Last week I attended a half day seminar on mental illness. It was aimed especially at Christian workers, offering an introduction to the prevalence and complexity of depression in particular. It sparked my interest to refresh my understanding and delve a little deeper into this troubling matter. ‘Depression’ can be a polarising issue among people in general, and there are particular dividing lines among Christians. There are different schools of thought about what it looks like, how and why people become depressed, and what should be done to help people with depression. Christians get depressed too by David Murray is a short book (112 pages) that is well worth reading. It shows a good understanding of the complexity of this issue and argues for a decrease in dogmatism and an increase in humility.
Murray urges us to avoid simplistic extremes when considering the cause of depression. He demonstrates how Christian analysis has fallen into three camps: the cause is all physical; the cause is all psychological; or the cause is all spiritual. The problem with these positions is the word ‘all’. We are complex beings and it is unlikely that one factor alone can be found that explains the cause of depression. In the case of spiritual factors, Murray argues that spiritual problems are more likely to be the result rather than the cause of depression. This is not to rule out spiritual factors sometimes being the cause of depression. But we are urged not to jump to this conclusion any more than we would assume spiritual factors to have caused headaches, cancer or asthma. The second chapter of this book offers some helpful analysis of the approach and writings of Jay Adams and also the modern Biblical Counselling Movement.
This book seems especially aimed at helping the person who believes that having depression is incompatible with being a Christian. Murray shows how this is not the case, and provides biblical evidence for depression and faith in God coexisting in the one person. The book of Psalms illustrates this, with approximately one third of the Psalms demonstrating depressed thoughts and feelings.
Many factors can be involved in depression: life circumstances; unhelpful thought patterns; negative emotions and feelings; bodily symptoms; and changes to behaviour and activity. Acknowledging the complexity of causes and the variety of symptoms, alerts us to the benefits of a multifaceted approach to helping a depressed person. Murray suggests making helpful adjustments to our lifestyles in the areas of routine, relaxation, recreation, sleep, diet, and the like. He recommends addressing our thought processes and assessing our feelings. If making these adjustments doesn’t fix things, then he recommends seeking out trained medical help and possible medication. He also urges us to correct spiritual consequences and, where appropriate, spiritual causes of the depression.
The last chapter gives some good advice to non-professional caregivers. We are urged to learn more about the nature of depression, and there are some useful recommendations for further reading. Murray calls for sympathy for the person suffering depression. However , in my opinion, what he describes might be better described as empathy. We don’t all need to experience depression ourselves to be able to help those who do. Secrecy and stigma are among the problems to overcome in caring for a depressed person. There’s helpful list of things not to say to someone who is depressed. And there is an important section on helping someone who may become suicidal.
There are no easy answers and no quick fixes when it comes to depression. Ongoing support and understanding are required to be helpful and this book is a useful tool for becoming better equipped at both.