Clinical v. Spiritual Depression… What’s the Difference?

Is there really a difference between clinical and spiritual depression? This question has gained popularity in recent days. You may be asking what’s the big deal, or why does this even matter? Truth is, it matters to those struggling with a mental health illness. It may seem menial to the healthy human living a normal life, but those tormented daily from anxiety or hopeless from depression are needing this question answered now more than ever.

Is there a difference between clinical and spiritual depression? Yes. Is all depression spiritual? No. Can some people experience either clinical or spiritual depression, or a mixture of the two?

We live in a fallen world full of sickness, calamity, and disasters. Humans are prone to physical, spiritual, and mental ailments. Factors such as diet, hormones, genetics, etc. play a major role in clinical depression. Chemical imbalances, a hot topic of debate, affect many and often lead to clinical depression. The reality is, the medical community has made a significant leap in the realm of mental health, and still has room to grow.

Clinical depression is an illness that can be caused by numerous elements and display a variety of symptoms. Each person experiencing this type of depression will give his or her story differently, as he or she is affected differently. The temptation is to offer a definition, but that would only lead to a narrowing of views and ideas. The goal is to view these matters in a complex manner, understanding that each person has a different experience. Clinical depression almost always requires professional medical help. This DOESN’T negate the value of counsel within the church. It is important to understand that there are skilled medical professionals with training to help in these areas. We shouldn’t be afraid of this truth, but be grateful that God has given the gift of outside help as well as help from within the church.

On the other hand, spiritual depression is something humans experience that affect their spiritual state, or soul. Those affected by spiritual depression are helped through pastoral counseling, personal devotion, body life, etc. Spiritual depression is a result of consequences from personal life decisions or outside torment not relating to the individuals sin nature.

Can clinical and spiritual depression be seen in the Bible? Yes. I argue that the torment Elijah experienced lead to a severe case of clinical depression. He was not outside of the will of God, did not sin, but was constantly tormented (1 Kings 19). King David is a wonderful example of spiritual depression. In Psalm 38:4 he proclaims, “for my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden too heavy for me”. His depression was a result of his sin (this does not mean all spiritual depression is caused by personal sin), and greatly affected his spiritual state. Job is an example of spiritual depression resulting from the direct torment of Satan. When there is not a clear definition given, offer grace!

The goal is to help those who are tormented daily through a better understanding of these complex questions and distinctions. Accepting the distinction allows for the proper help needed in every situation, as the help for clinical and spiritual depression has similarities and differences. Support those who suffer from any form of depression, avoid blind harsh counsel that limits their healing, and help to build a community that provides relief to those in need!


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