Why Do Christians Suffer From Depression?

By Laura Quinn

Laura Quinn is the STEM Department Head and a High School Administrator at Calvary Christian Academy. She teaches principles of biomedical sciences and biomedical innovation.

I vividly remember asking Christ into my heart at the age of five. I grew up in a loving, Bible-teaching home, was an active member of my youth group, and valedictorian of my class. I had it all going for me . . . and yet by the time I was a sophomore in college I was so anxious and depressed I could barely function. I was medicating with alcohol, sex, and relationships, but no one knew. I smiled at the right times and did just enough outwardly to create an image of normalcy. 

My new friends at college just thought this was who I was and my family only saw me on breaks. I was isolated and confused, struggling to figure out how my seemingly perfect life had gotten to this point in such a short time. Somewhere along the way, my life had spun out of control. 

The efforts I made to feel better—and do better—ultimately failed, leaving me ashamed by my failure. I was certain my family of high achievers would not understand, and yet I longed to be comforted by those who knew me best. My emotions ran to dark extremes and left me exhausted, hopeless, and fearful. I would like to tell you I prayed, Jesus answered me, and all was well, but that is not how my story unfolded. 

After my sophomore year, I transferred schools. It was a fresh start, and I actually thought I had managed to put much of the darkness behind me. I graduated and decided to move to South Florida, where I began working. It was shortly after this that things began to go downhill again. I realized that while I looked successful on the outside, my relationships were not healthy; I was becoming more anxious, more depressed, and less functional at work.  

When I was in college I had moved away from God. I believed this was part of the reason for my earlier trial. But now, I was attending church, serving, and walking closer with the Lord than ever. As the feelings of shame, failure, isolation, and depression began to return, I was left with the question, “How could this be happening when things with God were going so well?”

Finally, as the darkening spiral seemed to be taking me under once again, I decided I couldn’t do this alone anymore and opened up to my mother about how I was feeling. In that moment of reaching out, something amazing happened: The love of my family and the grace of God led me back toward a path of healing. 

I’ve learned a great deal since that day when I took the risk to share. I’ve had the privilege of working with excellent Christian therapists, I’ve felt the prayers of many covering me during my darkest days, and have been able to lean on the true friendship of strong men and women walking through similar trials. And above all else, I’ve had the ever-present mercy and love of God surprising me with His attention to every detail of my unique journey.   

So, if you have ever wondered to yourself, Can Christians be depressed? Can a believer in Jesus also be paralyzed with fear and anxiety? The answer to these types of questions is most definitely yes. Being a Christian does not exempt you from suffering. It doesn’t prevent the trials and tribulations of this world from bearing down on you. But it does offer answers and hope. You see, for the Christ-follower there is wisdom, power, and a living hope in Jesus (1 Peter) as we walk through our trials. 

Depression at Its Root

One of the things I have learned in this journey is that depression and anxiety are complicated and different for every person. I believe whole-heartedly this truth is tied to the very nature of how we are created. In Genesis 1 it says that we are made in the image of God (Imago Dei). Being made in the image of God, we are very complex beings, having a body, spirit, soul, and intellect. Our will and emotions reflect God, and they exhibit a wide range of responses that mirror our Creator.

As part of our make up, we have senses to interact with our physical world and emotions to interact relationally and in community. Both of these are part of our Imago Dei and add richness to our experiences with both man and God. And while we are fearfully and wonderfully made, the world in its present state is not the world as God created it. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, sin, death, disappointment, trauma, grief, sickness and evil all became a part our experience. And because we live in a fallen world, sometimes our senses are stimulated negatively as the highs and lows of life affect us daily and our responses to them impact our whole being. 

Signs of Depression

There is no shame in the struggle with depression. In fact, depression is actually a normal response to the difficult things in life. It is when depression or anxiety becomes prolonged (over two weeks) or begin to interfere with our normal daily life, relationships, or work that support and treatment are needed to help us regain our balance. 
If you’ve been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, and/or for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:
•    Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
•    Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
•    Irritability
•    Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
•    Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
•    Decreased energy or fatigue
•    Moving or talking more slowly
•    Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
•    Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
•    Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
•    Appetite and/or weight changes
•    Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
•    Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

Not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom. Some people experience only a few symptoms, while others may experience many. 

More Common (and Dangerous) Than You Think

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. Current research suggests that depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.

Over twenty percent of the population will have a major depressive episode in their lifetime, with women and those between the ages of 18 and 28 having the highest incidences.

It is important to understand the signs of depression and reach out when we think it might be a problem. There has been a marked increase of depression and suicide in teens in the last decade. In fact, the Johns Hopkins Journal Review stated, “The odds of adolescents suffering from clinical depression grew by 37 percent between 2005 and 2014, according to a study by Ramin Mojtabai, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that three million adolescents ages 12 to 17 have had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.” 

Is There Hope?

I know the symptoms and statistics are alarming. The truth is this is a widespread, debilitating crisis. But there is hope. There are answers. Freedom, redemption, joy, peace, comfort, and relief are possible and available to us. 

As this crisis continues, the first we need to remember is the need for us to be open and create loving, accepting environments where we offer grace, wisdom, and treatment to ourselves and others struggling with depression. You are not alone in this. You are not the first believer to suffer from depression; you certainly won’t be the last. It does not make you a “bad Christian” or a faithless person. I can promise you that God is not angry with you because of this. He will not punish you for feeling this way. He loves you, He hurts with you, He understands your suffering, and He certainly has a plan for you. 

Often we see signs, but are hesitant to ask someone because of the social or cultural stigmas associated with it. We must remember the love of Christ that pursues us relentlessly and we must be willing to take the risk to pursue His will and the help of others. 

Unfortunately, an unbalanced approach to healing can leave us frustrated and ashamed. Remember, as beings made in God’s image, we are complex; therefore, the solutions are complex. Some may try to sell you on a simple solution, an easy way to “fix” depression. 

In the church community, we might hear that we just need to pray more, confess, spend more time in the Word, and we’ll be able to “snap out of it.” Others will tell us it is purely biological and we need only to correct our neurotransmitter imbalance with medication. Others will say all that is needed is counseling to help us understand our families and the various relational and societal dynamics. More often than not, we will need a combination of solutions to regain heath as God intends it.  

A key component for the healing process to begin is to accept that it is real; we need to accept there is no shame in suffering from depression and that is it is something that God does has answers for. The journey to healing might be more complex or longer for you than for others, but the healing is there. A great place to start is to tell someone you trust you are struggling. 

For those of you in the Fort Lauderdale area, Sheridan House Family Ministries and Spanish River Church offer counseling services with trained, licensed professionals who know the Lord and will counsel you using a biblical approach and worldview. They’re here to help you evaluate what treatment would be most beneficial.

Final Thoughts

God’s grace and wisdom are needed to navigate through the healing process; prayer and a loving community are important to support the journey. Remember, the love of Christ provides a living hope that gives us the courage to face each day in the midst of depression or anxiety.