If someone says they have depression, please take them seriously

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I saw this tweet the other day and would like to respond to it. 

The background to the tweet is that the pastor concerned had a high celebrity profile due to Justin Bieber attending his church. Sadly, as with so many pastors over the years behind the public persona was something different and his marriage and his ministry have been ship-wrecked due to his adultery.

It is important that we make some key statements here. Adultery is sin and there is never an excuse for it. Whilst the devil makes use of our circumstances in order to find an opportunity for temptation, this does not excuse our failure to resist temptation. It is possible to be depressed and to keep clinging to Christ, being faithful to your wife and loving your children. 

The second thing we need to say is that even if one person here is using depression as an excuse to hide behind, that does not mean that everyone who says that they have depression is lying or simply finding excuses. I will come back to that shortly.

Thirdly, that just because Carl Lentz has committed serious sin does not mean that he wasn’t also struggling with depression, anxiety and burnout.  If so, I hope that his therapy proves helpful and he finds healing.  My personal view in response to some of the comments is that healing does not take away from the sin and there should be no magic return to ministry.

Fourthly, this should remind us that those of us who struggle with a whole range of health problems are still sinners and still fall short. This is another way of reminding one another that our health is never a valid excuse and we need to take responsibility for our failings coming to Christ in repentance to receive grace.

Fifthly, there are a number of causes of depression.  Sin is not necessarily the cause of depression but nor does that mean that it never is.  Shipwreck your marriage, destroy your family, car-crash your own ministry and I would not be surprised if one potential consequence was burnout, anxiety and depression.  This is known as spiritual depression. In such a case, all the therapy in the world is not going to bring relief.

I promised above to come back to point two, so here goes. There is still a stigma around mental health and still a temptation to assume that anyone with emotional health issues is somehow faking it. Of course, emotional scars are not so visible for others to see. So it is worth remembering the following. First of all, that if someone has been diagnosed with depression, they have been diagnosed by a competent medical professional. That should not need any further explanation!

Secondly, please be aware that one of the hardest things for someone struggling with anxiety and depression is the fear, perception and sometimes the reality that they are not believed. Added to that is the fact that you are probably going to have questioned yourself often as well as to whether it is real.

Thirdly, and this particularly applies to men. The stigma is huge and our need to project a strong image so dominant that it is very hard for a man to come out and say “I am suffering from depression.”  Not only does disbelief and cynicism make this harder but it also misses the point that it is in fact very unlikely that they will say they are depressed if they are not.

Once again, I want to encourage people struggling with depression to get help. I particularly would like to point pastors to Grace in the Depths (wordpress.com) where a few of us have shared our stories or to get in touch with me via the contact page if you need someone to talk to. 

If you are aware of someone who has been diagnosed with depression, please believe their diagnosis.  This does not mean that you ignore or avoid other issues but do take the diagnosis seriously.

If you have concerns about somebody’s emotional and mental well-being either because you are observing things in their moods and behaviour or because of something they are saying, again please take it seriously, support them and help them to get help.

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