There must be sin in your life that you just haven’t confessed?

You just need to have more faith!

Your prayer life needs improving – you obviously haven’t prayed about it!

These are a few of the responses I have had from Christians when they have found out I have depression. No, not all Christians respond this way, but I still think the church has a long way to go in welcoming and walking with those who suffer mental health challenges.

For me going to church became a real battle. It seemed to be a place where all the happy people gathered, all the well people congregated, and where I just didn’t fit in. Where was the place for lament during the service, or a time of quietness amongst the noise? It became a battle every Sunday to get myself to church, some days I didn’t make it, other days I arrived late. So is there a place for someone with depression amongst the people of God?

The surprising thing is that there are a number of people in the bible who seem to suffer from mental health challenges including Elijah, David, Job. The bible doesn’t shy away from depression, the Psalms are full of lament and struggle.

Psalm 88 is written by a man named Heman, probably someone you have never heard of before! He was one of the main musicians David appointed to the temple (1 Chronicles 6:31-38), and he was wise enough to be listed amongst the wisest men of Israel during Solomon and David’s reign (1 Kings 4:29-31). But the main way we remember Heman is with Psalm 88, a Psalm outlining his depression and anguish that had plagued him from his youth. 

A Psalm of Heman the Ezrahite

1-9 God, you’re my last chance of the day.
    I spend the night on my knees before you.
Put me on your salvation agenda;
    take notes on the trouble I’m in.
I’ve had my fill of trouble;
    I’m camped on the edge of hell.
I’m written off as a lost cause,
    one more statistic, a hopeless case.
Abandoned as already dead,
    one more body in a stack of corpses,
And not so much as a gravestone—
    I’m a black hole in oblivion.
You’ve dropped me into a bottomless pit,
    sunk me in a pitch-black abyss.
I’m battered senseless by your rage,
    relentlessly pounded by your waves of anger.
You turned my friends against me,
    made me horrible to them.
I’m caught in a maze and can’t find my way out,
    blinded by tears of pain and frustration.

9-12 I call to you, God; all day I call.
    I wring my hands, I plead for help.
Are the dead a live audience for your miracles?
    Do ghosts ever join the choirs that praise you?
Does your love make any difference in a graveyard?
    Is your faithful presence noticed in the corridors of hell?
Are your marvellous wonders ever seen in the dark,
    your righteous ways noticed in the Land of No Memory?

13-18 I’m standing my ground, God, shouting for help,
    at my prayers every morning, on my knees each daybreak.
Why, God, do you turn a deaf ear?
    Why do you make yourself scarce?
For as long as I remember I’ve been hurting;
    I’ve taken the worst you can hand out, and I’ve had it.
Your wildfire anger has blazed through my life;
    I’m bleeding, black-and-blue.
You’ve attacked me fiercely from every side,
    raining down blows till I’m nearly dead.
You made lover and neighbour alike dump me;
    the only friend I have left is Darkness.

This is a Psalm of personal lament. Heman is simply crying out to God in all his pain. He expresses without veneer his experience of life, blaming God for his anguish, concluding that God must somehow be the instigator. And then he waits for God to answer. To us it may look like he is being disrespectful, we might be tempted to rebuke him for his insolence, but in fact his bared soul and utter vulnerability before God are proof of Heman’s relationship with God – why cry out if God is not real? In reaching out and addressing God, Heman is appealing to God’s character and goodness. This is a prayer asking God to act. Lament might seem messy and uncouth to us, but ‘a broken and contrite spirit [God] will not despise’. 

We don’t know if Heman was ever healed, the Psalm is all we have of his journey. But we do know he was a Godly man, serving God in the temple, writing and singing music, and one of the wisest men in Israel. His depression did not discount him from serving God, or being in the temple, a part of the community. But we do see in the Psalm that he did not feel supported by the community, he felt alone and without friends on numerous occasions. 

So how can churches walk with those who are struggling? How can we become supportive communities offering hope? There are 3 things I can suggest:

  1. Create a small community around the person, of people who are able to reach out during the week as well as on a Sunday. Often people with depression need time and space to talk and process, and that can become tiring for any one person. So creating a small community around a person is a much healthier way to support them – both for you and for them.
  2. If appropriate and possible keep them serving in a ministry. This gives purpose and shows them they are not too broken for God to use. Many people with depression feel like God has left them, like Heman did. So how do we keep people rooted in reality – that God hasn’t forgotten them, or no longer wants them? Allow them to serve in appropriate ways in their brokenness. 
  3. Get some training. We offer our free Dealing with Depression course which would be great to go through with someone with depression, but is also useful for you to learn about depression and some ways to help manage it. 

Depression does not exclude us from the people of God, and it does not mean our faith is broken or inadequate. Let’s make our church communities places where people with depression can find hope and life even in the darkest of days.

Dealing with Depression

We have created an online, on demand Dealing with Depression Course.

Get in touch

For more information on the Dealing with Depression course please get in touch.

Anika Parker

Anika Parker

Youth Worker

Anika is a youth worker with SYC, and the creator of the Dealing with Depression Course.

“The Dealing with Depression course came out of my own struggle with mental health, and the knowledge that many in our community were in the same boat without a whole lot of resources!

I continue to do youth work in our local secondary school and as a volunteer at my church. I love seeing young people find their story!

I am also a part of the SYC leadership and training team helping to write and deliver training across Europe.”