Depression emerges from somewhere down deep that’s hard to define and even harder to resolve. It’s a feeling that spreads slowly like a sunset that begins with changes in light and ends in the absence of any. We’ve all felt its effect to one degree or another, but for the person engulfed by its shadow, despair is a weight that drags toward an unseen bottom, pain that pummels like a subterranean river hollowing out solid rock along its course.
The World Health Organization estimates that 121 million people worldwide suffer from depression. So commonplace is it these days that melancholy may overtake love as the most common of all human emotion; yet, it is such a complex issue that entire professions and elaborate institutions have been created to study and treat it. Christians are not immune, and depression is a larger problem among Christians than the Church lets on. “To be in a state of depression…. is to be unable to occupy yourself with anything much except your state of depression. Even the most marvelous thing is like music to the deaf. Even the greatest thing is like a shower of stars to the blind. You do not raise either your heart or your eyes to the heights, because to do so only reminds you that you are yourself in the depths. Even if, like the Psalmist, you are inclined to cry out ‘O Lord,’ it is a cry like Jonah’s from the belly of a whale” (Buechner).
Depression is typically defined as a mental condition characterized by feelings of severe despondency and dejection, and is usually accompanied by feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and lack of energy. It acts like culture shock in that it may best be understood as distance between expectation and reality; the wider the gap, the more intense will be our battle with despair. Believers are not exempt from false views of reality and unrealistic expectations of themselves and others; in fact, the Church fosters just such a dichotomy when we make it unacceptable to admit our struggles before the very ones most qualified to form our base of support. Acute misery is never resolved by blushing and turning away in embarrassment. “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there” (Will Rogers). Those suffering from misery’s tightening grip feel like they’re alone in the world, and that is exactly the reason they cannot climb out of the pit without someone ready to offer a hand up. As necessary as confession is to repentance, honesty is essential to recovery; acknowledge your struggle to someone you trust and admit your inability to resolve it alone. It’s not a sin to be depressed, but it’s a shame to keep it to yourself.
“Anyone who is among the living has hope.” (Ecclesiastes 9:4, NIV)