5 Things Christians Should Know About Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are on the rise. Here's what we need to remember.

Depression and anxiety tend to be some of those touchy subjects that are tough to tackle from a Christian perspective.

It's not complicated just because the illnesses themselves are so complex, manifesting themselves in myriad ways, but also because perspectives about mental disorders vary greatly throughout the Church.

This isn't to paint the Church with broad strokes. Incorrect beliefs about mental illness are pervasive throughout our culture. However, some of the “church-y” misconceptions about clinical depression and anxiety spring from a genuine desire to understand them scripturally. It's necessary to generalize a bit to understand these attitudes: there are things well-meaning Christians tend to get wrong.

Of course, there is way more information about anxiety and depression than what can be summed up in one article, so it’s certainly worth doing more research on the subject. But if we as the Church are going to start talking about these issues, here are a few things we should know:

1. Depression isn't what the Church sometimes makes it out to be.

It's not a character defect, a spiritual disorder or an emotional dysfunction. And chief of all, it's not a choice. Asking someone to “try” not being depressed is tantamount to asking someone who's been shot to try and stop bleeding. Such an attitude can dangerously appear in the Church as, “if only you had enough faith.”

[Depression] is not a character defect, a spiritual disorder or an emotional dysfunction. And chief of all, it's not a choice.

Cue the record scratch for any Christian regarding matters of healing. Having faith in God's ability to heal is hugely important, and personal faith can help ease depression. But to deny medical or psychiatric treatment to someone suffering from mental illness is really no different than denying them to someone with a physical illness. The difference between the two is that the former is invisible.

Speaking of the invisible, some faith traditions are quick to suggest demonic attack as the cause for depression. While I'm convinced that there's definitely a spiritual element—the enemy will exploit any weakness—medical science holds that major depressive disorder is real and the causes are manifold.

2. Mental illness is not a sin.

Yes, sins in the past like physical abuse, substance abuse and neglect may contribute to depression, and these sins often continue as coping mechanisms to those suffering from mental illnesses. Yet this doesn't make the sufferer of depression and anxiety a sinner simply for experiencing the crushing effects of their condition.

What happens when mental illness is treated as an unconfessed, unaddressed sin is alienation. Viewing depression as a sin in and of itself prevents individuals from seeking treatment. It also ignores the fact that many Christians may respond to depression in unhealthy ways if the root cause is ignored or misunderstood.

3. The Bible doesn't provide “easy answers.”

The Word is full of wisdom and encouragement for those suffering from depression and anxiety disorders, but it doesn't come in one-verse doses. “Be anxious for nothing” and “do not worry about your life” can easily be taken out of context, which is problematic. First (and importantly), doing so fails to appropriately handle Scripture, carelessly misconstruing the larger intent of the passages.

Another really scary thing this does is it can convince a person in the worst throes of their illness that they're not obeying God. Add that to what feels like the inability just to be – every shaky breath hurts and getting out of bed is impossible – and you've thrown gasoline onto the fire.

A true examination of depression and anxiety in the Bible shows the existential dread that accompanies the illnesses instead of an easy out, one-and-done antidote. God's hand isn't always apparent. As Dan Blazer pointed out in Christianity Today, “most of us have no idea what David meant when he further lamented, 'I am forgotten by them as though I were dead.' Severe depression is often beyond description.”

Rather than prescribing a bit of a verse divorced from its context, a better strategy is to look at those instances of mental suffering along with the Church body and to offer comfort in the fact that even the saints struggled.

4. Anxiety and depression don't look how we often think.

When I've opened up to Christian friends about my own depression and anxiety disorders, they're often surprised. “You seem so happy all the time!” Depressed people become really good at hiding their symptoms, even from doctors, because of the stigma attached to the illness. Churches often don't address mental illness, which gives the worship team guitarist or the elder even more incentive to keep it hidden away. Furthermore, the symptoms of depression often tend to contradict each other, which makes it really difficult for a person suffering from depression to recognize it for what it is—let alone for the Church to recognize it.

“Learning to recognize the signs” then is often a failing strategy. If churches begin responding to mental disorders as a community willing to offer encouragement and support, people suffering from those illnesses may just be able to accept the help. It may just be people you never expected.

5. Strong churches don't “fix” depression.

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Christ, the Great Physician, came to heal the sick. As His body, it's time the Church leads society in helping to do the same.

Given all of the above, it's easy to understand how the stigma related to depression, even in the Church, will prevent people from seeking Christian guidance and support. The most Christ-loving and helpful community might not have the appropriate framework for dealing with such clinical disorders, and many churches don't have licensed psychologists on the staff. Pastoral staff can be ill-equipped to deal with depression and err toward a spiritual solution rather than psychological or medical treatment.

Even churches that seek to provide a safe haven for those suffering in their midst might not have a judgment-free place to discuss their struggles. Programs like Celebrate Recovery can provide an invaluable forum for people to interact with others who experience “hurts, habits, and hangups,” and can help deal with some of the self-medication many people with depression and anxiety use to numb themselves. Without a carefully planned strategy to deal with mental illness, though, “all are welcome” might not be enough. Healing comes from a prayerful, loving community that seeks to truly understand major depressive disorder and related conditions, and one that develops a positive response.

Most churches probably have the very best intentions when dealing with issues of mental illness. Like the rest of society, however, the Church may misinterpret these clinical conditions and respond to them in ways that exacerbate them—and as a result, demoralize those suffering. Christ, the Great Physician, came to heal the sick. As His body, it's time the Church leads society in helping to do the same.

Top Comments

Rebecca Bryant


Rebecca Bryant commented…

Thank you for this. I suffer from post traumatic stress disorder following a home invasion/ attempted murder on my life. Being a member of a large church I first went to my church after the assault and they told me"you are fine, you have Jesus". Yes I do BUT my PTSD is Very real, which is why I had to turn to the world's answer for counseling. I do think the Church needs to realize these things do exist

Dave Segal


Dave Segal replied to Holly Frels Raymond's comment

Holly--As someone who suffers from Major Depressive Disorder,I am grateful for your truly Christian response to Dave O' Brien's vitriolic outburst. I know from personal experience that literally nothing he said about depression is true. I also know that good spiritual direction can help sufferers when it's combined with the right kind of therapy and medication.


Frank Hammond


Frank Hammond commented…

Mental illness is not a sin but suicide is. Most people suffer from depression at some point and physicians are so quick to prescribe antidepressants. I would bet at least half of the people taking anti-depressants do not need them. I told my doctor I was feeling a "little depressed" one day and walked out with a prescription which I did not fill. I think people just need to find better coping skills. Depression is often just a bump in the road that can be overcome with good social supports. Everybody has something to offer and a duty to live another day. We are on this journey of life together and need each other. I lost my best friend a few years ago as he decided to venture into the woods and hang himself one day. I am left feeling very angry because I miss him. I also feel like I failed him as a friend.

Margaret Nahmias


Margaret Nahmias commented…

The best thing a church can do is provide a safe enviroment to anxious especally the socially anxious. That helped me.

Dave O'Brien


Dave O'Brien commented…

This magazine repeatedly proves that it not only has zero journalistic integrity, but is a leader in lying to it's readers.

Depression is NOT an illness or a disease, nor can it be. There is absolutely no association to what defines a disease or illness (a biopsy, blood test, x-ray, or pathology report) and depression. You cannot resolve diabetes or cancer through counselling. The claims by this author are not only irresponsible and ludicrous, but anti-Christ.



alansmith replied to Dave Segal's comment

I have suffered from depression for many years, it is very hard on the spiritual walk, it is crucial to get real help

See here


Tremayne Moore


Tremayne Moore commented…

This was an outstanding article and I pray those who have an ear can understand this article. Many will strive to argue the truth of this until it hits their family.

As I have Aspergers since elementary and currently in therapy for PTSD as a result of child sexual abuse, many will stick their finger in my face and say I'm healed.

And three years ago, I went through a suicide spell (which I would write a book about) and I learned the truth that the faith community needs to understand: There are so many people who are plagued with ADD, ADHD, PTSD, BPD, or are Bipolar, and we steadily punish them for their mental differences and chemical imbalances. Galatians 6:7 says: ‘Don’t be deceived because God is not mocked. Whatever we sow, we will reap.’”
“I ask you a question: Why are we only sympathetic if OUR child has a mental disorder? On the contrary, if you know someone else whose child has a mental disorder, they need a beating. This is unfair, and reflects the worse part of human nature. If you know someone who is being abused, you need to let them know who to contact if they are being abused, especially when a parent sweeps it under the rug, and they don’t want to deal with it. If no one intervenes, the child could very well go on with their life through the abuse and then end up on drugs trying to cure whatever disorder he or she may have.”

As I think about the number of pastors who are committing suicide, we need to seriously wake up and stop denying what people are going through.

Quote from my book:
“It’s amazing to me, how we treat each other, especially if we say we’re Christians. A person who’s lost, depressed or has suffered under the pain of domestic, physical, sexual, or emotional abuse can have a gun to their head, and we have the unmitigated gall to simply say, “I’m sorry,” or “I’ll pray for you.” That’s not helping a hurting soul – in fact, you’re enabling them. Try coming out of your comfort zone for once and stop being so selfish. Try saying ‘Can we talk about this? I want to listen to you, and you have my undivided attention.’ Talk to me somebody! Band-Aids and clichés and prideful statements like, ‘I'm the leader,’ or ‘come to me with every problem you have’ only to make you the poster child or for you to be chastised; though I don't have to share my problems with you unless I reveal what I want, will never heal a serious wound in a person who really needs healing for their mind, body and soul.”

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