Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The church and mental illness

One topic that is often not addressed in many churches is mental illness. This past Sunday I preached on overcoming depression and shared my own battle with clinical depression in the 1980s. Following the service a number of people told me they had never heard a sermon on the subject before. Many thanked me for being so transparent as they shared their own stories with me.

Too many people in the church continue to treat depression as a lack of faith or believe it's a sin for a Christian to become depressed. It's neither a sign of weak faith nor a sin; it is an illness that can have a number of causes. Others criticize Christians for taking anti-depressants or other medicines for their mental or emotional struggles. I cannot understand why people who take medicine for high blood pressure would criticize someone for taking an anti-depressant. Nor can I understand someone who would go to a doctor if they had pneumonia but will criticize a person who sees a doctor to be treated for depression. Again, depression is an illness that is often effectively treated with the proper medicine and/or therapy.

In my message I shared that 2/3 of the people who battle depression never seek medical assistance. I'm sure that of that number who are Christians the reason might be the stigma some in the church still attach to depression. I can only say to those folks that they should not allow the ignorance of those who find fault in you seeking healing to keep you from that healing.

Because of my battle with depression I tend to be sensitive to the signs of depression in others. More than once I've encouraged a pastor to see his or her doctor to determine if they might be struggling with depression. One pastor in particular seemed to me to be deeply depressed. When I shared it with him and his wife, she had tears running down her cheeks. She was well aware he was struggling emotionally. He promised me he would see his doctor, but the last I heard he had still not done so.

My experience taught me a number of things. One, if you do not take care of yourself, you will find yourself unable to care for others. While I could function during my depression, I really wasn't the husband my wife deserved, the father my children needed, and the pastor my church needed. I also learned that self-care is not selfishness; it is stewardship of a valuable resource God has given you: You. He has given each of life and has a purpose for each of us. If we do not take proper care of ourselves we will be unable to live into that purpose.

Someone once said that if you preach as to hurting people you will never lack an audience. I'm convinced if you preach on depression and other mental illnesses you will find a hungry audience who needs to hear a word of hope for their situation.

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