This is for those who suffer in silence.
For those who speak
But to an audience that won’t listen.
For those who send signals that never get picked up.
For those whose suffering is called demonic.
Cast out, prayed upon and talked about.
For those whose families’ have told them; “its all in your head”.
For those who are told; “Ndi za azungu zimenezo” (That’s disease for white people)
For those who suffer.
I struggled with depression before I even knew what it was, that was 12 Years ago, right after I had lost my grandmother who raised me. Since then it has been something that I often struggle with. The worst period being after I became a Christian, I spent a whole semester more depressed than I have ever been in my life, my family didn’t know neither did my close friends, and they saw me everyday. A year later I told one of my friends and her response was “I would have never known, you were always so happy”. I wish this was just my story, but sadly there are many around me who struggle with depression and mental health issues, but we are silenced before we can even speak.
Our culture doesn’t even present the possibility of speaking up because we have heard the comments. Our parents won’t listen because of how much it looks bad on them and their parenting skills to have a child who is depressed, on the other end they have also not been taught about how to handle mental health issues. If it’s not a direct comment they make, its how they speak about someone else’s child who is rumoured to have a mental health issue, what that is saying is that “if this was you, this is how I would react”. The church is another place we could go to for help, or can we? I know several people who have had traumatic experiences with churches and religious institutions when they opened up about their struggle. It ranges from exorcism to binding, to being sent to be counselled by the older ladies in the church which usually ends up in mockery and blaming you not actual real help. Another response which is not a bad response but you can’t just say you will pray for me, or tell me to read my bible more. Pray with us not just once but regularly, point us to the specific scriptures in the bible that address what we are going through, faithfully walk with us through life issues.
Because of how our culture is set up, we are very communal which is a good thing, our confidants are meant to be our aunts and neighbours and even the church. But when these spaces let us down, we are forced to look for help in other places, drugs, alcohol, food, humour (surprise surprise) and anything else can help us take our minds off things. And when the fight gets too hard to be able to see life beyond the dark, that is when a suicide happens. It’s not a one-day event, it’s a build up of events.
There are way too many people struggling for us to ignore this issue, question is, how do we deal with it. Christians, there are people in the pews who come in every Sunday, sing in the choir, serve in leadership, teach Sunday school that are actually drowning in depression (or something else). The Bible commands us to “admonish one another”, how can we do that with those struggling with depression and mental health?
Christians, there are people in the pews who come in every Sunday, sing in the choir, serve in… Click To Tweet
I have a few suggestions, not an exhaustive list. But rather a response to the things you ought not to say and how to say/do some helpful things;
- Don’t just say “I’ll be praying for you”. Don’t get me wrong prayer is precisely the most important thing you can do for your friend, but sometimes we throw this phrase around way too much. How many times have you said “I’m praying for you”, but never actually prayed? Alternatively, you could pray for the person on the spot, and better yet, take practical steps to commit to praying for them on a long-term basis. Set a reminder on your phone, tell them when you have prayed for them, write it in your prayer journal.
- Don’t ‘rebuke’, ‘bind’, ‘cast out’, mental health issues. Discussing whether or not that’s biblical is an issue for another day, but exorcism gives people false hope of immediate healing (although immediate healing sometimes happens but that’s not the norm). Without actually taking steps towards recovery, for instance, if you rebuke broke-ness out of someone but don’t teach them financial stewardship, you’ve wasted your breath. The Bible exhorts us to “work out our Salvation with fear and trembling”. The more helpful thing would be to help the person struggling is help them with a growth plan (if they don’t have one) if they do have one, ask how you can encourage them to stay on it. How can you help them walk through this on a long-term basis?
- Don’t gossip about it as a form of “prayer request”. If that person wanted the whole prayer group to know, they would have told the whole prayer group. Exercise discretion because these are sensitive matters, where sin is involved follow biblical principles of approaching a brother/sister in sin.
- Don’t assume we are not praying or reading our bibles. It is very much possible to be doing both, but still be depressed. It’s not always as black and white as we would want it to be. Although being depressed while praying and reading the bible will be different from not praying and reading the bible for believers who struggle with mental health.
- Don’t send us to the aunties in the church who are not qualified to give us the right counsel. By qualified, I don’t mean medical qualification, but first of all are they believers? do they believe the scripture is sufficient? are they able to maturely apply the word of God in the life of a struggling believer? Are they faithful enough to walk with someone for the long haul? Are they gossips? Are they trustworthy? I wish this was true for all older men & women in the church, but we have heard the stories, we have experienced how much damage has been done. But it’s not all bad, there are some good faithful older men and women in the church that can help. (Where need may be, please refer the person to a medical personell.)
- Don’t just tell us to read our bibles. Point us to where in our Bibles to read, the bible is enough to be able to deal with mental health issues. This is not me saying there aren’t cases that don’t need medical attention, but more of knowing where to point people who are struggling to places in the bible where it speaks about the same exact thing. Those places are there, search the scriptures, you will be surprised. (Where need may be, please refer the person to a medical personell.)
- Don’t Assume. Don’t assume that just because I was cracking jokes and making everyone laugh means I am okay. Don’t assume that because I look okay, I am okay. Don’t assume that I know that I can always come to you when I am struggling. Don’t assume that I don’t need anyone to check on me. Don’t assume that I will tell you if you don’t ask.
- Be a city on a hill, a lighthouse, salt of the earth, hope for the hopeless. May your church, Christian community, Youth group, Ministry, etc., be a place that people can come to for hope and not condemnation. May it be a safe place for people to share with the right people their struggles openly knowing they will get help. May it be a place that is striving to offer Gospel Hope to a dying world. We can’t ignore that people are struggling, we are struggling. How many more young people have to commit suicide before we can start talking about it?
As someone who struggles with depression, one of the most encouraging things this year has been going through the Psalms. The best example I have seen of what it looks like to struggle with depression and anxiety as a believer has been through the Psalms. Each Psalm that addresses this issue no matter how depressing it is, points back to someone greater. The reason why we fight, our strength for the fight, God. Believers are heralds of the good news, but what’s good news without the bad? Well, the bad is, because of the fall the effects of sin are everywhere, our bodies and minds don’t function as they should, that’s the reality of living in the fallen world.
It doesn’t have to end in your head.
It doesn’t have to end lonely.
You don’t have to end for it to end.
You can make it to the finish line.
Even if you limp or crawl there.
You can make it.
Well the good is, Jesus Christ has come through to redeem his people, and though we are in this world and we suffering in it, we know he will make all things new. The eternal hope we have is that this world is not the end, even if you suffer until the day you die, as a believer you have a destiny that is a million times better. Heaven awaits you, there will be no shame, guilt, depression, Chronic pain, anxiety, sin there. A hope that does not disappoint, a hope that doesn’t depend on us but on Him who is trustworthy and true.
So we fight.
Because He fights for us.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.”- Romans 8:18
If you found this helpful, please share with someone who might benefit from it. I would also like to know, do you think mental health issues are addressed enough in the church? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.
Today is World Mental Health Day if you or someone close to you is struggling with or suffering from a mental illness, fill the contact form here, and we will connect you with someone who can help you.
Mental Health: the condition of being sound mentally and emotionally that is characterized by the absence of mental illness and by adequate adjustment especially as reflected in feeling comfortable about oneself, positive feelings about others, and the ability to meet the demands of daily life; also: the general condition of one’s mental and emotional state. (Source: Merriam-webster.com)
Mental Illness: any of a broad range of medical conditions (such as major depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or panic disorder) that are marked primarily by sufficient disorganization of personality, mind, or emotions to impair normal psychological functioning and cause marked distress or disability and that are typically associated with a disruption in normal thinking, feeling, mood, behavior, interpersonal interactions, or daily functioning. (Source: Merriam-webster.com)
Depression: Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living. (Source: Mayoclinic.org)
Tamara PhiriOctober 10, 2017 at 5:49 pm
Very well written on a topic many are not conmfortable with or are not willing to talk about in church or around other Christians. I hope your clear words and openness will encourage others. God bless
iamnotagoddessOctober 10, 2017 at 7:14 pm
Thank you Tamara
Zaithwa MatemvuOctober 11, 2017 at 5:58 am
Great article! I’m also someone that struggles with depression, and I think its not addressed enough in the church. I Think one of the main reasons is people are just not equipped with how to deal with other people’s problems, and how to faithfully come alongside them in the long haul. Or at least that’s a main reason for me. And I think a lot of us still aren’t sure when it becomes a medical health problem. But at the end of the day, I stand with you in that Christ is our hope. One Day He will come, and save us from sin and depression, forever!
iamnotagoddessOctober 11, 2017 at 6:00 am
AnthonyOctober 11, 2017 at 1:44 pm
Encouraging. Good job fam
iamnotagoddessOctober 11, 2017 at 4:52 pm
Thank you Anthony.
Bert NanningaOctober 13, 2017 at 6:50 am
You write very well make an important point. I lived 18 years in Malawi as a missionary doctor and often had to fight depressive feelings; not to be depressed in this stunningly beautiful yet tremendously suffering country would have been quite abnormal. It is not easy coping with an ever present miserable apathy and attitude of fatalism and false dependency. Having vision for development and seeing it hardly ever happen is costly.
So I was often encouraged, as you rightly point at the perspective the Psalmists give. It’s faith in the Living God that both makes clear what darkness really means as well as lifts us up to embrace the hope that cannot be found elsewhere.
I now work as a psychiatrist in the Netherlands and know for sure that depression is a major disorder that often needs professional attention. Even medication is in certain cases needed and extremely helpful. Yet the power of an understanding community, as you rightly describe the Church can be, is of paramount importance.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted, (Mathews 5:4)
iamnotagoddessOctober 13, 2017 at 7:09 am
Thank you for your comment Bert! God bless.