The Church and the Depressed Christian

Tabitha Yates

Growing up as a church kid, who suffered from severe depression, I was not met with the type of counsel and comfort one might have expected. I was faced with a surprising amount of misunderstanding, terrible advice and total estrangement in some cases.

Now that I am older and hopefully a bit wiser for the wear, I see that there is a much greater awareness about anxiety and depression in a general collective sense in the world. However, it is still so often spoken about in hushed tones within the church. We need to change that.

Tragically as a Christian community, we keep witnessing the effects of mental illness within our church leadership. Following the suicide of some prominent pastors, I knew I needed to share my experience to let all my fellow warriors know that they are not alone in their struggles or in the church.

When you are suffering from chronic depression or anxiety as a Christian, it seems that everyone wants to give you a pep talk, while almost no one wants to climb into the darkness and just sit with you. Everyone offers to pray for you, few want to walk through the pain that neither you or they understand. There are many uncomfortable silences, but far worse than the deafening silence, are the words that pierce through you like a knife and deepen your pain, which hardly seems imaginable. This leads to feeling even more out of place and misunderstood within the walls of the church.

The church I grew up in, you likely had two upspoken codes of conduct once you walked through the doors: 1.) You put on a happy face. It didn’t matter if your child just died or you were contemplating suicide …you better count it all joy and turn on that smile, sister! 2.) If someone asked how you were doing, the appropriate response was,” Fine.” You were always fine. It could clearly be untrue, as you said it with tears in your eyes and a trembling voice, but no one would question beyond this response.

Due to the environment I found myself in, I only reached out to selective people about my crippling depression. I hated the world I lived in. I hated what my life had become, and I spent years in such terrifying darkness, that I completely believed there would never be an end to it.

I was 15, when I first attempted suicide. It was on a Sunday afternoon. I went to the service that day. I sat alone in a row towards the back. I cried for the whole service…the WHOLE service. Out of a church full of people who had known me since I was seven years old, how many people do you think came up and asked if I was OK? No one…not ONE person. I left knowing what I was about to do and firmly believing no one would miss me when I was gone.

Following an unsuccessful overdose attempt, I woke up from my black out and that was the real start of my nightmare. I started trying to reach out and get help. I began therapy with a Christian counselor. I was prescribed anti-depressants, and I started talking to people in my church about it, despite how uncomfortable it made them. I was told by my pastor that if If attempted suicide, I would go to hell. I was told by my elder that I was beyond reaching, not worth saving, and I had fallen too far for God to find me. Trusted friends told me that if I had stronger faith and prayed more, I wouldn’t need anti-depressants. I was told that my depression was a result of my sin. However, as far as I knew at the time, my only repeated offense was existing.

From that point, I embarked on an often-solitary journey to battle my depression and come out on the other side, which took many, many years, though of course it is always an ever-looming possibility of it reemerging. There are SO many things I wish my church leaders and friends would have said and done differently, but they aren’t the people I really want to address. I want to talk to YOU, my friend who is a depressed Christian and maybe in so doing; we will reach the ones who don’t understand together. 

These are the things I hope you really hear today.

Your Faith Is Not Weak

If anyone has told you this, I apologize on their behalf. You are not lacking faith. In fact, you have some of the strongest faith of all, because you keep waiting and hoping for what feels like an impossible miracle to happen in your life, for the clouds to part and the sun to shine again. You may be weary. You surely have wrestled with doubt. You question where God is in the middle of this darkness, but a part of you still believes and that is amazing and inspiring.

Depression Is Not Your Fault

I hope you hear this and let it sink ALL the way in. God didn’t give you depression as a punishment for anything you’ve done. You are NOT a second-class Christian. You are not cursed. You are not possessed. You are struggling with a LEGITIMATE illness.