Earlier this week, I learned of the tragic suicide of Rick Warren‘s 27-year-old son, Matthew, who had reportedly suffered with mental illness for many years. Furthermore, I learned of the compassionless responses of some Christians. I’ve since read a few articles on the issue (linked to at the bottom of this post), and have been pondering the issue of mental illness.
I would like to begin by confessing that I either have struggled or am currently struggling with the following:
- Major Depression
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Bulimia Nervosa (was also given a retrospective diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa, but not sure how accurate this was)
(NB: I don’t love labels, and don’t generally identify myself using the terms above. I’m also NOT sharing this to try and garner sympathy. I’m a little embarrassed to be posting it for the whole world to see, but also feel that it’s important to show you where I’m coming from in writing this post.)
In my struggle to overcome the issues listed above, one of the hardest things to deal with has been the sense of spiritual failure. The idea that I’m depressed because I’m just not resting in the joy of the Lord has often made me even more depressed. Hearing (and reading) the thoughts of some other Christians on the issue of mental illness/psychological issues has usually not helped matters. That said, I’ve learnt a lot along the way, and would like to share my thoughts with you.
When I was a very new believer, I was convinced that all mental illness was due to spiritual oppression of some sort. I no longer hold this few (and haven’t for a few years). I do believe (as Frank does), that the body, soul and spirit are interconnected, and that each can influence the others in profound ways. I also believe that depression (and other mental illnesses) can be caused or exacerbated by a variety of different factors.
For example, I found that when I radically changed my diet and lifestyle, I was less susceptible to major depressive episodes. This led me to believe that depression can be, at least in part, physiological (i.e. related to the body).
Additionally, I found that taking control of my mind, will and emotions decreased my susceptibility to major depressive episodes. This led me to believe that depression can be, at least in part, psychological (i.e. related to the mind, and thus to the soul).
Additionally, I found that spending time worshipping Jesus, praying, focusing on God’s word and fellowshipping with other believers all decreased my susceptibility to major depressive episodes (and were often a powerful antidote in moments of acute despair). This led me to believe that depression can be, at least in part, spiritual.
When I don’t eat well, I find it harder to take control of my emotions. When I choose to dwell on negative thoughts, I feel physically ill. When I feel ill, I often feel less inclined to worship God. When I neglect to worship God, I find it easier to dwell on negative thoughts (and sink into depression). When I’m depressed, I find it harder to take care of myself in basic ways (such as eating well). And so on!
I hope you get my point. I’m trying to illustrate the fact that the body, soul and spirit can all influence each other, and that the cause(s) of depression and mental illness can differ from person to person.
The greater point I’m trying to make is that we should not treat our brothers and sisters as spiritually inferior when they are struggling with depression and/or mental illness (nor should we cast blame on parents who have just lost a beloved son to suicide). We need to extend compassion and withhold judgement, so that people can feel safe in being open and honest about their struggles. Let’s treat each other the way Jesus commanded us to: with unconditional love.
Have you struggled with depression or mental illness? What are your thoughts on the origin(s) of such issues? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!