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.




sam commented…

I'm sorry; what's missing from this article is any reference to the truth of God's word.

I believe when we look at David's life & words in scripture, we have a very clear picture of what it's like to be depressed, the highs and lows of life, and everything in between.

I also believe in Christ we have everything we need for life and godliness, as the word tells us. I do believe all these things are fruits of the Spirit and walking with the LORD - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness & self control. God gives us each the measure we need each day by His grace. In Him, we can choose to put on Christ, walk in the Light, and have fellowship with Him.

For those who liken depression to diabetes, my sister has been diabetic since she was 9. Insulin dependent 3x a day, and must test her blood daily. It is not the same with depression meds. In fact, in a few years, I expect whatever meds are being prescribed now will have lawyers looking for class action lawsuit clients in a few years as that seems to be the pattern.

For those who say I have no idea what I'm talking about, please know I have struggled with depression in my own life. And it's only been through standing on the truth of God's word, despite my feelings at the time, through prayer, not only on my own, but asking for prayer when I need it and bringing into the light the darkness, that God has given me freedom and victory.

I think this article does a disservice to Christians in saying Christ is not sufficient. It would be a cruel God who would tell us to be joyful and content in all things & then leave us without the power to do so. In myself, I don't have that power. That's why it's supernatural - it comes from Him.

Am I sitting in judgment of those who have chosen to take meds in hopes of healing? Certainly not. God is gracious with us, He remembers we are from the dust, and He loves us with great compassion and mercy. He uses all things to work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. Still I am absolutely convinced there is a better and more fruitful way. I pray wherever someone may be in dealing with depression, whether on or off meds, they will ask God to show them how to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ and walk in the healing and victory Jesus has provided for us. He bore our griefs and our sorrows. What a precious Savior and friend we have in Jesus.

Madysen Bailey


Madysen Bailey commented…

Thank you for this. I feel like it says what a lot of us struggling with anxiety/depression can't express as eloquently! It really puts things in perspective on how little correct education there is on mental health disorders. I write a blog of my own that documents my anxiety struggles, and my church didn't reach out to me while I was struggling until I told someone. Which falls back on me, but after the initial contact of "How are you?" there was no follow up. Here's a link to my blog for anyone interested http://beautifuldustmgb.blogspot.com

Dena Netherton


Dena Netherton commented…

I went through a severe depression a few years back. My pastor advised me not to share what I was going through in church because of these common misconceptions about depression. I felt as if I were going through hell, yet some friends told me to "just start praising the Lord and it will go away." When you've never suffered a depression it's easy to judge. Afterward, the experience has given me a great empathy for others who've suffered depression. I wish Christians, who should be the most aware of our brokenness, both spiritually and physically, would stop judging this illness. Would you tell someone with cancer to get out of bed and ignore their symptoms? Why do we do this with depressed people?

todd reisinger


todd reisinger commented…

Wonderful article. Anyone who has suffered from severe clinical depression or a severe anxiety disorder will appreciate what is written. The ignorance on mental health and some of the causes behind it are shocking. The church has a responsability to educate themselves on mental health issues. Or at least not judge or criticize those who are suffering. Very irresponsable and detrimental to those who are suffering from a severe illness. If the word of God were sufficient, than why do we have doctors for any illness. Mental health is very complex and there is not a simple answer in many cases. Thanks for the article.

Katie Harrison


Katie Harrison commented…

Great article. Anyone who has suffers from depression will appreciate what is written and how this can help spread awareness for depression. There could be people still out there now not knowing that they have depression i always recommend to check it http://www.ourmindandbody.com/7-signs-of-depression-in-women you may find out you could be suffering from depression and it could be your first step to recovery.

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