think maybe the culture of “change and transformed lives” unfortunately leads to that church sign and a culture of judgement, measures and goals that have nothing to do with the atonement of Christ.

    I am still trying to think of an aspect of my life that is NOT infused with self-centeredness in some way.

  37. Thanks Jeff!!!

    As someone recently diagnosed with bipolar 2 I hear you loud and clear. And yes, wallowing in self pity and self isolation are real threats to us mentally challenged people.
    When I no longer could hide myself from the fact my life was going haywire, I did look for professional help and am very happy with the results.
    It’s no fun having to accept one has a mental illness for that’s not what we signed up for. I guess it’s one of the consequences of living in a fallen world.
    As a christian it’s my responsability to confront it openly, to be open about it and to find professional help.
    My family is not or only nominally christian yet find it very difficult to accept their oldest son has a mental illness (my brother as well by the way, he is schizophrenic).
    There is a real taboo on this topic and I would be delighted if it were to be lifted some time soon.

    • Also my faith helps me to keep a positive outlook on life. Whenever I feel depressed I know it’s just the chemistry in my brain and that I can stand on the Word of God regardless. Jesus helps me to fight and to suffer for Him.

  38. I’ve been depressed many times. Feeling that “I’m being selfish” is the best way to reinforce my own self-defeat. Blaming myself for everything creates an endless loop that takes a long time to escape. “Depression is selfish” describes well how depression feels–the Accuser of the Brethren, night and day.

  39. I fell into depression very soon after my spouse had been unfaithful. It was shocking and worse than I care to share. Two friends and a pastor never, not once called me after I cried our ugly truth to them. That is selfish. The reality is people are too busy to love their neighbors. They are too busy looking at the plank in someone else’s eye. I don’t think anyone would call me selfish. It has been selfless to forgive these wrongs for the sake of my family. But I am not a hero or to be praised. I’m still battling depression, but I’m better off for having found God from my pit and for knowing you can kill me but I’ll still have Christ. Through surrender, God has given me unlikely friends, compassion for the least, and love for Him and neighbors that are no longer commands, but way of life. I still don’t find support at church, but I’m not looking. Instead I’m loving others through a new fellowship with unlikely neighbors. Just my thoughts. Thanks.

  40. I am a lurker on this board, but felt compelled to respond today. I grew up in the Assembly of God church which in the 50s was much different than it is today. Everything was a sin and staying saved was almost impossible. Every time I stepped outside the boundaries of what I had been taught was Christian, I believed that I had to walk to aisle again. That alone is enough to drive you batty. I had no understanding of God’s grace, only his punishment, and I still fight that battle daily.

    My mother and I have suffered depression which was expressed in a spiritual way. I was hit suddenly after the birth of my second child (early 60s). I descended deeply into my own hell and was convinced that God had turned his back on me and I was lost forever. The best deterrent to suicide is fully believing that death would send you immediately to hell making life here, no matter how miserable, a better choice. In my opinion, the real definition of despair is to have no hope that God will forgive you, much less love you (even if you don’t know quite what you need forgiveness for) and that you are doomed to hell. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I was afraid to be alone. My husband was totally at a loss about with me every day for some time and eventually I thought I was well enough to return to my husband. Unfortunately, I was not yet ready to cope and had to return to my mother. Eventually, with much prayer, I was able to grasp that God had not abandoned me, but it took me years to become fully functional.

    A few years later, my mother had a similar breakdown, feeling that God had abandoned her. Shock treatments were the only treatment that allowed her to function at all. The remainder of her life was defined by depression. She attended a church whose pastor was also afflicted with depression. When he was depressed, he preached hard, dogmatic sermons that would send my mother into another spiral. And so it went.

    Needless to say, I did not want to rear my children in the same atmosphere that had affected my life so negatively, so I left the Assembly of God for the Methodist Church which was a bone of contention with my mother until the day she died. She fully believed that anyone attending a “nominal” church was certainly bound for hell.

    I hunger so much for the confidence in God’s grace that I see expressed on this board. I have been reading regularly for about a year and it has been such a blessing. At 72 years old, I am a little late trying to find the relationship with God that could have made my entire life so different. I have never lost my faith, but I am so damaged that I feel I have not been all I could/should have been. I just trust that God can still show me his true Self and that I can rest secure in his love.

    God bless you all for your ministry on this board. What a difference it has made for me. I never knew you could actually question anything about faith.

    • ” I just trust that God can still show me his true Self and that I can rest secure in his love.”

      He will and you can. Jesus Christ is today. God bless you!

    • Anonymous,

      If you were here in front of me my arms would be outstretched, reaching out to embrace you, hold you and just love you. Know in my heart I am doing just that.

    • Dear lady, I, too, have struggled much in my life getting freed up from the manmade spiritual ilk shoveled into my problem with depression. It has been a long long time coming to understanding. I can only tell you the great care that Christ has given me in it…His grace is much greater than we can ever understand but many will try to tell you that if you believe that way it is too easy, cheap and unreal. I encourage you to listen to Dr Rod Rosenbladt’s message on “The Gospel for those broken by the church”, The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning..anything that demolishes the law/grace issue that you are trapped in. Keep pursuing a greater understanding of His great grace. I believe much of depression is unresolved guilt because we think WE should be better. I am in my 60’s and the pursuit of a deeper grasp of grace IS now my life in Christ. It has changed everything…I trust it will be for you as well. And another thing, I no longer worry about my age and the wasted years. He even uses those to His glory and my joy. I don’t understand it, it just is.

  41. In my editing I deleted some needed text. Sorry. I don’t do much posting.

    “and that you are doomed to hell. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I was afraid to be alone. My husband was totally at a loss about with me so I went to my mother. She and her pastor’s wife would pray with me every day for some time and eventually I thought I was well enough to return to my husband. Unfortunately, I was not yet ready to cope and had to return to my mother. Eventually, with much prayer, I was able to grasp that God had not abandoned me, but it took me years to become fully functional.”

  42. I haven’t read much here about the recent suicides of young people bullied for being suspected of being gay. I wonder….do the folks in the evangelical/church world feel any responsibility for those deaths? It is, after all, religious arguments that give ammunition to those who do the bullying. These kids are in hopeless situations, especially if their family belongs to the local protestant church. The only choices left to them much of the time is to run away or die. The church says it’s a choice, but it most definitely is not. The church says they can be “cured”, but they cannot cure them. They can only drive them further inside themselves to try to live a lie to satisfy those who would condemn them. The selfishness in these cases is all on the church as they militantly stand by their “facts”, thumbing their nose at anything science has to say about it.
    It’s time they wash the blood off the hands and face reality. The answers are there if they would remove the blinders and honestly seek God on the matter.

  43. Hmmm , I think I’m the 100th comment (give or take) in just two days. Anyone else thinking that depression is actually a very big deal in the body of Chist ?? Not that that IMONK audience needs to be convinced, but I’m thinking that there is much to be done in just getting the word out in a fashion that goes counter to the sign in the church yard.

    Gutsy post, Jeff, this is one tall mountain to scale, but I guess we gear up and start someplace, and travel with friends, broken like ourselves.


  44. I’ve tried to commit suicide three times over the last 20 years. By the grace of God (and the power of medication), I am no longer severely depressed, though I do have my moments (and months). People can be horribly, insensitively cruel to a depressed person. They think that, because they have felt “blue,” they understand the person who is severely, suicidally depressed. They don’t.

    I still have issues with the church due to the way I was treated by fellow “Christians” and the egomaniacal “Christian” psychiatrist who brainwashed me, and whose influence led me to my third (and thankfully final, and obviously unsuccessful) suicide attempt.

    Part of why I love this blog, and why I loved Michael’s writings, is the lack of judgmentalness for those of us who aren’t quite up to par with what’s expected of a “good Christian.”

  45. Kelby Carlson says

    I’m somewhat apprehensive about saying this, because I am entirely unsure of my own state at the moment. THis post was especially prevalent to me because of a recent bout of sucicides in my area (four in the last six months.) It has left a lot of people in shock, including myself.

    There are times when I wonder if I have a mild form of depression. I really have no idea and (being a teenager) I really don’t want to discuss it with my parents. Most days are fine–but there are some times when it’s hard to even look up. It’s gotten particularly bad for me when I’ve been under intense pressure to “be normal” (I’m blind and my family wants me to be as socially well-mannered as possible) and it all becomes very hard to take. But I have no idea if it’s medical or not, and I don’t have that many people I can go to for direciton.

    • Kelby,

      Is there *anyone* you can go to–a pastor, or a teacher maybe? Whether or not you are clinically depressed, you would probably benefit from some counseling, just to deal with the horrible tragedies of the suicides. I can’t imagine what “normal” is supposed to be in the wake of that. In fact, I think mild depression would be perfectly “normal”.

      Do you know if any churches in your area offer counseling services?

    • Echoing what Nina has said, finding someone to talk to is not a bad idea. Worse case scenario is that you talk, you find out that you’re just going through some stress due to the suicides and things will get better. You lose a couple of hours, but gain peace of mind. If you do have depression, even a mild form, getting help is very much worth it. Given the pressure that you say you’re under, you could even phrase it (truthfully, I might add) as wanting to talk to someone to help you belong. After all, depression does severely limit a sense of belonging.

      Also, whoever you see, be they minister, counselor or teacher, ask them what experience they have with this. You want to talk with someone who knows depression (and in your case, understanding depression in someone with blindness would be extra useful), not just someone well meaning.

    • Kelby Carlson says

      I probably shouldn’t have even posted that. I’m naturally inclined to think it’s probably just teenage stress–it’s only because the post came during a week where I was being especially hit hard with things that I did post. I certainly wouldn’t want to make a big fuss about having a psychological problem only to get the results “Nope, you’re totally fine.”

  46. That church should take to mind what Jesus said, “I desire compassion rather than sacrifice.” It’s amazing how when somebody is suffering from depression or other things like that, it brings the Job’s counselors out of the woodwork with their accusations and their “good advice.” It’s partly because the church in large is infected with the prosperity theology, that if you’re suffering, it’s because you did something wrong.

    So most Christians keep their depression and other problems to themselves, and wear the mask that says “I’m happy all the time.” The song “Tears of a Clown” is relevant here. Most haven’t read the Psalms like Psalm 13, Psalm 42 and 43, which speak from the depths of despair and depression.

  47. Here’s one broken heart for the stories that I just read.
    One pair of arms for hugs
    One salute for the brave ones

    And one invite to share a walk in a nearby park.

  48. Nonny Mouse says

    Dx: Recurrent major depression with a long list of bonus extra symptoms.

    My depression is exactly backward from the church sign. My bad times come when I become most un-selfish, because I don’t care enough about myself to sleep, eat, or bathe. I start giving away my stuff because I feel I don’t deserve to have it. I’m at my least selfish when I’m most depressed- except I also lack the energy to do anything for anyone else, either, and withdraw from relationships because I can’t take any more hurt. That’s the only kind of sense I can make of the church sign.

    I have made the most progress when I’ve been able to be a little “selfish” and refuse to give in to demands that were outside my power. That’s also the only way I’ve been able to conquer in any measure my deep-seated fear that people are going to hurt me and actually engage in relationships. But as a recovering fundamentalist, I have a hard time getting past the Good Church Woman interpretation of turning the other cheek (ie, never say no to anything anyone asks of you).

    The most breathtaking problem with the sign, for me, isn’t that someone thought it was accurate but that someone (presumably) thought it would be helpful. Anyone who has a mental illness can provide a long list of really unhelpful comments they’ve received, and this one is up there on my list. Law is not helpful to a diseased mind. One of my personal unhelpfuls was this, from a friend: “Yeah, when I was in high school, I was depressed, too. Then I read the commandment in Philippians to rejoice always and realized that depression is a sin, so I just made up my mind to rejoice.”

    Jesus came not for the healthy but for the sick, the people who are so broken they can’t just make up their mind to obey God. Which, if we were paying attention, would be all of us.

    Sometimes I want to strap some Christians down and force them to listen to Piper’s bio of William Cowper, but I suppose I could just link to it.

  49. curious traveller says

    First of all it tells me that the authors of that sign don’t have the first flippling clue as to what depression actually is…