Are those tormented from depression, anxiety, etc. really at fault? Are they just in sin? The reality is nearly every person suffering from mental illness feels as though they are to blame. They will say that they have ruined their lives, hurt their families, and are utter failures. I write this to those who are suffering and blaming themselves and to those who desire to learn more. I’ve heard the murmurs of failure as my wife suffers, so I offer this as a means to help those drowning in self-blame. The reality is, my wife and others think this way because society treats them this way. We have to change the way we think about mental health.
So, are they really at fault for their problems? The answer is yes and no (please don’t stop here…stay with me). Every story is different, and we should be careful to not assume everyone’s situation is the same. First, it is essential to remember the difference between clinical and spiritual depression. There is an obvious difference. This does not mean that there can be a combination of physical, mental, spiritual and emotional. Second, is this really our (those not suffering) question to answer? I don’t think it is. I believe that our role is to walk alongside those suffering, while loving unconditionally, demonstrating mercy and grace, while exhibiting empathy and compassion to aid in a humble servant role.
To break this down more, let’s look at different cases. It is hard to show empathy if there is a lack of understanding, and it is nearly impossible to not blame yourself when everyone else is blaming you. Those classified with spiritual depression, could be a result of unrepentant sin, or a case of edification. On the other hand, those with clinical cases are dealing with genetics, environmental, dietary, and a number of other issues outside of their control.
For instance, it is evident that David was severely depressed. What exactly caused his depression? It was a mixture of his lust for a woman, leading to the murder of her husband, only to hide the reality that she is pregnant with his baby. However, there are others like Job, who was a “blameless and upright man”, that God allowed to suffer on a significant scale. It is clear to remember that just because someone is dealing with spiritual depression, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is due to his or her sin. Show grace and listen before dropping the judgment hammer on them.
With clinical depression, there are numerous outside factors that cannot be controlled. These are examples of people suffering from clinical conditions: a soldier returning from war suffering from PTSD, or a woman that was sexually abused, or a child that was neglected, or a mom suffering from PPD after giving birth. This is of course a short list, but I think the point is made. These people do not deserve the suffering they face, and they cannot control the outcome. They do not deserve the stereotypes or classifications from our culture. They deserve love, grace, and mercy as they heal.
Side Note- To the Christian reader. Many Christians that suffer from mental health often assume they are a bad Christian, or not doing enough, etc. I will write more on this later, but wanted to briefly touch the topic. If you’re the one suffering you’ve probably gotten a lot of bad advice that only pushed you further away. The gospel is not a means to do more, but rather a call to rest in Jesus Christ. Your not a bad Christian if your suffering. Your not less of a Christian. You are a child of God suffering.
Truth is, we all make mistakes and will pay the consequences for the rest of our lives. Be slow to assume and judge personal sin. Shaming a person to heal or guilting them to heal in a specific way only pushes them further into a hopeless state. Rescue those who are drowning in self-blame and guilt. Allow them to get the help that they need and support them along the way. So are they really at fault? The answer… it’s not our job to determine their story. It is our job to show empathy, love, grace, mercy, compassion, etc.