Depression, Mental Illness and Compassion

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:

(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.

Frank Viola posted today about the three viewpoints held by Christians on the issue of mental illness. Please go and read the post to get a clearer understanding of the different theories.

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!

Further reading:

Tutorial Tuesday: Five Basic Chords on the Guitar

Have you been wanting to give songwriting a try, but can’t play an instrument? This post is for YOU!

In this video, I’ll show you how to play five basic chords that will pave the way for you to start writing songs. If you’re not interested in songwriting, but just want some basic tips to get started on the guitar, this post is for YOU TOO!

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments section!




Broken Hand Blues

Ever wondered who did most of the complicated guitar work on my album (I say most because my dad also contributed some)? That was my husband, Cuan, who specialises in the slide guitar (pictured below), but is also a master of acoustic and lead guitar.


Since we live on a farm, we “foster” dogs. That is, we look after the pups of some friends and family members who don’t have  as much outdoor space as we do. We currently look after three labradors (all of whom are related), and love them dearly. In October of last year, we started looking after a beautiful Siberian husky. He was a sweet thing, but sadly he and the male lab could not get along – they kept fighting for dominance. One day, they got in a particularly nasty fight. Cuan bravely intervened, and his hand got caught in the middle of the brawl. The labrador accidentally bit him (we know it was an accident, as he let go as soon as Cuan cried out in pain) and snapped his third metacarpal clean in two.


Since it was a displaced fracture, he had to have an operation to insert a metal plate and some screw, in order to keep the bone in place. But because we waited so long to be seen to at A&E, that the bite became extremely infected, and they couldn’t operate until the infection cleared. The result was that Cuan was walking around with a broken hand for three weeks! Eventually they decided it was safe to go ahead and slice.


Sleepy boy, having just awoken from the first operation



Titanium, keeping it all together

Initially, the doctors said that the plate and screws could stay in for good. But after a couple of months, it became apparent that the tendon was getting caught on the plate, and there was risk of it fraying and snapping (exactly what you DON’T want if you play guitar for a living!). So, Cuan had to go under the knife for a second time.


Battle scar 2.0

Thankfully, it was his right hand that got bitten – that means he is still able to play guitar (although finger-picking is a challenge). We’re hoping that he will regain full mobility in his middle finger. There have been definite improvements since the latest operation, so hopefully once the scar tissue disperses, he will make a full recovery! In the meantime, I can’t think of a better physiotherapy than this:


Thanks to everyone who has prayed for Cuan and his hand in the past few months – we really appreciate it!


Photos courtesy of Cuan Korsten

It’s All About You, Jesus


I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus
I’m sorry Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about You, it’s all about You
, Jesus.

The Heart of Worship – Matt Redman

I’ve sung the song quoted above many, many times. I love the words. Yet, until earlier this week, I don’t think I fully comprehended their meaning. Sure, on a theoretical level I knew that following Jesus is not about getting a free pass to heaven, not about being relieved of hardship, not about trying not to sin, but rather about knowing and glorifying Jesus. I “knew” these things, but I didn’t know them.

Earlier in the week I read this article, entitled, “Jesus Never Said That”. By the time I had finished reading it, I felt like a miracle had occurred in my heart. A real and tangible change happened, and my perspective completely shifted.

For so long I have been striving. Striving to overcome strongholds that still remain in my life, striving to be successful, striving to be good. My prayers have consistently been along the lines of, “God, help me not to sin,” or, “Lord, please provide me with XYZ…” or, “Please heal me.” I’ve read the Bible out of a sense of duty, rather than out of a desire to know Jesus better. That’s not to say that I didn’t love Jesus, but that perhaps I loved Him more for what He did for me, rather than for who He is. But Jesus is not the means to some other end. He is the end (and the beginning).

I’ve tried to be a perfect wife – I failed. I’ve tried to be a perfect daughter – I failed at that too. In my pursuit of perfection, I have achieved nothing but failure. Yet, the grace of God frees me from the obligation of being perfect, so that I can instead rejoice in the perfection of Christ.

It goes without saying that I don’t want to sin, and that I want to do the will of God. But I find that the more I strive to do these things, the more I fail. Instead of praying for help not to sin, I want to dwell in the presence of Jesus. Instead of asking God to alleviate my suffering, I want to draw near to Him and let everything else evaporate in the light of Christ. He will work everything else out in me. He is faithful to bring the good work he has begun in me to completion. In my weakness, He is strong. In my failings, He is victorious. I want to love Him with all that I am, for all that He is. He is the goal.


Photo courtesy of Diorama Sky

Songwriting Saturday: Five Examples Of Imagery In Songwriting


Imagery is exactly what it sounds like: the use of language to conjure up a mental image or picture. It is an extremely powerful tool for any songwriter, and can really bring a song to life.

Rather than try to explain to you how to employ imagery in your songs, I thought it would be more effective to show you how other artists have done so with great success.

Here are five examples of imagery being employed well in songwriting:

1. Up Against the Wall – Fiction Family (written by Jon Foreman)

When you’re down on the ocean floor
And the sand gets in your shell
Everyone’s been talking ’bout the pearl you’ll have someday
But right now it only hurts like hell…

I think this verse alone is worthy of a Grammy. The idea here is that although suffering can yield good fruit in the future, that doesn’t minimise the pain in the present moment. This truth is beautifully conveyed via the metaphor of an oyster, who overcomes the irritation of sand in its shell by building a pearl around it.

2. Nothing Ever Happens – Del Amitri (written by Justin Currie)

And by five o’clock everything’s dead
And every third car is a cab
And ignorant people sleep in their beds
Like the doped white mice in the college labs

It’s pretty much impossible to read/hear those lines being immersed into a mental picture that represents the mundanity of day-to-day that the author is referring to.

3. Lover, You Should’ve Come Over – Jeff Buckley

Looking out the door I see the rain fall upon the funeral mourners
Parading in the wake of sad relations, as their shoes fill up with water.

These words transport you directly to the scene being described, which itself helps to convey the sense of loss that is central to the song’s story.

4. A Case of You – Joni Mitchell

On the back of a cartoon coaster, in the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada, oh Canada
With your face sketched on it twice.

Amazing imagery is conjured by these lines, which communicate the concept of the song’s subject (i.e. the person whom is being addressed) and home being synonymous.

5. Drops of Jupiter – Train (written by Patrick Monahan)

Now that she’s back in the atmosphere
With drops of Jupiter in her hair
She acts like summer and walks like rain
Reminds me that there’s a time to change

The “she” of this song (i.e. the subject) has clearly been on some kind of journey, and this wonderful imagery helps the listener to comprehend the vast sense of distance that was felt between the author and subject whilst she was gone.

As you can see, imagery is invaluable in helping convey the central story or message of your song. It can take a song from black-and-white to colour, and can be the difference between a bored audience and a captivated one.

Do you have a great example of imagery in songwriting that you’d like to share? Do you think imagery is important, or have you underestimated its value until now? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!


Photo courtesy of Max Garcia – art photographer