Understanding Depression Within The Context of Faith
Many would argue that religious institutes do not have the best track record when it comes to understanding or even respecting the lives of individuals dealing with mental issues, especially when those issues are less visible than severe mental handicaps.
While not as easy to reconcile, it is at least fairly possible to comprehend that a person with mental and physical disabilities is not “just acting out” when they exhibit behavior others deem acceptable.
On the other hand, those dealing with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and many other “invisible” issues are often treated as if their mental health problems are pleas for attention, illegitimate, or in the worst cases manifestation of evil itself which can only be rid of through atonement and repentance rather than support and counseling.
This isn’t necessarily the case anymore. As we learn more about mental health conditions and the ways they undeniably impact a person’s life, Christian institutions have given light to the reality of mental illness and the need for an accommodating mode of treatment and spiritual assistance rather than shunning the victims of these conditions.
Depression specifically has faced a hard path to being treated as a real disorder, and not just in the church. Widespread misunderstanding of the debilitating condition has created a public mindset of depression as simply being sad for an extended period, which is far from the truth.
To help bring a more modern and refined understanding of the complex condition we call depression into the context of Christianity (specifically Catholicism), Aaron Kheriaty, M.D., created The Catholic Guide to Depression. He was recently interviewed by First Things, where he discussed his book and depression within religious circles. I strongly advise reading the entire interview, but his explanation of depression as a bodily and not just mental condition stood out to me.
“Depression goes beyond a passing emotional state and really affects the whole body and the whole mind. We have to get past that word and try to explain to people that what their loved one is going through is profoundly debilitating both mentally, and in a sense, even physically. A person feels drained and sapped of vitality and they lack a normal sense of being connected to the world and even connected to their own body.”
As with any mental issue, the most important step we can take is educating the public, from church pew to street corner, of the reality of depression. Stigmatization and trivialization of the condition may not ever be completely erased, but they can be pushed back only through a push better information available.
One of the worst aspects of dealing with depression is the secondary wave of shame that comes with the realization of what you are going through. With the current stigma against depression, those who are already struggling are made to feel as if they simply aren’t trying hard enough to be happy, which can be be very damaging beyond delaying proper treatment.