March 6, 2018

When Faith Communities Make Depression Worse


Meet Ashley Easter, powerhouse world-changer who is on a mission to empower survivors of abuse to fight for their healing while also educating church leaders on prevention and proper response to abuse. This week, she explores the challenges people of faith face when dealing with depression.

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I grew up in a very conservative portion of Christianity, and I have met numerous people from similar faith backgrounds who struggle with depression. While many find solace in their faith during times of depression, unfortunately, some religious communities perpetuation harmful myths about depression that only add layers of pain to those already suffering.

Here are some of the myths about depression I have heard coming from some religious communities:

       Depression is a spiritual issue or spiritual failure.

       Prayer, Bible reading, and sermons are enough to heal depression.

       Christians shouldn’t see licensed therapists, only bible based pastoral counselors without psychology degrees.

       If you take medication for depression, you are not trusting God enough.

       Suicidal thoughts are sinful, selfish, and damming.

       You need to get over your depression, or you are outside of God’s will.

       Christians should be the happiest people in the world, if you struggle with depression or suicidal thoughts you are not a true Christian.

Despite what some may tell you, depression is not primarily a spiritual issue, and it is certainly not a spiritual failure. Science shows us that depression can be caused by a myriad of things including stress, trauma, and chemical or hormonal imbalance in the body and brain. You are not at fault for the way you are feeling. Depression and suicidal thoughts are not sinful or an act of selfishness, but they are serious mental health issues that deserve treatment.

Depression needs to be treated by mental health professionals like doctors, psychiatrists, and licensed therapists. At times a person may find comfort in prayer and scripture reading on their own or by a pastor friend, but this should be in addition to and not in contrast with professional healthcare specialists. Just as you would not seek medical attention from a pastor-counselor, who is not also a licensed medical doctor so you should not seek primary care for your mental health concerns from a pastor who is not also a credible, licensed therapist.



Professionals often have solutions and tools to address depression such as therapy treatments or medication. Relying on these medicines and medical advances, long-term or short-term, does not in anyway take away from your ability to trust in God. We take antibiotics for illness and view this prescription as a gift. In the same way, a person of faith can use medication for depression and know that this is also a gift and does not detract from their spirituality.

I was recently watching an interview with a celebrity who no longer identifies as Christian. Even though she is no longer in a faith community and she had changed her beliefs in many areas she admitted that she still has nagging guilt and fear around mental health issues such as depression and suicide due to her past faith background.

Whether you identify as Christian or not, harmful myths from spiritual leaders regarding depression can still haunt you. In addition to the science of mental health linked to above, I want to remind you that even Jesus called out in what seemed to be a depressive state in the garden right before his arrest and again in anguish on the cross. If even Jesus experienced extreme seasons of deep emotional pain, I believe God has compassion for those of us suffering from depression too.

If you are a person of faith, I want you to know that professional treatment for your depression is not in conflict with faith. You deserve to find support and healing.

If you are a faith leader, I encourage you to examine how your words around depression and other mental health issues significantly impact those in your care. When in doubt refer out to professionals and approach the subject with compassion. Doing this will show you take seriously your responsibility to safe, pastoral care.


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Ashley Easter writes, blogs, speaks, and advocates for abuse victims. She founded The Courage Conference, a yearly event that empowers survivors of abuse to fight for their healing while also educating church leaders on prevention and proper response to abuse. Ashley promotes truth-telling, advocates for gender equality, and educates churches on abuse. You can find her at www.AshleyEaster.comwww.TheCourageConference.com; Twitter: @ashleymeaster; Facebook: /ashleymeaster




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