One of the most difficult things to recognize is the place of faith when it comes to mental illness. Many view mental illness (or really any illness, for that matter) as a question of faith. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard variations on the theme:
- “Trust that God will take care of you. You don’t need to feel this way.”
- “If you prayed more and spent more time in the Word, you would feel better.”
- “Depression is really a faith issue. If you had more faith, you would have a better outlook on life.”
- “How can you be anxious and nervous? Haven’t you ever read Philippians 4?”
The list could go on, but you get the idea.
Faith, however, cannot be equated with:
A part of our theology as Lutherans is recognizing that God has wonderfully made us, body and soul. There are interconnections that we have hardly even begun to understand. This is especially true when it comes to the mind.
But when dealing with depression, understanding the distinction between the body and the soul is critical. Depression affects the mind, but the mind controls the body. So when something is going wrong with the mind, the body is bound to follow suit in some fashion or another. This is why people with depressive disorders sleep so much, complain of all kinds of pains (esp. back pain), may become oversensitive to light or noise, and may have other seemingly unrelated physical symptoms for a “mental” illness.
Where this dilemma really hits the Christian, though, is when it comes to speaking of faith. Depression is often equated with despair, which is a spiritual ailment or attack by Satan. But it is not the same. Depression has physical causes, as well as situational or possibly spiritual causes.
So what happens when depression is understood strictly as a spiritual sickness? What happens first of all we have a confusion of the Two Kingdoms. You don’t tell someone with a broken leg that they simply need to have more faith. The leg actually needs to be mended. In the same way equating a physical ailment with a spiritual one belittles the physical ailment and makes it much harder to recognize actual spiritual sickness.
I’m not speaking here about any particular type of remedy, such as therapy, medication, exercise, diet, meditation, or whatever. That is a different conversation. I’m really speaking about the basic understanding that to try and heal depression solely with spiritual remedies is a misdiagnosis and is very dangerous.
So speak up. What think ye?