Depression and anxiety are not spiritual issues

hope -- depression and anxiety

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Depression is not sin. It is also not just “being sad.”

In a March 5 post, Amy Viets of the blog Depression’s Collateral Damage, wrote:

Depression is an illness so terrible and stark that no one would actively seek it as a means to grow in the spiritual life.  And with such a burden to bear, when priests and ministers talk about how a person can find relief if they only ask and turn it over to God, it makes my hair stand on end. It’s not that easy, that simple.  All a platitude like that serves to do is to make the depressed individual feel that for some reason he is not good enough, is not really letting go, is not trusting God. Often for the depressed person an even worse downward spiral occurs as a result.

Source: Depression’s Collateral Damage

Calling depression sin is damaging to the depressed person

I could not agree more. I highly encourage you to follow the source link above and read the post. Christians who say or suggest that depression is a spiritual issue do so largely out of ignorance, but that doesn’t make it any less damaging. I addressed this issue to a smaller extent in my post about my own struggles with depression and anxiety, and I often feel compelled to set people straight about it on Facebook when I see various comments made about it.

Acedia

This is not to say there are not areas where clinical depression and spiritual issues overlap. The desert fathers and mothers wrote about a condition they called acedia, which they understood as the inability to care, or refusal to care. It is characterized by boredom and restlessness, and an inability to commit to people and projects out of a sense that something better might come along. In other words, this has been understood as a spiritual issue for almost a couple of thousand years. Clinical depression, though it may sometimes share some of these characteristics, is a different animal.

Anxiety is not sin. It is also not just “worrying.”

Likewise, many Christians believe anxiety is sin, largely because of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34. But there is a big difference between standard worry, which is little more than an occasional habits of mind which can fairly easily be changed just by learning some new habits, and anxiety, which dominates the life of the anxious person for days, weeks, months, or years, and lies far beyond the ability of the anxious person to control.

The truth about depression and anxiety

Though we still don’t know conclusively, there is evidence that both depression and anxiety (along with a host of other mental issues) are connected to chemical or structural issues in the brain, “structural” meaning something wrong with the brain itself.

If you disagree with this post and the one I am linking to, or you are still on the fence, or care for someone who struggles with either of these issues, I encourage you to take the depression myths quiz at WebMD.com. You can learn the myths and facts about anxiety here.

Consider and comment:

  • Do you or someone you love struggle with depression or anxiety? Have you been told it’s sin? How do you feel about that?
  • Are you a person who believes depression and anxiety are sin? I would love to hear your thoughts.
  • What is your depression/anxiety story? How are you coping?

A key previous post of mine on this issue

 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • Liz Morin

    Liked reading that depression is not a spiritual issue. There are a lot of things I’m dealing with in my heart right now that make me just want to stay in bed or not go anywhere. Except tomorrow I have to get up and go to work. Maternity leave is over and now I have to leave my kids in the middle of the night and be a zombie on this schedule I’m on. Tried to get up for church this morning… I instead stayed in bed with my 12 week old baby thinking this was the last time for a while I would wake up with her and be able to hang in bed… Looking at her… Smiling… And laughing. During these times with her.. And times with my 3 year old… The depressed feeling goes away.

    • Liz — anyone in your position would feel pretty down. I feel a little overwhelmed just reading about what’s happening with you. Going back to work after twelve weeks off is HUGE, and then add to that the insane schedule you have to keep. I can see why you’d be a bit depressed about it. It’ll take you a day or two to get back in the swing of things and you’ll be fine, but I know that doesn’t help now! I think you did the right thing staying home with your babies and enjoying the blessings of your children, home, and husband in that moment that was present to you today. Peace to you.

  • Ruth

    Wow Kim…what a great response. Lots of wisdom there! I especially love your last sentence!!

    • Kim Nebel

      Thank you Ruth

  • Kim Nebel

    I have been conflicted with depression/anxiety for most of my life. I believe the main source of it is my mom. She has consistently beaten me down, beaten me up, emotionally crippled me as best she can. She weaves an intricate web of slapping me away and reeling me in. She’s very intelligent, very creative, and so good at masking her abuse from others than her victim, that at times I’ve been certain she is possessed by some kind of demon. As a Christian I struggle with the 4th commandment (that’s the honor thy mother one isn’t it?) and the command to forgive, the counsel not to judge. I can rise to a place of forgiveness for what she’s done to me only to fall back into an angry pit when I see what she’s done to my siblings. I have moments of overwhelming compassion when I catch glimpses of what may have caused some of her dysfunction. I sight her as the source of my choosing an abusive husband, and other dysfunctional relationships.
    It all overlaps, spiritual, physical, emotional. I have seen therapists, taken medication, prayed, sought relief in swimming, walking, alcohol, marijuana………………..
    When all is said and done, at the ripe old age of 56, exercise works best, forgiveness and prayers for the ability to do so, and putting as much distance as I can between she and I while not completely neglecting the duty of a daughter to her now 92 year old mother.
    I would never tell anyone depression is a sin, I would tell them that the Holy Spirit is an incrediably powerful healing force and His help should be sought. I wouldn’t tell them it is physically caused, but advise them to seek a good psychiatrist if they are advised to take medication by their doctor. It’s a diagnosis that is worthy of a specialist, not just a family doctor, those are powerful drugs. I would share how much exercise works for me, pulling me into the here and now, pumping those endorphins into the brain, tapping into the creative spirit when engaging outdoors. Lastly, I would not advise identifying too strongly with this or any other malady, that our identity should be most strongly rooted in the reality that I am a child of God, cherished, loved, and dearly treasured.

    • I can speak only from my own experience, both personal and clinical. Personally, the antidepressant I take has been nothing less than a lifesaver. Nothing else worked, which I detail in another post. Clinically, they certainly are powerful drugs, but I think they have in some ways been given a bad rap. They have been shown to be effective with about 75% of people who take them, but of course that depends on a lot of other factors. I will write a post sometime soon talking specifically about the positives and negatives of antidepressants, because those who are convinced depression is a spiritual issue (which I know you don’t believe) are also usually very much against psychotropic medication.

      Thanks for sharing your obviously very painful experience and the lessons you continue to learn from it.