October 28, 2020

iMonk 101: The Christian and Mental Illness + Anti-Depressant Meds + The Boat in the Backyard

I’ve written quite a bit on the subject of mental illness/depression.

In 2005 I did an entire series on The Christian and Mental Illness.

In January of 07, I wrote about the issue of anti-depressant medication.

One of my favorite essays from the past recounts how my dad’s depression affected my life: The Boat in the Backyard.

Counseling psychologist Mike Benoit also wrote a guest piece on anti-depressant meds.


  1. Mike Benoit’s post was excellent.

    Recently, I’ve concluded the brain can be dangerous. It tells us bald-faced lies.

    In our youth it tells us to fall madly in love with somebody you don’t know.

    It tells us life is hopeless when you have great set-backs. And Mr. Benoit adds sadness as being interpreted as abandonment by God.

    I don’t think it gets better with age. As we grow old we accumulate money, junk, spouses, kids, job security. As a consequence, we have much more to lose than when we were younger and had less.

    Once all those things get threatened or taken away, look out.

    God seemed to watch over us when we were younger but slowly abandons us with age.

    I hope we can recognize the brain as another faulty organ that goes amiss. Reread your bible- did Jesus really heal everybody ?

    See your doctor, find the right medications, if needed, and don’t let the walls of your mind close in on you.

  2. im,

    This is definitely a difficult topic and I appreciate what you have written. Do you mind if I do a ‘series on your series’, which will include some extensive quoting?

  3. Sure. Just send the royalty checks here 🙂

  4. “The boat in the Backyard” was the first Imonk essay I read. I have returned to it a few times. My children dealt with a dad with cancer, a dad who was paralyzed, and a dad who was depressed. The last one was the hardest with which to deal .

  5. Scott Miller says

    Thank you for this series.
    Mental illness is difficult for the church to handle.
    My wife has bipolar disorder – the full-blown biochemical kind. Her brothers have died either through suicide or drug overdose because of it.
    People who find out roll their eyes or look down and say, “Oh…” So we don’t say anything about it until we know someone very well. And even then it is a gamble.
    My Christian family doctor once shut the door and counselled that I should bring her in for prayer and then she could get off the meds. Or maybe its caused by the mercury in her tooth fillings (she doesn’t have any fillings).
    A pastor friend preached against taking meds while she was sitting right there. And we have been through the oppression arguments.
    It is like diabetes or, more accurately, Alzheimers. When she takes her meds she is the wife I have always known. When she doesn’t she is distant.

  6. IMonk,

    thank you for the links to your older postings. I am a fairly new reader, and I have to say that your post on anti-depressants really gets to the heart of my own struggles. I think Christians definitely need to work on these things from a spiritual angle, but I’ve found that the meds finally helped me get the critical distance to begin to do so. Depression can be like having blinders on. Coming to an understanding that the Fall was both physical and spiritual has also helped me begin to come to grips with my situation. I think part of the problem with much “Biblical” Counseling and much of modern Evangelicalism in general is that it is extremely dualistic, almost Gnostic (yes, I am an N.T. Wright fan). Heck, I had hardly ever heard the word “incarnation” before looking into church history and the Fathers.

  7. Ok, I can’t believe that I’m about to type this. I agree with your stance on anti-depressants. My wife went though post-partum and that was not the result of sin or a lack of faith on her part but was a chemical/hormonal imbalance. To have denied her medicine to fix that would have led to her suicide. Further, I came to realize that I have suffered with depression since the birth of our first child. I had some problems with jobs since I was in school studying accounting. I knew there was something wrong when I could feel “short outs” happening in my head.

    I don’t care what any pastor (John MacArthur-who I ususally have respect for, et al) says) there can be a chemical component to mental illness.

    Ok, after agreeing with you I’ve thrown up in the back of my mouth a little bit. There, I said it.

  8. Michael, thanks for tackling this subject for us and presenting all this material.

  9. Dunker Eric says

    I recommend “Darkness is my constant companion: A Christian response to mental illness.” by Kathryn Greene-McCreight It shares Michael’s trait of honesty about difficult topics.

  10. headless unicorn guy says

    And when you get into the specifically-Christian subculture, there’s another factor:

    J Michael Jones/Christian Monist has written in several places on the pressure to be “Shiny Happy Christians” 24/7/365. Not only does “Hell have no torment worse than Constant Forced Cheerfulness” (Chesterton, “Three Tools of Death”), a Christian in such an environment suffering from depression can see nothing around him but Shiny Happy-Clappy Christians; he becomes the only one who isn’t Shiny Happy-Clappy Victorious In Christ (TM). You can guess how that can make the depression worse, as in Abandoned by God; never mind possible further complications from the likes of Name-it-and-Claim-it (“You must have some Secret Sin in your life or you’d be as Happy-Clappy as the rest of us”) or Spiritual Warfare/”Discernment” Fanboys (i.e. The Demon of Depression — literally).

    One writer contact of mine (from Louisville) was also a depresso type and got The Christian Treatment until he heard something from Mike Yaconelli (Youth Specialties): “Have you ever considered that Depression might be your spiritual gift?” The context was that often creativity and artistic drive is fueled by the darker and stronger emotions, and an enforced Happy-Clappy could very well be the reason no powerful Christian art or literature has been done in the past 40+ years; the atmosphere of Constant Victorious Forced Cheerfulness has driven many otherwise-powerful artists away from the church. (I know some of that from personal experience.)

  11. The Boat in the Backyard is a beautiful essay.

    Sounds like my dad had a lot in common with yours save for the fact that his depression was never diagnosed or even remotely treated. I’ve only come to the conclusion that he was depressed because of what I’ve learned in the last few years due to my husband’s battle with depression. Like you, I’m trying to find my way through my father’s legacy, sifting through coping skills adopted so long ago.

  12. Thanks Michael for this post. As someone who was diagnosed with depression two years ago, I can certainly understand how depression can be debilitating.

    I was lucky enough that I found a good Christian psychologist and a med that has worked beautifully for me. Medication made me feel better but my interaction with my counselor was just as essential for my own healing.

    When my depression was at its worse, I worried that I would be paralyzed by it. It’s pretty easy to find yourself depressed about your depression.

    Thanks again for writing on this difficult and often avoided subject.

  13. Thanks so much for this roundup, Michael. I’m impressed by the scope – and depth – of these pieces.

  14. Ky boy but not now says

    Wow. Stirs up lots of thoughts. My mother is somewhat bi-polar. Remember Sally Fields on ER? While that TV role was a huge exaggeration compared to my mother, every scene broght back memories. And as a completely dedicated Christian, from her point of view all her issues were the work of the devil. And much of MS’s essays ring true. Only lately has she begun to admit that she might be slightly depressed at times. But her solution is to self medicate via the latest Christian health food, vitamin supplement, whatever fad.

    As to MB’s point of people taking charge of their mental health, what about folks who refuse to allow the mirror to be held up or if it is held up don’t see the same thing as everyone else?

    She’s likely going to exit this world a lonely bitter woman. And non of her family has yet to come up with a way to help her in a way she’ll accept. Especially since accepting help is #1 on her list of things she’ll not let happen for any aspect of her life.

  15. A boat my father bought and a promise to go is what made me into a commercial fisherman. Only it was his promise to work the bay with me after he retired on that old leaky clam boat he bought from a guy in a bar that was never fulfilled.

    I got teary eyed — am right now — when I read about his approval of your chosen profession. It was the opposite with me. My “betrayal” of his chosen lack of faith in anything by becoming a Bible toting Bible quoting Spirit-filled born-again was the unpardonable sin of our relationship. He gave up after a few false starts, but after that never once worked the water with me. And fishing (recreational — he was a postal clerk) was our “religion” when I was young man.

    Amazing — no matter what kind of men they were, no matter how they hurt and disappointed us, and no matter what we accomplish in life — how we still crave our father’s approval.

  16. I have followed with interest the several post this past week.
    I read “The Boat in the Backyard”.
    I was deeply moved and know that life well.
    Depression is like a genetic disorder that runs in my family.
    I personally have left in my 55 years a wake of pain and destruction bot for myself, those I love and those who have had the unfortunate luck to know me.
    My father was not a great father. I did not learn the things that boys should from him. I love him and we are great friends but it is what it is.
    I tried to do better but even with my own children I was often absent either mentally or physically.
    My children say they are fine and love me but I can see the damage in their lives even though all are successful adults.
    I have tried everything that a person can try and nothing works.
    So, for me, what has worked to at least allow me to function is an acceptance that this is who I am and how I will be.
    Please no sermons or advice. I’ve heard it all and tried most of it.