As it happens, today is National Suicide Prevention Day, being right in the middle of National Suicide Prevention Week. To me, it is very sad that for many, it takes a national day or week to give awareness to what should be so obvious. We shouldn’t want friends, family, strangers, enemies, or anyone killing themselves, so we should be vigilant in preventing it. But we struggle to be vigilant, because effectively preventing suicide requires awkward conversations in advance. But it’s only an awkward conversation, because we make it taboo through a lack of understanding and turning depression into something it is not.
Clinical depression is not a sin. It is a serious illness. It infuriates me to hear Christians talk about how having depression and taking doctor-prescribed depression medicine are sins, because they show a lack of contentment and faith with God respectively. If, in fact, being treated for a chemical imbalance in one’s brain shows a lack of faith in God’s ability to heal you and lack of contentment with the hand God has dealt you, why isn’t it a sin to wear corrective lenses to adjust eyesight, take antibiotics when sick, take headache medicine, be treated for cancer, remove faulty gull bladders and ill-fitting wisdom teeth, and so on? By this logic, shouldn’t you joyfully accept bad eyesight, vomiting, fevers, cancer, gull stones, and soreness of the mouth? Oh, and how about wearing deodorant? Would you rather we be content with the smell God dealt us? I doubt it. I doubt all of it.
Yet depression falls under a stigma, mostly because people do not and care not to understand. Clinical depression isn’t tantamount to having the blues or being bummed out. It can consume a person’s life despite circumstances. Depression can involve dizzying and dark mood swings, feelings of mental paralysis, crippling levels of anxiety, and panic attacks. Untreated, it can make a person feel sick every day without even knowing why. It is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, which is outside the control of those with depression. It’s how they were made. It’s the brain God gave them. If having depression is a sin, then God is a liar, and since He is not a liar, depression cannot be sin. God made brains – mine, yours, brains of the depressed – and God doesn’t cause anyone to sin.
The basis for Christian judgment on this issue is usually that it shows that a person isn’t content with where God has them, misusing Philippians 4:11. So how do you explain when a person has depression in times when everything in their life is otherwise hunky and dory? I’ll let you in on a non-secret: my wife Sarah has depression and is being treated for it. I’ll let you in on another non-secret: her life has been going pretty amazingly. Even if everything going well, a person with depression – like Sarah – cannot just be happy and enjoy it all the time. Chemicals in her brain are maladjusted and need fixing. She has suffered through every symptom listed above over the years, and they were especially bad when she wasn’t treating it. She felt she couldn’t treat it, because she couldn’t admit she had it, because she had been programmed to believe it was a sin to be denied. Sure, depression can lead to sinful behaviors, such as self-harm, suicide, self-hatred, being angry with God, etc. But anger can lead to murder, fighting, gossip, etc, but anger is not a sin. Just as someone can be angry and sin not, a person can have depression without sinning.
It’s time to do something. If you are reading this, and you suffer from depression, it’s time to admit it to someone and get help. It’s time to believe that you are valuable, that you are irreplaceable, that you are loved, and that this world would be an awful place were you to leave it prematurely. As Christians, it’s time to talk about it. It’s time to remove the stigma and stop mis-labeling things. It’s time to love people where they are, to stand fast by their sides, to listen to their hurt, and to tirelessly encourage those we love seek help. Let’s say you disagree with everything I’ve said so far, though. Then it’s time to put the needs of others before your being right, because your being right will never save anyone’s life. You don’t have to believe that depression isn’t a sin to love people with depression, you just have to believe that a person’s sins don’t disqualify them from needing your love.
Maybe you found this, because you’re being crushed and thinking about ending it all. Don’t. Get help. Emergency intervention does work. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or just click the link, go to their site, and chat online with someone. You, my friend, were knit in your mother’s womb and were made just as fearfully and wonderfully as anyone you’ve met. You are loved, worthy of love, and have a purpose no one else can fulfill. No one else can play your part.