For Most, Jesus and the Gospels Are Not the Answer for Depression, Suicide, and Other Mental Health Maladies (Part 1)
I recognize for many Christians, the title of my post may seem shocking.
Please bear in mind I did add a qualifier; I said “for most.” I concede there may be a tiny percentage of people out there who claim that Bible reading, or accepting Christ as Savior, or some other Christian-spiritually-related means, lifted their mental health problem.
What I say in this post can apply to any (to maybe all) mental health problems, but I mainly would like discuss these subjects with depression and suicidal ideation in mind.
I was undecided about writing a post about Christianity vis a vis mental health issues for this blog, until I saw Christian apologist Ray Comfort interviewed by Matt and Lori Crouch for a new movie about suicide he’s releasing (called “Exit: The Appeal of Suicide”) for a television program called “Praise” on TBN last night (July 24, 2017). Snippets from the film were shown during the “Praise” program.
Not only did Comfort discuss depression and suicide in this program in and of themselves, but he sort of veered off into the issue of how, supposedly, lacking faith in God and God’s promises, or holding on to disappointment or bitterness can eventually, several steps down the chain, lead to one dwelling on suicide as an option.
I find that to be a somewhat separate issue from depression or suicide proper, so I may return to that later on in this post – if at all.
In the majority of the interview I watched on TBN, the fact that many Christians suffer from depression was barely acknowledged, other than Matt Crouch mentioning that his mother, Jann Crouch (if one assumes she was a “true” Christian), struggled with depression for many years.
MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS CAN AND DO ALSO STRIKE DEVOUT CHRISTIANS NOT ONLY NON-CHRISTIANS OR BACK-SLIDDEN CHRISTIANS
Other than that, I don’t recall any acknowledgement being made in this show that Christians can and do suffer from depression, as well as anxiety and other mental health disorders.
For most of the program, Comfort seemed to be assuming that only Non-Christians can be depressed or mull over suicide.
Comfort seemed to assume that the main reason, or only reason, why depression and suicide has increased in American culture (or world wide) is that many cultures have stripped God away from the public discourse, and secularism has made headway in most cultures.
Comfort may have briefly mentioned evolution as playing a role as well, in that he said something about how kids today in schools are taught they are nothing but clumps of dirt who are here by random chance (I forget the exact wording he used), and that teaching people this sort of thing leads them to believe they are worthless.
I won’t really dispute that removing God from public life or promoting evolution may or can cause some people to lose a sense of meaning or purpose, or play into a feeling of hopelessness. Comfort may be right in assuming or arguing all that.
What troubled me was the emphasis of Christian spirituality as a “cure” for suicide or depression, which was put forth by both Comfort and the host, Matt Crouch. Crouch, for one, kept saying on this television program, that Jesus was “the answer” for suicide.
Depression and suicide seemed to be assumed, by Comfort, as something that befalls only Non-Christians, and that if only Non-Christians would put saving faith in Jesus, their depression, suicidal urges, and feelings of worthlessness would vanish.
EMOTIONAL HEALTH GOSPEL
This sounds almost like a form of an Emotional Wealth and Health Gospel.
You may have heard of the WoF (Word of Faith, also known as Wealth and Health Gospel), whose advocates say as long as you do this, that, or the other, God is obligated to bless your finances, or heal you of physical health problems.
These WoF teachings are widely recognized as being false by many Christians and condemned by so many Christians outside of churches that teach it, yet, even among the Christians who rightly reject WoF, they themselves teach an Emotional, Psychological, or Mental Health Wealth and Health Gospel which consists of this type of view point:
If you just do thus and so (accept Jesus as Savior, trust in God’s promises, have more faith -whatever), your depression will instantly vanish, or, God is obligated to lift your depression, your anxiety, your PTSD, etc.
CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITLY WILL NOT HEAL MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS
The problem is – a very big problem that some Christians, especially hyper conservative ones don’t want to acknowledge – is that Christianity will not heal everyone who has a mental health problem of their mental health problem.
I accepted Jesus as my Savior at a very young age, and in spite of having been a very devout Christians until my early 40s, I still had clinical depression and anxiety. I also had thoughts of suicide off and on since my teen years.
No amount of prayer, Bible reading, faith in God’s promises, loving Jesus, attending church, volunteering at soup kitchens, and all the other spiritual practices Christians prescribe for people in my situation, ever worked.
Faith, Jesus, prayer, Bible reading, and all the rest did not alleviate me of depression, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide.
My mother, who died several years ago, also had depression and anxiety, and my mother is one of the most devout Christians I’ve ever known.
My mother died from cancer (among other health problems), she was codependent, and came from an alcoholic and abusive family (she was abused by various family members of hers, especially in childhood).
In spite of the fact my mother accepted Jesus at a young age, was a regular church attender, read her Bible and loved Jesus, and so on and so forth, she always felt unloved, worthless, and as though she had a void in her heart.
As my mother grew older, my father and older siblings did not help matters, because they were verbally abusive towards her, which often made her cry.
Church people used to exploit my mother, as well. So did neighbors, friends. Once people saw my mother was codependent (a doormat with a reluctance to say “no”), people were always hitting her up for favors, for money, for attention.
I noticed all that at a very young age (around ages 5 to 8), it bothered and disgusted me that people would use her, I could tell that my mother had an emptiness in her, and so I vowed to be the one person in her life who would never mistreat her or take advantage of her.
In spite of the fact that my mother “knew Jesus,” and in spite of the fact I tried to fill up that hole in her heart with all the love I could give her, it was never enough. My mother still went to her grave feeling worthless, not loved, not valued, not affirmed. She still battled depression and anxiety to the end of her life.
Here is a story I shared on other blogs before; I came across a woman’s blog a few years ago, where she talked about seeing a Christian therapist for her problems:
A Christian woman had depression, PTSD, and/or anxiety, so she saw a Christian counselor of some sort.
The therapist asked her to describe her problem and history, so she did.
She said her Christian therapist then went to a black board where she drew that stick-figure cartoon that Christians like to use to explain how the Gospel works.
So, the woman counselor drew a cross on its side, which served as a bridge to reach God, with a stick figure standing on one of the cliffs. (The idea being that the cross of Jesus is a type of bridge for a person to reach God.)
So, the counselor asked her patient (the woman writing this post I was reading), if she understood this concept.
The woman was like, ‘yeah, I get it, I accepted Jesus as my savior years ago, but knowing Jesus as my Savior has not stopped my depression, panic attacks, etc. I’m still having mental health problems,’ she told the counselor.
So, the counselor would go to her chalk board in her office and re-draw the stick figure on a cliff with the cross on its side drawing again.
The woman said in her blog post it was as though this Christian therapist felt the ONLY reason she was hurting and having problems is that she lacked the Gospel, or did not understand it.
I’ve run into similar stuff from Christians I’ve seen on TV, on blogs, or come across in real life.
That Christian therapist just assumed that her patient either did not know the Gospel, or did not understand it, and that if she just understood it, her PTSD and other problems, would magically go away. What a naive, uninformed perspective.
Being a Christian – accepting Jesus, believing in or understanding the Gospel – did not free my mother or myself from feeling unloved, having feelings of worthlessness, and from having depression and anxiety.
Knowing, understanding, and accepting the Gospel did not alleviate the mental health problems of the woman whose story I just shared above.
In my time spent on Christian forums for Christians who have depression, I saw similar testimonies by other Christians many times over: there were Christians who said they had depression for years, even though they read the Bible and believed in Jesus.
SOME CHRISTIAN TEACHINGS, IRONICALLY, ARE THE VERY THINGS THAT PLAY A ROLE IN KEEPING CHRISTIANS STUCK IN MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS
One of the most ironic things to me is that it was Christian teaching itself that kept me stuck in depression, anxiety, and so on, for many years.
One of the reasons I was “stuck” in depression and anxiety for years (I especially had a “fear of people”) was the Christian teaching I received from churches, Christian TV programming, Christian authors, my parents, etc.
As it turns out, most (but maybe not all) of my depression and anxiety stemmed from codependency.
In the Christianity I was raised in, I was taught codependent coping skills and behaviors under the belief that God wanted females to be sweet, passive, giving, nurturing, non-confrontational, always self-less, etc.
As I’ve written about before, gender complementarianism is nothing but codependency for women with a few Bible verses (yanked out of cultural context and misapplied by complementarian Christians) slathered on top to make this position seem “godly” and “biblical.”
Ray Comfort, I would assume, probably believes in, and agrees with gender complementarianism.
I know that Comfort’s former “Way of the Master” TV show co-host, Kirk Cameron, is a believer of complementarianism (see for example, this Daily Mail link for more on that, or this People magazine link or this Raw Story link) .
I was taught by Christians, under traditional gender role teachings (“gender complementarianism”), all manner of codependent ways of thinking and being that fed my depression and feelings of worthlessness, such as, but not limited to, the following:
That God wants women to be submissive doormats to men and in churches;
God supposedly values women less than men, so God does not want equality for women (complementarian Christians deny they believe this, but their teaching never- the- less conveys this view);
God does not want women, no matter how capable and intelligent, to serve as Sunday School teachers, pastors, leaders, and so on.
I was taught by Christians, in complementarian teachings, that God wanted men to have the ‘final say’ in disputes in marriages (men are boss figures to wives).
I was taught, again under Christian complementarianism, that God expects and wants women to only be indirect, to be passive aggressive, and to not state out-right what they need and want.
Under complementarianism, I was taught that a girl’s or woman’s feelings are not important – specifically, I was taught that MY feelings and needs do not matter, and to insist to the contrary, was a form of selfishness, and being selfish was one of the biggest sins a Christian, especially a female, could commit.
The picture I got from all this gender complementarian teaching is that women are not quite as “human” as men, and God loves women and girls less than men and boys.
I got this message in spite of all the complementarian braying about “women are equal in worth just not in role.” That motto never washed with me, was never convincing; seemed a disingenuous way of sexist Christians justifying being sexist by slapping a few Bible verses on to sexism.
The moment you tell me I, a woman, am equal to a man and then add a “but” to your statement, as in, “Yes, we complementarians believe women are equal to men in worth, BUT, however…”
– you’ve already negated the first part of your claim.
If you truly feel that God values women as much as men, there would be no “but” in your statements, as is typical in complementarian writing: “We think God values women as much as men, BUT, we feel that God does not want women to do X, Y, and Z in life, only men are called or permitted by God to do X, Y, Z.”
So, all this complementarian malarky made me feel worthless, as though God did not value or want me, all because I had the misfortune of having been born female, something which I had no control over.
It was complementarianism itself, which is taught by Christians, that played a role in getting me depressed and keeping me depressed for years, it contributed to my anxiety.
It’s ironic if Comfort believes in or defends complementarianism, for he is unwittingly helping to make girls and women depressed, anxious, and having feelings of worthlessness – all of which can or may cause a girl or woman to want to commit suicide.
However, Comfort was suggesting in his movie and interview that it’s atheism, evolution, an increase in secularism in public life, or a lack of faith in God, that is causing suicide and depression rates to increase among girls and women (and in boys and men).
CHRISTIANS EQUATING HAVING BOUNDARIES, HEALTHY SELF ESTEEM, OR GETTING ONE’S NEEDS MET, WITH SELFISHNESS
Another Christian teaching that kept me trapped in depression and anxiety for over two decades, some of which is partly tied into complementarian teachings, is this idea that a Christian ever putting herself first, or getting her own needs met, is “selfish.”
Further, I was taught that if I was verbally abused, or abused in some other manner, that it would be un-godly, un-Christian, and un-loving for me to even confront my bully politely, because holding a bully accountable (even if done politely), might hurt the bully’s feelings.
The bully’s feelings and situation were always to be paramount to my own safety or feelings – I was taught this by a Christian mother and have seen this view echoed by other Christians in sermons, blogs, books, pod casts, and articles.
How incredibly perverse and emotionally abusive it is to tell someone that everyone else’s needs and feelings matter but yours do not – and that this supposedly holds true EVEN IF a person is calling you names, putting you down, being abusive, and taking advantage of you.
I still come across Christians today in various blogs and forums who will shame you and scold you if you argue that your needs and feelings are just as important as anyone else’s, and you have a right to get them met. Many Christians will tell you that you holding to this view is a form of selfishness.
What happens as you go through life holding anger in – not confronting a bully, but repressing your anger when someone “does you wrong” – is that depression begins and it increases.
TO ESCAPE ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION, I HAD TO REJECT SO-CALLED “CHRISTIAN” TEACHING
In order for me to break free of much of my depression, fear of people, and anxiety, I had to un-learn the “Christian” teaching I was raised to believe in, and which I still sometimes see some Christians ruthlessly defending on blogs, pod casts, magazine articles, and TV shows to this very day.
To escape most of my anxiety and depression, I had to learn things such as…
I had to learn that my feelings and needs are just as important as anyone else’s, that me going after what I want in life is not “selfish.”
I had to learn it’s okay to speak up and correct someone and even “tell them off” if they are doing or saying something that angers, offends, or hurts me.
I had to learn and recognize that if, in spite of my correction, a person won’t change her abusive behavior towards me, it’s acceptable for me to part company with that person and cut them out of my life to avoid further mistreatment (that doing so does not make me “unforgiving”).
I had to learn it’s acceptable (and not selfish) to draw boundaries and not automatically say ‘yes’ to every person who asks or begs me for a favor, my time, my attention, or for money.
Having accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was a child, reading the Bible, going to church, and living a “squeaky clean” lifestyle as I did, did not make me immune from getting depression and anxiety. (And it didn’t teach me the valuable life skills I needed to deal with conflict and abusers.)
So, I have to dispute the picture Ray Comfort was painting in this TV program that if only one would believe in Jesus, then they would no longer have depression or have suicidal thoughts.
That is simply not true. My mother, myself, and other Christians I’ve read or conversed with, were all devout Christians for decades, but we all still had depression.
Depression, anxiety, and so on, are not problems that befall ONLY atheists or other Non-Christians, as Ray Comfort’s interview statements and film snippets seemed to suggest.
(continued in a Part 2.)
EXIT: The Appeal of Suicide – Official Trailer (2017) (link)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1- 800- 273- 8255
Available 24 hours everyday