DEPRESSION: UNVEILING THE MYTHS
by David Listul
"I ust can't seem to get it together," Karen lamented to her
best friend, Lori. "I have a great husband, love my kids, and go
to church every week. Yet I still feel miserable! What am I doing
George lost his job after seventeen years with the company.
In shock, feeling useless and hopeless, he asked, "is life worth
Both Karen and George suffered from depression, often called
the "common cold" of mental illness. The National Institute of
Mental Health says about 21 million Americans suffer from it
Depression isn't simply a modern-day ailment that targets
the faithless; it invades the hearts and minds of God's people
too. From Cain's envious attack on his brother to Elijah's plea
for God to take his life, the Bible tells of people who struggled
with depressive thoughts and feelings. Some managed the symptoms
and found renewed strength through their faith, while others
(Saul, Judas) gave in to defeat, despair, and premature death.
As a career counselor, I've seen many wounded souls seek
relief from the pain of depression. My role is to assist in the
healing process. Every other Christian can also provide soul care
to the depressed by encouraging and pointing them toward hope in
First we need accurate information. Many of society's false
assumptions regarding depression are strikingly familiar in the
church, hindering our role in helping people recover. Let's
dispel some of those myths.
Depressions are all the same. "He's been gone two years; she
should be over it by now. Mary didn't struggle like this."
"This is Jeff's third time in the hospital. Why can't he pull
himself together and throw those pills away?"
One of the most common misconceptions about depression is
that one size fits all. The truth is, everyone's experience is
different. What upsets one person may not impact another at all.
Depression has varying degrees of duration and severity. We all
become discouraged and feel "blue" at times, but not everyone
gets clinically depressed. Some depressive symptoms arise due to
real or perceived losses (known as reactive depression), whereas
more serious symptoms may appear or reoccur for no apparent
reason (endogenous or internal depression). The more serious
types of clinical depression usually require professional
Only a few Christians may competently differentiate between
normal grieving processes and clinical depression, but the
thoughts and opinions of every believer about "causes" of
depression can be a critical issue within the church.
All forms of depression are "bad" and are caused by sin.
Kent expected his wife to pick him up that day at 5:00 p.m., but
she never showed. Instead, a phone call informed him of her fatal
Fast-forward a month to her birthday: Kent struggled again
with anger and grief over his departed wife - the normal process
after the death of a close relative. With support of family and
church, he recovered without suffering clinical depression.
Still, he misses her and wrestles with forgiving the
Kent's experience was a natural, healthy response in which
he was allowed to mourn the loss of his wife. Even Jesus wept
openly with the family at Lazarus' death.
Kent worked through his grief and now helps others deal with
Sue wasn't as fortunate. "If you're still depressed, it must
be sin you haven't repented of" was the word she received from a
ministry hotline. "True Christians don't get depressed" was what
she heard - not much comfort for a young woman dealing with an
abusive family history. Most of us wouldn't make that claim about
people's diabetes or cancer, yet people who don't understand
depression often find it easier to blame people for it than to
understand and support them. Neither Kent nor Sue brought on
depression through sin.
While not all depression is caused by sin, some of us may in
fact suffer depressive episodes after sinful lifestyle choices,
because we refused God's will. He doesn't always rescue us from
our pain, but His sustaining presence guides us through the trial
and refines us (1 Peter 1:6,7). The Adversary often takes
advantage of our errors and tempts us to question our faith in
God, or he makes us feel unworthy of God's love. Spiritual
discernment is always critical when assessing depression.
Numerous cases have nothing to do with unrepentant sin or a
spiritual attack from Satan.
Depression results from a lack faith. Clinical depression
comes in many forms. It often results from a complex mixture of
genetic, biochemical, and situational factors that place a person
at risk when he's faced with significant life stressors. You may
have a family history of depression. You may struggle with
illnesses, be subject to chemical imbalance, or experience
personal tragedies that radically disrupt your life. All these
may be relevant to your spiritual life but not call your trust in
Christ into question.
It doesn't help to tell others that their depression is a
"punishment from God due to lack of faith" or that their
emotional difficulties will go away if they simply trust Him
more. Consistent Biblical evidence does not support the claim
that God uses mental illness to punish us. Satan, not God, seeks
to destroy our hearts and minds. We may go through spiritual
droughts and feel discouraged for a time, yet such episodes do
not often result in a severe clinical depression or arise solely
from lack of faith. Several Bible personalities struggled to
manage depressive episodes, yet remained committed in their faith
and trust in God.
Only God can heal depression; any other support will fail.
"Forget about those counselors, stop taking those pills, and just
pray more and read the Bible!"
Good advice for Joe to pray and seek God's will, but not so
good to tell him to stop his medications. Joe followed his
pastor's advice over the doctor's - and committed suicide two
A true spiritual battle is often present as people struggle
with whose advice they should follow. "Should I listen to the
doctor and keep taking those pills, or simply trust God to heal
me?" The church needs to support and encourage people with the
truth and power to heal, found in God's Word, without engaging in
a God-versus-modern-medicine conflict that can prove potentially
lethal for some. Medication and therapy often help people manage
clinical depression; some use this combination the rest of their
lives. The church has its part by encouraging commitment to
Christ and trust in Him as the true "healer" of body and soul.
For many people, healing from depression can come in various
ways: through a pastor, doctor, friend, or counselor; by giving
up negative lifestyle choices; or even over time by working
through a loss or trial. Let's place our trust in God, knowing
that He will make a way for us by whatever means suits His
A healthy, vibrant twenty-first century church must be
informed about physical and emotional issues. The Word that says,
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" also
instructs us to "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the
law of Christ (Philippians 4:13; Galatians 6:2). Thus the church
body has a spiritual responsibility to provide timely and prudent
soul care, to comfort those who are hurting, and point them
toward the eternal hope in Christ.
David Listul is a professional counselor in Jamestown, ND, and
attends church in Alfred. Visit www.cog7org/BA for resources on
depression and http://church ofgodalfred. com/
for a full version of this article.
SONGS OF THE SPIRIT
BA Interview concerning depression and the Pslams,
with James DeFrancisco, Ph.D.
*Why are Psalms a potent source of healing for depression?
The Psalms were written primarily to lift the spirit and
focus it on relationship with God. This takes our minds off
trouble and acts as a bridge to joy. Psalms produce health and
harmony amid life's problems. Recited in their entirety from a
pure heart, they are of great value in overcoming depression.
*How may Psalms be used to bring health and harmony out of discord
The reader should invest great intention - meditating on or
reciting a psalm, focusing on God and on relationship with Him.
It may help to read or recite the psalm aloud, or even sing it
for greater effect.
Psalm 16:11 declares that in God's presence is fullness of
joy. Your cup of joy can run over there. But to be aware of His
presence, the Psalms must be read. If you feel that God is more
absent than present, an act of your will may restore the feeling,
the awareness, that He is always near His people.
*How much joy is reasonable to expect? The psalmists were often
Some in our culture emphasize thinking positive all the
time, but this is unrealistic. Considering the real world, it may
be healthier to have a balance of, say, two-thirds positive and
one-third negative thoughts and feelings.
It is not logical or healthy to deny feelings of guilt,
remorse, grief, or other pain. The psalmists were realistic: As
much as a third of their writings carry strong themes that are
not considered "positive thinking" - like vengeance.
Anyone who's read many psalms knows that some of them sound
as though their authors were downright depressed (42, 43, 142,
143, for example). At the same time, Psalms 42 and 43 are
beautiful poems that not only state depression's problem but also
offer its cure. They have brought healing balm to many hurting
Psalms 77 and 90 help us during those dark, sleepless nights
of the soul and when we've been long oppressed. They remind us of
deliverance and victory when our situation seems hopeless and God
seems far away. A Hebrew prayer called Arvit is often said in the
evening because it focuses on the power of God to watch over us.
This prayer includes recitations of Psalms 90:17; 46:12; 84:13;
and 20:10, all of which increase our trust in God.
*Give an example of lifetrouble that can lead to depression and a
psalm that helps escape it.
Let's consider guilt. David committed a horrible sin with
Bathsheba. He felt shame for adultery and betrayal of Uriah. He
primarily sinned against God, damaging their fellowship.
Consequently David formulated and sang Psalm 51 to
reestablish his relationship with God, connect with the Holy
Spirit, and find cleansing for his soul. The same words David
used to recover from the depression of his guilt can work for us
too - if we'll use them.
*Can the Bible be used to replace other medical or
psychological treatments for depression?
Humans are a complex combination of spirit, soul, and body.
Each component may need its own healing. In some cases the
problem may be primarily due to physiological conditions or
chemical imbalance, calling for a medical doctor. Other cases may
be due to thoughts, conscious or unconscious, and require a
psychologist. Many depression types involve spiritual conditions
that require healing, repentance, or deliverance. The Bible is
not intended as a substitute for other appropriate treatment.
As an essential part in Christian counseling and healing, the
Bible can enhance any other therapy. But it doesn't work
optimally in a vacuum. Prayer, rest, nutritional and behavioral
changes, medication, counseling, and other therapies all may be
necessary to relieve depression and heal the soul. Anyone with
serious depression should consult a physician or clinical
*You say that evening, just before sleep, is the best time for
meditation in the Psalms. Why?
From Jewish rabbis I learned the great value of prayer and
meditation on Scripture before sleep - even asking God and His
holy angels to speak to us in our dreams. (In the Siddur [prayer
book] there is an "amelioration of a dream" prayer to use after a
disturbing dream. It is based, in part, on Psalms 12:3-8; 16:11;
29:11; 55:19; and 121:1, 2.) Many Bible passages were revealed in
visions and dreams. If our sleep is uncontrolled by the Spirit
and becomes Satan's playground, as much as a third of our life
may be polluted in this way.
Last December 25 I spent the morning with prisoners at the
county jail. Many of them were repeat offenders with the burden
of deep emotional and spiritual problems. I asked about their
dreams and what they did before going to sleep. Many said they
were tormented during sleep - a prime time for Satan to preach to
the subconscious. One cure for this malady is to focus on God's
thoughts by reading Psalms before sleep - a spiritual counterpart
to locking our doors every night before we retire.
James DeFrancisco has a Ph.D. in Biblical Counseling and a M.A.
in Biblical Studies. He is president of MILTHA Ministries and
Christian Principles. He and his wife, Sandy, Live in Mishawaka,
IN. He can be reached at james.j.defrancsico@ gte.net.
The above articles taken from the Bible Advocate, June 2008. A
publication of the Church of God (Seventh Day), Denver, CO. USA
The Bible Advocate can be seen online at:
Entered on this Website June 2008