In the last few years I have had the opportunity to speak or correspond with many people who struggle with depression or other mental illnesses. Pastors, teachers, DCEs, laity, each story is different, yet there are common themes.
One of those themes is how often the church, either at the congregational level or at the district/synod level, has failed these people. In all too many cases, their faith has been shaken to the point of disappearing. Now I don’t believe that there is any malice on the part of congregations or our church body. Far from it. But the sad reality is that we are driving people away from Christ by how we approach the mentally ill.
I have several theories about this. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Because we so often equate clinical depression (or any mental illness) with some sort of character flaw, it is viewed basically as a sin. I think people instinctively know that this isn’t quite right, but they don’t have any other categories in which to place mental illness.
2. Everyone has weaknesses, and we work very hard to hide them. For many, depression unmasked is too close to home. It forces us to view our own struggles and failings, and that may just be too painful.
3. If we view the church as a place for the spiritually strong to work out, and not a hospital for the sick, then the mentally ill have no place.
4. The fundamental notion of “depression is in your head, get over it!” is so strong that we can’t help but judge others whose weaknesses are in public view.
5. Lutherans just aren’t very good at areas which aren’t “spiritual” in nature. If it isn’t about justification, then we just don’t get it. Hence, we try to place depression and mental illness simply into the “spiritual” box, and it doesn’t fit there.
Those are off the top of my head. What’s on your list?