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.