Pastoral Care and Depression

Last night I had a pastoral care visit with a parishioner.  She came from another parish in town (not LCMS, although it could have been).  She was nervous, fearful, on the edge of tears and yet strangely numb, like she wasn’t all there.  I recognized the signs.

She came to tell me that she was in an outpatient mental health program for clinical depression.  The reason she came to tell me was because she wanted to make sure she wasn’t sinning by being in this program or by taking anti-depressants.  You see, her previous pastor had  told her individually and from the pulpit that it is “sinful and wrong” for Christians to take anti-depressants or see psychiatrists and psychologists.  Because we are Christians, we have no need to be depressed, and should be joyful all the time, because Jesus died for us.

We had a long talk, prayed, heard the Word of God together, and I worked hard to dispel the destructive words of her previous pastor.  It will take a long time for it to sink in.  She feels guilty because she is undergoing medical treatment.  Good grief.

If this is the stigma and gunk that our parishioners have to deal with from us, imagine how hard we pastors are on each other?  I think that many parish pastors view those of us who has suffered from clinical depression as damaged goods, weak, with some kind of serious moral failing.  Suffering from depression is somehow unmanly.  Real men don’t have mental problems.  They just think that way.

God help our parishioners who suffer from our false understanding of mental illness.  God help us when we judge and condemn one another needlessly.  God help me when I want to throttle someone for being such an idiot.  God help me.

-DMR

6 thoughts on “Pastoral Care and Depression”

  1. How sad that such destructive views about mental illness are still being preached by some pastors.
    My father, a pastor, suffers from depression and addiction. I’m afraid he sees his illness as simply weakness and moral failure.
    Thanks for sharing on this topic. 🙂

  2. I thought i was too macho for meds. I went off them 2x both without telling anybody and both times went back to the darkness. My head doc said DON’T DO THAT!! I need to be on them at least 6 months after my lat episode.

    My other doc said to get over the macho thing since I am hardwired to be the way i am.

    I have accepted my condition and am a lot happier for doing so.

  3. Well, depression does involve, in a sense, “weakness and moral failure.” But it’s in the same sense that any other illness involves “weakness and moral failure.” All illnesses, whether of the brain or of any other part of the body, are the signs of approaching death, which is the wages of sin. We are weak, whether it be with depression or diabetes or a bad knee or needing eyeglasses or whatever, because we were born already guilty of the sin of origin, the sin of being descended from the first Adam. It is that of which our old sinful self doesn’t like to be reminded, thus putting us in denial. That pastors often end up reinforcing that denial rather than putting it in the context of our sin-drenched condition, which in turn leads to the Gospel, is a great tragedy. When the denial then comes crashing down, the despair and darkness is only increased by the fact we can’t just simply pray it away or cheer ourselves up by singing Jesus Loves Me.

    Think about it. When someone refuses to have their child taken to the doctor for some illness because he has been taught that seeking medical help indicates a lack of faith in God’s power to miraculously heal, we are rightly critical of that deadly doctrine, and (especially those of us who are Lutherans) are very quick to point out that God works through means and those who despise such earthly means (in this case the doctors and medicines) are despising the God who would use those means to their benefit. But when it comes to mental illnesses, we so easily fall into the same trap. Instead of pointing to the means God has given us in this world (psychology, psychiatry, disability insurance if you’ve got it, etc.) to help us through these illnesses, we so easily fall into the trap of saying that if you can’t just pray your way out of it, there’s something wrong with your faith.

  4. Well, depression does involve, in a sense, “weakness and moral failure.” But it’s in the same sense that any other illness involves “weakness and moral failure.” All illnesses, whether of the brain or of any other part of the body, are the signs of approaching death, which is the wages of sin. We are weak, whether it be with depression or diabetes or a bad knee or needing eyeglasses or whatever, because we were born already guilty of the sin of origin, the sin of being descended from the first Adam. It is that of which our old sinful self doesn’t like to be reminded, thus putting us in denial. That pastors often end up reinforcing that denial rather than putting it in the context of our sin-drenched condition, which in turn leads to the Gospel, is a great tragedy. When the denial then comes crashing down, the despair and darkness is only increased by the fact we can’t just simply pray it away or cheer ourselves up by singing Jesus Loves Me.

    Think about it. When someone refuses to have their child taken to the doctor for some illness because he has been taught that seeking medical help indicates a lack of faith in God’s power to miraculously heal, we are rightly critical of that deadly doctrine, and (especially those of us who are Lutherans) are very quick to point out that God works through means and those who despise such earthly means (in this case the doctors and medicines) are despising the God who would use those means to their benefit. But when it comes to mental illnesses, we so easily fall into the same trap. Instead of pointing to the means God has given us in this world (psychology, psychiatry, disability insurance if you’ve got it, etc.) to help us through these illnesses, we so easily fall into the trap of saying that if you can’t just pray your way out of it, there’s something wrong with your faith.

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Pastoral Care and Depression

Last night I had a pastoral care visit with a parishioner.  She came from another parish in town (not LCMS, although it could have been).  She was nervous, fearful, on the edge of tears and yet strangely numb, like she wasn’t all there.  I recognized the signs.

She came to tell me that she was in an outpatient mental health program for clinical depression.  The reason she came to tell me was because she wanted to make sure she wasn’t sinning by being in this program or by taking anti-depressants.  You see, her previous pastor had  told her individually and from the pulpit that it is “sinful and wrong” for Christians to take anti-depressants or see psychiatrists and psychologists.  Because we are Christians, we have no need to be depressed, and should be joyful all the time, because Jesus died for us.

We had a long talk, prayed, heard the Word of God together, and I worked hard to dispel the destructive words of her previous pastor.  It will take a long time for it to sink in.  She feels guilty because she is undergoing medical treatment.  Good grief.

If this is the stigma and gunk that our parishioners have to deal with from us, imagine how hard we pastors are on each other?  I think that many parish pastors view those of us who has suffered from clinical depression as damaged goods, weak, with some kind of serious moral failing.  Suffering from depression is somehow unmanly.  Real men don’t have mental problems.  They just think that way.

God help our parishioners who suffer from our false understanding of mental illness.  God help us when we judge and condemn one another needlessly.  God help me when I want to throttle someone for being such an idiot.  God help me.

-DMR

4 thoughts on “Pastoral Care and Depression”

  1. How sad that such destructive views about mental illness are still being preached by some pastors.
    My father, a pastor, suffers from depression and addiction. I’m afraid he sees his illness as simply weakness and moral failure.
    Thanks for sharing on this topic. 🙂

  2. I thought i was too macho for meds. I went off them 2x both without telling anybody and both times went back to the darkness. My head doc said DON’T DO THAT!! I need to be on them at least 6 months after my lat episode.

    My other doc said to get over the macho thing since I am hardwired to be the way i am.

    I have accepted my condition and am a lot happier for doing so.

  3. Well, depression does involve, in a sense, “weakness and moral failure.” But it’s in the same sense that any other illness involves “weakness and moral failure.” All illnesses, whether of the brain or of any other part of the body, are the signs of approaching death, which is the wages of sin. We are weak, whether it be with depression or diabetes or a bad knee or needing eyeglasses or whatever, because we were born already guilty of the sin of origin, the sin of being descended from the first Adam. It is that of which our old sinful self doesn’t like to be reminded, thus putting us in denial. That pastors often end up reinforcing that denial rather than putting it in the context of our sin-drenched condition, which in turn leads to the Gospel, is a great tragedy. When the denial then comes crashing down, the despair and darkness is only increased by the fact we can’t just simply pray it away or cheer ourselves up by singing Jesus Loves Me.

    Think about it. When someone refuses to have their child taken to the doctor for some illness because he has been taught that seeking medical help indicates a lack of faith in God’s power to miraculously heal, we are rightly critical of that deadly doctrine, and (especially those of us who are Lutherans) are very quick to point out that God works through means and those who despise such earthly means (in this case the doctors and medicines) are despising the God who would use those means to their benefit. But when it comes to mental illnesses, we so easily fall into the same trap. Instead of pointing to the means God has given us in this world (psychology, psychiatry, disability insurance if you’ve got it, etc.) to help us through these illnesses, we so easily fall into the trap of saying that if you can’t just pray your way out of it, there’s something wrong with your faith.

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